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Ancient Greece: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) [Paperback]

Paul Cartledge
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

27 Oct 2011 Very Short Introductions
The contribution of the Ancient Greeks to modern western culture is incalculable. In the worlds of art, architecture, myth, literature, and philosophy, the world we live in would be unrecognizably different without the formative influence of Ancient Greek models. Ancient Greek civilization was defined by the city - in Greek, the polis, from which we derive 'politics'. It is above all this feature of Greek civilization that has formed its most enduring legacy, spawning such key terms as aristocracy, oligarchy, tyranny and - last but by no means least - democracy. This stimulating Very Short Introduction to Ancient Greece takes the polis as its starting point. Paul Cartledge uses the history of eleven major Greek cities to illuminate the most important and informative themes in Ancient Greek history, from the first documented use of the Greek language around 1400 BCE, through the glories of the Classical and Hellenistic periods, to the foundation of the Byzantine empire in around CE 330. Covering everything from politics, trade, and travel to slavery, gender, religion, and philosophy, it provides the ideal concise introduction to the history and culture of this remarkable civilization that helped give birth to the world as we know it. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 216 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (27 Oct 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199601348
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199601349
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 10.9 x 1.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 112,583 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

Review from previous edition Paul Cartledge, Cambridge don and doyen of Classicists, once again shows why he is the surest and most engaging guide tot he ancient world. 'Ancient Greece: A history in Eleven Cities' is a tremendously readable tour d'horizon that goes far beyond Athens and Sparta to explore the roots of Greek civilisation. Justin Marozzi, Evening Standard Paul Cartledge has here pulled off a remarkably clever feat of compression and organization, and will once again place very many readers in his debt. Brilliantly carried through. Simon Hornblower, co-editor of iThe Oxford Companion to Classical Civilizationr A wonderfully concise - and witty - introduction to an ever-popular subject. Sir John Boardman, co-editor of iThe Oxford History of Greece and the Hellenistic Worldr A rare work, a compelling historical narrative that is also a useful guidebook Peter Stothard, Wall Street Journal Cartledge's success lies in his ability to negotiate a path between similarity and difference; with proper scholarly detachment, he stresses how different the Greeks were; with an eye to broader historical trajectories, he reflects on the grounds for their continuing fascination. Tim Rood, Times Literary Supplement A rare work, a compelling historical narrative. Peter Stothard, Wall Street Journal Thoroughly stimulating book. Tom Holland, BBC History Cartledge is master of his subject. Peter Jones, Literary Review Paul Cartledge... once again shows why he is the surest and most engaging guide to the ancient world. Justin Marozzi, Evening Standard A tremendously readable tour d'horizon that goes far beyond Athens and Sparta to explore the roots of Greek civilization. Justin Marozzi, Evening Standard There are many pleasures to be had along Cartledge's mind-broadening route through time and space. Charlotte Higgins, The Guardian

About the Author

Paul Cartledge is the inaugural A.G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture in the Faculty of classics, University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of Clare College.

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Customer Reviews

3.0 out of 5 stars
3.0 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Glory of Greece 23 Feb 2012
By Dr. Bojan Tunguz TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Ancient Greece is one of the most fascinating and intriguing historical polities. The very notion of Greece as a single political and cultural entity is a relatively modern designation. The ancient Greeks had organized their life within a polis, a self-containing "city state," of which there had been hundreds throughout the ancient history, spanning almost all of northern Mediterranean. So when we talk about ancient Greece what we really have in mind is the history of these poleis - their origin, development, and eventual decline and disappearance in the late antiquity. A book that would cover all of the poleis would be a gargantuan project, and would surpass in length all the volumes in the very short introduction series. Instead, Paul Cartledge, the author of this short introduction, focuses on just eleven poleis, picking some that are the most representative of the ancient Greek history as a whole.

Overall, this book is a good introduction to ancient Greece, and all hellenophiles will find a lot of interesting information in it. Through the general introduction and the individual chapters for each polis, we learn about the development of ancient Greek society, through its golden years and the epic wars that it engaged in, to the later not-too-illustrious years. The choice of topics is fairly representative, and Cartledge exhibits an impressive range of knowledge and understanding of this subject.

One big issue that I have with this book concerns its structure and organization. The choice of presenting the history of ancient Greece in a "parallel" fashion, by focusing on each polis in its own right, leads to a very disjoined overall narrative. It can be had to follow various developments as they recur in different chapters, with all the variations that this entails.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars So-So 13 Jun 2013
Format:Paperback
I have to admit my reason for buying was trying to get a very quick overview in a very short time, which, I've come to realise, was not why this book was written...It seems, as other have said, that academics are allowed to create/design a short introduction on their own expert topic, and do with it what they will...which is fine, but not what I thought was being advertised here.
Cartledge I've heard speak before, and he was very interesting which, along with his reputation, is one of the reasons I bought the book. However, his prose is - well, I think some have been kind and called it erudite and convoluted. It's certainly not easy to read, and at times seems written more for himself than an audience: it's that kind of personal style that shows you how the author's thoughts connect together, which, of course, some might find interesting. I didn't.
As others have already said, the division into city-states rather than a broad narrative interwoven with foci on individual city states threw me: really didn't find it helpful at all.
So, for me, interesting, but not 'essential' reading: there are better titles in the series (I'd recommend The Roman Republic) and I hope to try one of Cartledge's 'proper' books and see if there's a difference. Hard to believe such an interesting speaker writes like that and, moreover, that an editor has passed it!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What it says on the tin, basically! 26 Oct 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A Very Short Introduction to Ancient Greece is just what it says it is: a very short introduction. I bought this book completely in the dark about who the ancient Greeks were or what they did, and this does shed some light and begin painting a picture, but due to word limits and other things, I found myself having to do external research many times just to figure out what on earth the author was referring to.

Very short introductions for topics as vast as Ancient Greece are generally a bad idea. If you can only find time to read on the bus/train and need a pocket sized book, go for this one. If you have more time to kick back and really learn, I would suggest you go and find a more detailed book. I want to be clear: I have no solid complaint; I knew what I was getting in for when I bought the book. I only have a surface interest in Greek history, but for others who want to learn more in-depth, then this short introduction is just a little too short!

The way the author approaches the history is by having a chapter on several major settlements. This is a unique method and the author should be applauded for his intuition, but it gets confusing as one chapter can talk about events that happened much later, and vice versa. Luckily there is a time line at the back for clarity.
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4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Misled 18 Jan 2013
By JCD
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
For its size - what does one expect from a book of this length - it's reasonably informative. Don't buy it if you favour narrative history. Why do I feel misled? Because not long ago I bought 'Ancient Greece: A History in Eleven Cities'. I imagined that 'Ancient Greece: A Very Short Intro...' was a different read. They are one and the same book, under different titles. Readers, don't make the same mistake. Amazon, please led shoppers know that the two books are the same. No chance of getting my six quid back, eh?
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.4 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a different approach to presenting ancient greece 24 Feb 2012
By Cronos - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book, part of the extensive Very Short Introductions (Oxford University Press), is about Ancient Greece, which was characterized by its several city-states while lacking a central organization. The author took a potentially interesting, but also challenging, approach to organize the book chronologically in terms of 11 towns: Cnossos, Mycenae, Argos, Miletus, Massalia, Sparta, Athens, Syracuse, Thebes, Alexandria, and Byzantion. The several important facts about Ancient Greece are developed respectively to each of these city-states. For instance, the customs of the Dorians are described in the chapter about Argos, and greek colonization as part of the chapter on Massalia.

I felt the chapters read very differently, some being very engaging (such as Sparta) while others tend to be somewhat arid, perhaps even academic (e.g. Syracuse and Thebes). The manner, as well as the level of details, in which the several subjects are presented vary considerably. Several of the included figures are not referred to in the text and seem to float isolated through the book. I believe the book emphasizes history too much while providing less substantial description of important contributions from ancient Greece, especially arts and philosophy/science. Also, as several issues need to be covered in a given city, the text tend to be fractioned and heterogeneous. This is perhaps why most of the alternative approaches to ancient Greece are organized along themes such as history, religion, arts, philosophy, etc.

All in all, I believe the choice to organize the book along some main cities worked only partially, mostly in the cases of more self-contained city-states such as Sparta and Athens. The Appendix includes some nice material about the panhellenic sanctuaries, with emphasis on Delphi.

The reader should be aware that this book was also published as "Ancient Greece: A History in Eleven Cities" by Oxford Univ. Press
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Glory of Greece 23 Feb 2012
By Dr. Bojan Tunguz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Ancient Greece is one of the most fascinating and intriguing historical polities. The very notion of Greece as a single political and cultural entity is a relatively modern designation. The ancient Greeks had organized their life within a polis, a self-containing "city state," of which there had been hundreds throughout the ancient history, spanning almost all of northern Mediterranean. So when we talk about ancient Greece what we really have in mind is the history of these poleis - their origin, development, and eventual decline and disappearance in the late antiquity. A book that would cover all of the poleis would be a gargantuan project, and would surpass in length all the volumes in the very short introduction series. Instead, Paul Cartledge, the author of this short introduction, focuses on just eleven poleis, picking some that are the most representative of the ancient Greek history as a whole.

Overall, this book is a good introduction to ancient Greece, and all hellenophiles will find a lot of interesting information in it. Through the general introduction and the individual chapters for each polis, we learn about the development of ancient Greek society, through its golden years and the epic wars that it engaged in, to the later not-too-illustrious years. The choice of topics is fairly representative, and Cartledge exhibits an impressive range of knowledge and understanding of this subject.

One big issue that I have with this book concerns its structure and organization. The choice of presenting the history of ancient Greece in a "parallel" fashion, by focusing on each polis in its own right, leads to a very disjoined overall narrative. It can be had to follow various developments as they recur in different chapters, with all the variations that this entails. Furthermore, the style of writing also leaves a lot to be desired. Sentences are often highly convoluted, with frequent allusions, digressions, parenthetical asides, parentheses proper, and even parentheses within parentheses! Cartledge is never the one to use a simple statement when a more complex one would suffice. He also strives a bit too hard to exhibit his own wit and erudition whenever possible. The result is a bit contorted narrative that doesn't flow very smoothly. Overall, however, this is a pretty good book and I feel I got a lot of interesting insights from it.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting history 21 Oct 2012
By Judith G. Bronsonstem Svcs - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Most of us (including me) have only the haziest idea of what ancient Greece was like. This book takes an unusual approach, made up as it is of profiles of several of the individual city states. Many of them are well known, such as Athens, Sparta, Thebes, and Alexandria, some of them less so. Because of the restricted length of this series of books, none of the profiles is heavily detailed, but I suspect most people will find that fine. Recommended as background for those reading the ancient Greek literature.
3.0 out of 5 stars A bit of a slog 19 Feb 2013
By EverLearning - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I've come to appreciate the "Very Short Introduction" series as they are usually very informative and well written. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I found this book much less enjoyable to read.

Cartledge organizes his book by 12 cities, each representative of a period or place in ancient Greek history. I think I would've preferred the more traditional narrative that moves forward in time. Neverthesless, that structure still could've worked for me but for the writing. I found it tedious. He loves his subject, and loves throwing in Greek words that no-one else would know, in the process forgetting that this is a "short introduction" designed to appeal to a broader audience than he normally addresses.
5.0 out of 5 stars 1000 years in 150 pages! 26 Oct 2012
By JLuiz Alquéres - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A very creative approach to present 1000 years of history in all its diversity just following 13 different cities out of 1000 city-states. The best primer for clássical Greece one could read.
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