I came to this book via the TV series, being aware that Michael Wood's books often have more to say than is relayed on screen. But I was disappointed with the bland paperback edition that is now all that is available as new. Despite reproducing the picture credits of earlier editions, there are no pictures! I have read that since Random House purchased the BBC Books catalogue, there have been complaints of poor publications and this seems to be just such a bad example. And there is only one map! And the bibliography has not been updated. As a result, I managed to find a cheap but good original 1997 hardback edition that is fully illustrated with maps and photographs.
I read both editions side by side and compared the text but found only a small and relatively minor number of changes by the author in updating the first edition, so kept the first edition and gave away the paperback. For example, comments on "war crimes in Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Bosnian War" are updated to "... Cambodia, and the Iraqi Wars." Another example is Wood's adding the fact that the gigantic Buddhas in Afghanistan were blown up by the Taliban in 2001. There is one instance of virtually a whole paragraph being rewritten (about his journey back to the Nile from Siwa), but it is not known why this is so. Having undertaken the same exercise for Wood's book `In Search of the Trojan War' (review available on Amazon), it is clear that there are not so many changes between editions on Alexander as there have been for the former, but this is no doubt due to there not having been any major new breakthroughs in Alexander studies as there have been at Troy.
The book consists of a prologue, a prelude, and six parts; it is rounded off with a short epilogue. In the prologue Wood writes how, "The Macedonian conquest of the world as far as India, which has always been seen through Greek sources exclusively, is now being illuminated for the first time by native sources, newly discovered oracles and prophecies on papyrus or clay tablet." Nevertheless, Wood admits that his account is largely based on the traditional Greek and Roman historians, whose works he carried with him in his rucksack along the way. There are some paragraphs devoted to his epic trek with its logistical problems and false expectations. He found being on the ground and attempting to see the land through ancient eyes invaluable in solving some mysteries.
Wood also links Alexander's tale with events of modern times, in particular "his purges and massacres, his reliance on intelligence spies, secret police, his control of information, use of torture, manipulation of images" etc. When passing through Helmand province of modern Afghanistan, Wood wrote in 1997, i.e. before the events of nine-eleven, of Alexander instigating "a terrifying purge, show-trials, torture and execution of some of the king's [Alexander's] most intimate companions." Whilst evincing much admiration for his subject, Wood is also clear of his failings too and does not hold back in acknowledging Alexander's tyranny. At the siege of Aornos, for instance, Wood writes, "Not for the first time on our journey I found myself strongly identifying with the hopeless defeated." Sometimes Wood's conclusions are a bit fanciful, such as his considering the oyster shells found at the supposed (and now long-abandoned) port used by Nearchus at the mouth of the Indus "very likely to be the remains of Nearchus's feast", on the grounds that "shellfish are not eaten by Muslims".
I mentioned at the beginning of this review that the book was purchased because Wood has more interesting things to say in this format than is available in the time of a TV series. Here in the book, for example, he tells us more about the battle of Granicus and the walking of the Sacred Way between Miletus and Didyma, "up into the hills covered with thorn and asphodel and drenched in a smell of sage." This is all good stuff, but I had expected more details of Wood's journal of his journey. There is certainly much more in the book than the TV series for the period between Alexander's return to Babylonia and his eventual death. This is probably due to Wood being persona non grata in Iraq when the series was made. But Wood also has much to say about Alexander's legacy, concluding "It is as if Alexander's era saw an explosion of energy, like a nebula, which left behind new universes reforming in its aftermath." I did not know, for instance, that as late as the eighth century of the Christian era Greek language and culture was so prevalent as far east as present-day Pakistan.
A chronology, a glossary of characters, a list of sources and an index brings the book to a satisfying end.