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Persian Fire: The First World Empire, Battle for the West Paperback – 8 Sep 2005

106 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown; New edition edition (8 Sept. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316731021
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316731027
  • Product Dimensions: 0.3 x 0.3 x 0.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (106 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,381,347 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Historian Tom Holland has adapted Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides and Virgil for BBC Radio. Rubicon was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize and won the Hessell-Tiltman Prize for History 2004, and Persian Fire won the Anglo-Hellenic League's Runciman Award 2006.

Product Description

Review

Gripping and authoritative ... An awe-inspiring story of the struggle for freedom (Express)

Confident, fluent and accessible, and with salutary lessons for our own times, this is history at its best (The Times)

Book Description

A brilliant new account of the world's very first clash of civilisations between the Persians and the Greeks in 480BC.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

73 of 76 people found the following review helpful By P. Pensom on 26 May 2006
Format: Paperback
Last summer I was carried away to the far distant Roman republic in Holland's 'Rubicon', and enthralling as that book was, the author has excelled himself with 'Persian Fire'. This is partly because, unlike 'Rubicon', where he compressed centuries of events in to one modest book, 'Persian Fire' is far more narrow in scope, and hence moves forward with much greater narrative thrust.

If, like me, your knowledge of the titanic battles between Persia and Greece in 5th Century BC is scanty then you are in for a treat. I found myself unable to put this book down, greedily devouring chapters as if it were a novel. In 'Rubicon', the sheer breadth of the book meant it was easy to become lost in the labyrinthine twists and turns of Roman politics, and often I had to remind myself of the identity of a character. In 'Persian Fire' however, the key events are dictated by a much smaller cast, and are all balanced around a central fulcrum: the great invasion of the west by the east. This gives the book incredible dynamism.

If I were to make one minor cavil, it would be that occasionally Holland tries too hard to make the story relevant to contemporary concerns. The book is littered with modish language and modern references which it would be much better without. Anyone with a passing interest in the subject will be enthralled with this narrative, without constant, obvious comparisons to the functioning of modern superpowers. And can we really be sure that buzzwords like 'spin' and 'bling' will make any more sense to future generations than anachronistic slang from the 1920s does to us? I think not, but that is only a slight blemish on an otherwise outstanding work.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By N. Clarke on 10 May 2007
Format: Paperback
In contrast to Steven Pressfield's Gates of Fire, which often lurches toward the more vicarious macho thrills afforded by blood-and-guts descriptive writing, this is well-written, thought-provoking history which is accessible for non-history buffs. It deals in equal measure with the origins of Persian expansion in the middle east, and how the nascent Greek societies were, in contrast to their foes, politically riven, frequently at war with each other, but brilliantly inventive when it came to military tactics.

Marathon, Thermopylae, Salamis and Plataea - the four major actions which put paid to the Persian plan to invade Europe - are described in major detail, and thankfully the Spartans' last stand only warrants a paragraph or so, giving the reader more scope to examine the wider Greek strategy for the entire 480/479 campaign. Great stuff.
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Blumenau TOP 500 REVIEWER on 27 Nov. 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
After two chapters describing how the Achaemenid Persian Empire grew until it stretched from the Aegean to the Hindu Kush, Holland focusses on the attempt in the 5th century BC of the Persians to add the small city-states of Greece to their Empire. It is one of the marvels of history how these city-states, rent by external and internal rivalries, managed in the end to preserve their independence, like so many Davids against one Goliath. The very different cultures and institutions of Persians, Spartans and Athenians are very well brought out, and Holland paints a vivid picture of this amazing struggle. His long set-piece descriptions of the battles of Marathon, Thermopylae, Salamis and Plataea are quite superb (though I wish the maps, to which one has to refer frequently, were fold-out end-papers instead of being scattered throughout the book). I would not have wishes these passages to be any shorter; but I cannot say the same about other passages, where descriptions, in a somewhat journalistic style, strike me as excessively wordy and repetitive - piling Pelion on Ossa, as it were. But this is a minor cavil about a book which tells a stirring story.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Peter J. P. Buckley on 3 Aug. 2007
Format: Paperback
This book is an excellent read with a few reservations. For a synopsis and insight into this important time in history you could go no further for a clear and insightful window into the times. The beauty is the way Tom Holland gives you the twin track insight into to empires that come together to influence a lot of what we take for granted today in the west.

The beauty of his 'storytelling' brings history to life and the individual characters in this real life story vividly to the front of your mind and imagination.

One reservation may be that at time the dwelling on finer detail slows the overall pace where often you find yourself reading for hours to 'find out what happened next'.

Clearly those wanting a more focused and purist approach to history might not take to the style, but for me it merely served to prompt me to buy his other books.
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91 of 102 people found the following review helpful By Diana Swann on 23 Oct. 2005
Format: Hardcover
In this chronicle of the rise and fall of the Persian Empire Tom Holland emphasises thought-provoking parallels between past and present East/West confrontation. But readability does not depend on scholarship, political acumen and a sweeping sense of the larger historical picture alone. The reader is spellbound, as frail but wily Greeks outwit the Persian hordes and their gold-bedecked Great King. This is the stuff of camp-fire tales, told with the immediacy of an eye-witness: the stench, terror, tumult and unpredictability of swaying fortunes in the legendary battles of Thermopylae and Salamis have a cinematic reality. Narrative flow is maintained by Holland's ability to bridge facts with intelligent and imaginative supposition - a far more impressive bridge than Xerxes' short-lived two-mile pontoon between Asia and Europe. The tale is told with a telling mix of passion, humour and conversational persuasiveness. We are left in no doubt that European history would have taken a different course if the Persians had won in 480BC.
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