The Histories of Herodotus, completed in the second half of the 5th century BC, is generally regarded as the first work of history and the first great masterpiece of non-fiction writing. Few history books since can compare for sheer drama with Herodotus's narrative of the Persian invasions of Greece. His accounts of the great battles of Marathon and Thermopylae, of Salamis and Plataea, retain to this day a matchless epic quality.
More than this, though, The Histories is also the source of much of our knowledge of the ancient world. Herodotus was an endlessly curious man, and gathered information about the world around him from as many people and places as he could investigate. History was only the beginning of his interests. Whether it was the pyramids of Egypt, the cannabis habit of the Scythians, the flora and fauna of Arabia or the table dancing of the Athenian aristocracy, he was fascinated by them all. To this day, phrases derived from The Histories - from 'rich as Croesus' to 'tall poppy syndrome' - are part of the mental furniture even of those who haven't read him. Sometimes he is sceptical, and sometimes credulous, but his love of recounting what he has learned never ceases. Above all, as Tom Holland says in his introduction, "Herodotus is the most entertaining of historians. Indeed he is as entertaining as anyone who has ever written - historian or not."
This absorbing new translation, by one of Britain's most admired young historians, allows all the drama and mysteriousness of this great book to be fully appreciated by modern readers. The sources of our information about the world are now more in flux than they have been for generations: there could be few better moments to read and reflect upon the book which first sought to organise knowledge.
TOM HOLLAND is the author of Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic, which won the Hessell-Tiltman Prize for History and was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize. Persian Fire, his history of the Graeco-Persian wars, won the Anglo-Hellenic League's Runciman Award in 2006. His most recent book, In the Shadow of the Sword, describes the collapse of Roman and Persian power in the Near East, and the emergence of Islam.
He has adapted Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides and Virgil for the BBC, and is the presenter of BBC Radio 4's Making History. In 2007, he was the winner of the Classical Association Prize awarded to 'the individual who has done most to promote the study of the language, literature and civilisation of Ancient Greece and Rome'. He served two years as the Chair of the Society of Authors 2009-11.
PAUL CARTLEDGE is the inaugural A. G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture at the University of Cambridge. His numerous books include Sparta and Lakonia: A Regional History 1300-362 BC; The Greeks: A Portrait of Self and Others; Thermopylae: The Battle That Changed the World; Ancient Greece. A Very Short Introduction; and After Thermopylae: The Oath of Plataea and the End of the Graeco-Persian Wars. He is an Honorary Citizen of Sparta, Greece and holds the Gold Cross of the Order of Honour conferred by the President of the Hellenic Republic.