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The Trojan War: a New History Hardcover – 1 Sep 2006


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 1st Edition edition (1 Sep 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 074326441X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743264419
  • Product Dimensions: 24.3 x 16.7 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 256,291 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"A military epic of the first order, weaving together fact and fiction in a beguiling tapestry of blood, guts, gore -- and terrible feminine beauty." -- Paul Cartledge, professor of Greek History, Cambridge University, and author of "Thermopylae: The Battle That Changed the World"

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Benjamin Girth VINE VOICE on 11 Sep 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is a superb history book, which happens to be about the siege of Troy. My knowledge of ancient Greece was limited, as was my interest. There is an awful lot to know but where to start? My first illustrated history books (in vibrant colour) were of heroic warriors and beautiful maidens, a wooden horse and the epics of the Iliad and Odyssey. Bronze Age Greece presents complex archaeology, it is easy to forget that archaeology is a modern discipline (post Darwin); its' originators (Schliemann, Dorpfeld, Arthur Evans, Carl Blegan et al) were larger than life. So much has been learnt in Greece and sites continue to yield significant advances in our knowledge. But you have to get excited about pottery shards, the frustrations of layers of history merging and the politics of squabbling city-states.

What Professor Strauss has done is to blend the writings of Homer and the facts revealed by archaeology to tell the story of the siege of Troy (circa 1210-1180 bc). Homer - who wrote five hundred year after the event (700bc) - was writing from an oral tradition. Did Troy exist, did a siege occur, and was Homer accurate? The answers - without spoiling the book - are probably yes. How Strauss reaches this conclusion is what makes the book fascinating. He works through Homer, tells the drama and interprets with empirical data. Strauss is clever enough to apply common sense accepting what we cannot know but seems likely.

What Strauss does well is present and analyse information in such an accessible form. There is a lot of hard data blended into a narrative, he writes with enthusiasm so by the end I was comfortable with Mycenaean and Hittites empires, Linear B, Troys' 1 to ever so many, as well as the characters - Agamemnon to Thersites and more. I am prepared for more Greek history.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By William Holmes on 24 Sep 2006
Format: Hardcover
Over the years, I've read quite a few books and articles about the Trojan War, but this one really hits the mark. For one thing, Strauss doesn't dwell on the oft-repeated story of Heinrich Schliemann's discovery of the "Mound at Hisarlik," which most archaeologists now agree was the site of ancient Troy. Instead, Strauss dives straight into the narrative in the Iliad and related but lesser-know works, treating Homer's probably fictional heroes as real characters and using them to illuminate the nuances of Greek and Anatolian culture during the Bronze Age.

In this narrative, Troy is a propserous client state of the Hittite Empire and the Greeks are the Vikings of the Mediterranean. The Trojan War may or may not have been about the abduction of a Spartan queen named Helen, but it could easily have been about Mycenaean raids to capture booty and Trojan women. And while today's reader is skeptical of the active participation of gods in battle, Strauss makes it clear that the gods of the Iliad were an integral part of the thinking of Bronze Age warriors, not just a poetic device.

To top it all off, Strauss is simply a good writer. There are other good books about the Trojan War (Rodney Castelden's recent "The Attack on Troy" and Michael Wood's classic "In Search of the Trojan War" come to mind), but Strauss does the best job of integrating the powerful narrative of the Homeric epic cycle with our current knowledge of the Bronze Age world. "The Trojan War" is a fast and compelling read.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By John Edwards on 5 Aug 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is a bad book. Although the fly leaf to my copy says that the author is professor of history and classics at Cornell University and that he has conducted extensive research in Greece and Turkey, when writing about the late Bronze Age he is writing beyond his field of expertise. The text is an imaginative retelling of the Trojan War but it is ruined by Strauss' unrelenting asides drawing upon unrelated cultures that are hundreds or even thousands of miles distant, and from periods of history as far apart as five hundred years from Strauss' estimated date for the war of 1210-1180. To take one example out of scores and scores: reference to how the Hammurabi may once have addressed his troups six hundred years earlier in far away Babylonia is irrelevant to the mise en scene. Furthermore Strauss' text is peppered with swathes of such conjectural examples, not underscored by archaeology but instead qualified with words such as: possibly, probably, similarly, may have , could, etc., etc. This is both tedious and very frustrating, so much so that I could not finish the book. One gets the impression that Strauss set out to quote as many references as he could - irrespective as to whether or not they are relevant.

Problems immediately arise with the lazy use of this heuristic resulting in systematic errors of judgment leading to demonstrative bias and avoidance of more salient and concrete data.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 72 reviews
90 of 94 people found the following review helpful
The Face That Launched a Thousand Books 24 Sep 2006
By William Holmes - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Over the years, I've read quite a few books and articles about the Trojan War, but this one really hits the mark. For one thing, Strauss doesn't dwell on the oft-repeated story of Heinrich Schliemann's discovery of the "Mound at Hisarlik," which most archaeologists now agree was the site of ancient Troy. Instead, Strauss dives straight into the narrative in the Iliad and related but lesser-known works, treating Homer's probably fictional heroes as real characters and using them to illuminate the nuances of Greek and Anatolian culture during the Bronze Age.

In this narrative, Troy is a prosperous client state of the Hittite Empire and the Greeks are the Vikings of the Mediterranean. The Trojan War may or may not have been about the abduction of a Spartan queen named Helen, but it could easily have been about Mycenaean raids to capture booty and Trojan women. And while today's reader is skeptical of the active participation of gods in battle, Strauss makes it clear that the gods of the Iliad were an integral part of the thinking of Bronze Age warriors, not just a poetic device.

To top it all off, Strauss is simply a good writer. There are other good books about the Trojan War (Rodney Castelden's recent "The Attack on Troy" and Michael Wood's classic "In Search of the Trojan War" come to mind), but Strauss does the best job of integrating the powerful narrative of the Homeric epic cycle with our current knowledge of the Bronze Age world. "The Trojan War" is a fast and compelling read.
54 of 57 people found the following review helpful
Great Read - but Fact or Fiction? 2 Jan 2007
By R. A Forczyk - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The Trojan War (circa 1200 BC) is a conflict shrouded in mists of myth, fragmented historical evidence and often-inconclusive archaeological clues. Most of our views on the war are shaped by Homer's heroic epics, not recorded history. In his book The Trojan War, Cornell University Professor Barry Strauss attempts to depict this conflict as a coherent historical narrative, accepting much of Homer as a starting point, but embellishing the tale with other neglected literary sources and all currently available archeological evidence. This is not a stuffy academic tome on Homer but rather, an attempt to depict Helen, Achilles, Hector, Agamemnon, Paris, etc as real historical characters and the author succeeds in this effort. On the one hand, this is a pleasing effort that brings life to our otherwise hagiographical image of these characters. On the other hand, the reader is constantly brought to wonder what the author has surmised and what he has simply invented whole cloth. Since we are not even sure of the existence of many of these characters - did Homer invent some of them? - it is disconcerting to see the author describing their appearance, thoughts and actions. Although this book provides wonderful insight into the Trojan War, I found myself torn whether I should consider it history or historical fiction; there is a huge gray area at the heart of this book.

The author's narrative is clean and strait forward, laid out in eleven chapters that begins with Helen's flight from Sparta with Paris to the fall of Troy. As a starting premise, the author accepts much of Homer's The Iliad as based upon real events, but he notes exaggerations and omissions that make certain sections suspect. Although the author can only guess at the dates - they fall within a 30-year period - readers will sense that the Professor Strauss has attempted to impose the historical structure of Thucydides upon the literary form of Homer. As the author notes, greed not jealousy was the cause of the war - "Helen was not the cause but merely the occasion of the war" and "Agamemnon rallied the Greeks to attack a gold mine." Readers will also note that the author attempts to be more balanced to the Trojan point of view than Homer permitted, although ultimately the author criticizes the Trojans for surrendering the strategic initiative to the Greeks.

One of the author's main hypotheses is that Troy was indeed sacked by the Greeks but there was no formal siege. Instead, the author maintains that the Greeks - frustrated by the seemingly impregnable walls of Troy - turned to small-scale attacks on the villages around Troy and her weaker allies. The author is hindered in testing this hypothesis by his limited understanding of military theory - referring to the period after the initial Greek attack on Troy failed as `low intensity conflict.' This was in fact a switch in Greek tactics from `counter-force' (i.e. destroy the Trojan Army) to `counter-value' (i.e. destroy the Trojan economy and alliance network), but the commitment of thousands of troops on these raids indicated that they were far from low-intensity. Nor does it help when the author fumbles military references from other eras, such as a comparison to "Ernst Rommel" (i.e. Erwin Rommel). The author also strongly criticizes the Trojans for not attempting to launch counteroffensives to take advantage of Greek mistakes, but the evidence for or against this is far too weak. Given our limited knowledge of the war and the Greek-centric nature of what sources are available, I don't believe that we have enough information to condemn the Trojan strategy as faulty. The author also tends to blame the Trojans when they did counterattack, accusing Hector of being vainglorious and reckless in seeking combat. This seems to be contradictory.

Nevertheless, the author's descriptions of Greek assaults upon the walls and furious fights upon the plains of Troy are thrilling to read. I just wish we had a better idea if they are based upon fact or this author's imagination. It is never really clear. When the author suspects that Homer exaggerates, he simply deletes or ignores those passages. This kind of `pick and choose approach' makes sense, but it also risks including some ideas that were false but sound reasonable while excluding true improbables. Would readers 3,000 years from now believe that the American Revolution was decided by an almost-unheard of French naval victory over the Royal Navy? The author does provide some nice maps and photographs of the terrain, as well as notes on sources. Overall, this book is a very good read and the author achieves at least partial success in laying out his hypotheses, although there are too many lingering doubts to call this a definitive work.
42 of 46 people found the following review helpful
Interesting--But Very Speculative 4 Nov 2006
By Steven A. Peterson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Barry Strauss examines the Trojan War in terms of what our contemporary knowledge might tell us in illuminating this sanguinary contest between Greeks and Trojans. The underlying conceit to this book is to assume that Homer's listing of actors is a useful starting point. Thus, he speaks of Paris, Helen, Achilles, Menelaus, Agamemnon, Odysseus, Ajax, Hector, Priam, and others as if they were actual historical figures. As Strauss notes (page 11), ". . .this book will refer to Homer's characters as real-life individuals. The reader should keep in mind that their existence is plausible but unproven." If the reader accept this, then the book is interesting reading. If not, then the book will be most unconvincing.

The volume uses historical information, archaeological findings, and texts (such as Homer's Iliad and Odyssey) to create a narrative addressing what might have happened at Troy.

Issues addressed include the gathering of the Greek army and navy to attack Troy after Paris' abduction of Helen (Menelaus' wife), the amphibious landing of the Greek forces before the city of Troy, the network of alliances among both Greeks and Trojans, the tactics and strategy of warfare at this time in the Bronze Age, various scenarios as to how Troy was defeated, and so on.

This short book (189 pages of text) will not convince those who want concrete evidence. For those who are interested in a sense of what might have occurred at an historical Trojan War, there is much here to think about.

Useful features of the book, for those able to move beyond the premise, include some very nice maps at the start of the volume and photographs of the geography and artifacts of the era.

All in all, a thought provoking work. If the reader can accept the conceit, then this is a volume that gets one thinking about what might have been at 1180-1210 BC at Troy. If one does not accept that conceit, then this will likely be a frustrating work to confront.
23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Surprisingly Disappointing 4 Dec 2009
By J. Allard - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Having generally taken a dim view of nay sayers in these book reviews, I'm surprised to find myself among their ranks on this one. Perhaps I was expecting too much from the book, but then, I took my cue primarily from the subtitle, "A New History". This is how the book falls far short of my expectations. Being keenly interested in the relatively recent discovery of what's believed to be the actual Troy, I thought the book would draw heavily from revelations based on this find. Instead, what I found was a work overwhelmingly based on conjecture and speculation with little mention of this latest archeological evidence, and a nearly constant reliance on and retelling of Homer as history rather than literature. The three most overused words in the book are "perhaps", "probably" and "maybe". This is not my idea of "a new history". About two-thirds of the way through the book now, I'm seriously running out of patience with this kind of "historical" writing, especially from a prominent scholar and author, and wondering whether I'll finish it. The book does, however, offer some interesting peripheral tidbits on ancient history and warfare.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
"...Homer is truer to the Bronze Age than is usually recognized ..." 17 July 2009
By doc peterson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The reviews written by other voices on Amazon - both in praise and criticism - are valid. Strauss does re-hash _the Iliad_ and he does make a lot of conjecture about what the characters may have worn, may have thought, and might have done. I found this a bit tiresome. To his credit, he also provides some great insight into Bronze Age strategy, insightful analysis of the possible motives for the war (Helen leaving with Paris was less an issue than the fact that they also emptied the Spartan treasury, for example), and his explaination of the actions of heroes (both Trojan and Greek) demonstrated an intimate knowledge of Bronze Age epic story telling.

While I had anticipated a more archaelogical and historical analysis of the confilct and less of a blow-by-blow historical deconstruction of _the Iliad_, Strauss seeks to strike a balance between the two. I assume in order to provide necessicary background for the layperson (or those who had not read _The Iliad_.) It seems this is a major point of contention. For those considering buying the book, keep this in mind.

The other issue I had was Strauss' choice of the translation he used in weaving the text into his history. I much prefer Robert Fagles' version The Iliad (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) for its language and vivid details that breathe life into the poem. My second choice would be Richard Lattimore's translation, Iliad of Homer; Translated with an Introduction by Richard Lattimore which I am told, is closer to the original Attic Greek. Instead, Strauss chose Alexander Pope's translation, The Iliad of Homer - Alexander Pope which I think is a bit klunky and forced. Its minutae, I know, but it bothered me.

For serious students of the time period, the anatotated bibliography is almost worth the price of the book - it is comprehensive, detailed, and provides a wealth of information for further reading on the Trojan War, Homer, Troy itself, the archeology of the area, and the Ancient Near East in general: the Hittites, Mycenaeans, Trojans, and ancient warfare. The book has its merits, to be sure, but I don't think they outweigh the problems I had with it to warrant more than 3 stars.
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