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on 26 January 2006
This is quite simply the best all-round book for learning about the peloponnesian wars. Kagan manages to combine factual information with a very easy-to-read style.
Maps are numerous and even include maps of the various battlegrounds including ship formations.
Kagan not only narrates the events very well, but also provides his own insights into why some decisions were made, and some of these decisions would appear very bizarre without them.
In all, I can't recommend this book enough. I have a huge interest in ancient times and this is easily the best book i've read.
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on 22 February 2015
The Peloponnesian war was the battle for control over Greece between the Forces of Athens and the Armies of Sparta. Lasting 27 years, the two sides fought numerous conflicts over the period, but rarely did they strike directly at each other until close to the end of the conflict. (Sparta was unable to breach the defences of Athens and its impressive Navy, while Athens could not compete with the Spartan army), instead they fought against each other's allies and colonies, wearing each other down. In the end Sparta and its coalition defeated the Athenian Empire, leading to a brief period of Spartan superiority till they collapsed and the Macedonians rose in prominence.

Donald Kagan writes an engaging history of this period, giving us the run up to the conflict and the underlying causes of it, then breaks the conflict into 7 phases giving them ample time and detail. The authors style works well, never coming off as too dry and works to bring to life some of the people from the time. There are ample maps to support the narrative, though no pictures of the areas, though given that it has been almost 2500 years this should not be surprising.

A very fun and engaging work about ancient Greece.
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on 17 January 2009
Over the years I've read several books that have dealt with this subject and have found them hard going. The story of the Peloponnesian wars is intricate and confusing and has all too often been made more so by authors who lovingly lay out the factual details without providing a good analysis. Donald Kagan does both with great aplomb. A must read for anyone with a deep interest in this period of ancient history and a good read for those who are simply curious.
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on 10 January 2006
I bought this book for my first semester studying Ancient History at university, and it was definitely the best choice- this one book taught me everything you could possibly need to know about the Peloponnesian War, and I found it extremely easy to read. It is not at all monotonous, unlike most historical texts! Kagan writes with depth but doesn't swamp you. I really enjoyed reading his book and it really made me (even more)interested in my subject. Even if you're not studying the subject, and are simply interested, then this is the book for you. Amazing!
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on 22 October 2008
I approached this work to further my knowledge, following reading more general works of classical history, and was not at all disappointed. I feel now, having pressed on and read this tract, that I at least know something (whereas before I knew nothing) of some of the earliest known verifiable histories of human relations. The final thoughts of the author, set out at the conclusion of this edition, were worth the price of the book alone. The thoughts of such an historian, based upon a lifetime's work, should be read by all politicians, and all who aspire to power over their fellow man.
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on 9 April 2013
I do not intend to write a comprehensive review of this very well known work. This has been done elsewhere, with considerably more skill than I am able to reproduce. But I just wanted to add my own personal conclusions for the benefit of those who might be considering investing in it. It is a very well-written and entertaining account of the Cold War, cleverly disguised as a history of a bloodier conflict between two ancient Greek cities that bear little resemblance to the much later contending powers. In my view, it is one of the prime examples of viewing history through a contemporary lens. This does make the history relevant, it just means it becomes dated rather quickly, and the image it presents is warped and blurred by a lack of genuine historical context.
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on 29 May 2009
This book is probably as good as it can get. Extremely well written, excellent history and a must for anyone with a remote interest in this subject or any other related to Greek history. Read and enjoy.
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on 30 November 2009
The Peloponnesian War represents a trully epic time in the Ancient Greek World. The War was perhaps the Hellenic World's equivalent of a world war, involving at various stages Greek cities across the entire Med, Persia, Thrace, Macedon, and even Carthage. The war was also immense in that it placed two diametrically opposed rivals in Athens and Sparta, one a Naval Empire and the other a Land Power. The war also produced one of the greatest historians of all time in Thucydides, whose death prior to completing his history has meant that the later stages of the war are entrusted to an array of less talented historians. The triumph of Kagan's history is largely in its creation of a unified narrative for the war and also in its presentation of the material, including some excellent maps.

The book follows a straight forward narrative structure dealing with the war in a linear fashion. What Kagan does with this narrative is intertwine a good amount of primary source material, Kagan also reveals an excellent knowledge of Attic drama which he uses to annotate his portrayal of the key Athenian players in the war. Usefully he uses his knowledge of sources other than Thucydides to rehabilitate many of the radical politician's of Athens who were so villified by our historical sources.

If there is a criticism of the book, it is that Kagan has a strong bias toward Athens and importantly the concept that democracy as a form of government is superior to all others. Whilst a review on Amazon is not the place to debate the merits of Athenian Democracy, and nor is the review an attack on democracy, but rather Kagan's discussion of it. Firstly Kagan rightly challenges Thucydides opinion on matters pertaining to the democracy (he challenges his view that Pericles undermined the democracy, the Cleon, Cleophon and others where demagogues and slates Nicias) but is inconsistent, whilst he says that the assembly wasn't motivated by greed in seeking to attack Syracuse and cites complex motivations, he equally attributes to the Spartans an attitude of fear/jealousy for starting the war. It is perhaps Kagan's refusal to blame the democracy for things going wrong in the war that leaves the work slightly unbalanced in Athen's favour, equally it would have been nice of Kagan to have shown a greater appreciation of the political structures of Sparta (mixed constitution) or Boeotia (Federalism). Equally bis portrayal of Corinth and its relationship with Corcyra does seem to be against the grain of current academic opinion regarding the relationship between Mother City and Colony, Corcyra's behaviour was fairly anomalous for the period. I would also like to have seen him be more critical of Alcibiades, whose actions were always on the verge of counter-democratic conduct.

The criticisms above are not an attempt to dissuade would be readers, but rather an attempt to alert people to the works bias in favour of Athens. It is important not to confuse ancient and modern democracy, Athens was a major user of slave labour both in the fleet and in their mines (20,000 deserted to Sparta when they fortified Declea) as well as using resident aliens (metics) both in their Land Army and Fleet. Although Athens was a democracy it was not built on the same principles as a modern democracy. This is an excellent work however and should be of interest to both the academic and the lay historian.
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on 16 December 2012
One of the best history books I've ever read. Clear, concise explanations of the causes, politics, military strategies, outcomes and consequences of the Peloponnesian conflict, the book is pitched just right for the interested student of ancient Greek warfare but without the requirement to be a military or historical scholar. Extremely enjoyable and informative.
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on 26 January 2011
In many ways the Peloponnesian war has exerted such an influence over historians because it is the template for all later wars representing a clash of superpowers. So much of it is familiar from later conflicts: the initial spark in a far off arena of conflict, the way much of the conflict is fought out in places other than the territory around the protagonists, the very different opposing political structures and ideologies and the resrictions on liberties imposed as a 'necessary' consequence of continuing the war. Athens itself seems familiar as a model for later empires: democratically ruling in a vaguely liberal fashion over an empire on which it is reliant for imports, bolstered by her supreme naval power and exporting her political systems.

It's probably natural for many readers to side with Athens as the cradle of democracy fighting the totalitarian, militaristic Sparta. Yet how Athens tries her supporters' patience! Atrocities are commited by both sides and Athens herself toys with rejecting democracy. Time and again Athens seems to make the wrong decision, like the way the war in Sicily is conducted, or imposing the death penalty on eight newly victorious generals. Spartan peace offers are rejected right up to the last fateful year.

Donald Kagan tell this story in a gripping and detailed way. He manages to be both thorough and fast-paced, moving the action on without over-simplifying. I particularly liked the ways the characters of the rapidly changing cast list are drawn. The proliferation of similar and sometimes unfamiliar names could easily get confusing, but Kagan handles this aspect very well. There are lots of maps, although they print up quite small in paperback and some of the maps of battles actually tell us little about troop or ship dispositions.

A good read, recommended.
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