8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 20 August 2008
Anton Powell's 'Athens and Sparta' is one of the best introductions to Greek history I have read. Written with the beginning student in mind, it provides a useful narrative history of events from 478BC to the end of the Peloponnesian War, but perhaps more importantly it also introduces the student to historical method, explaining why modern scholarship has come to its present conclusions and demonstrating the need to think critically about sources. In this respect, it's a more demanding read than the average popular history; I'm thinking of works like Tom Holland's admirable but gossipy books on ancient history, where scepticism tends to be tucked away in the endnotes rather than built into the main text.
Powell has a clear and fresh style and believes in being candid about the historian's own bias, making his own political beliefs explicit as early as page xv of the Introduction. He also has a dry sense of humour. In an Appendix he laconically disposes of a recent book by Harvard academic Ernst Badian, in which Badian had claimed (more or less) that not only was Thucydides a thoroughly unreliable source but that scholars who didn't agree were guilty of all sorts of faults - ignorance of Greek, political naivety, sheer incompetence, you name it. Powell shows how Badian's normally sound scholarship had apparently deserted him, and slyly implies that Badian was imputing his own negative sentiments to Thucydides. It's as neat a damaging review as this reader has ever read.
Routledge are publishing many outstanding works on Greek history, and this is another of them.