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44 of 47 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars History of Sparta
An interesting book on the history of Sparta and its role in ancient Greek history. It's not too scholarly, and not too populist, but rather maintains a balance that allows the author to discuss the subject in some depth without baffling the casual reader.
Much of the book is made up of biographies of leading Spartans inserted into gaps in the main body of the text...
Published on 21 July 2004

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good starting point on Spartan history
If you want a good overview of the following ...

- The Spartan military machine
- The society
- The famous figures
- The famous events and battles (Thermopylae)

... then this is a good foundation. The book reads easily, and despite what other reviewers have said I dont find it poorly laid out, just a little thin on details in some...
Published on 9 Sept. 2011 by dave.P


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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Presentational irritants do not do justice to fascinating content, 4 Jan. 2010
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This is an irritating book in that Cartledge seems to be at pains to conform to contemporary postmodern presentational fetishes: approaching things obliquely, interspersing the narrative with catchy biographies, repetition. He is Professor of Greek History at Cambridge (and according to the blurb the world's leading expert on Sparta)and his support of popular history is to be applauded. But his concern to do things according to current convention just gets in the way of what should be a good read, actually confuses rather than clarifies. For all that, the subject matter is of tremendous interest and I learned much about a unique culture.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A GREAT PRESENT, 2 Jan. 2014
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My god-daughter asked for this for her Christmas present; I saved quite a lot by getting it from Amazon, and she was delioghted at the read.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Having recently read Tom Holland's excellent "Persian Fire" I was in the mood for some ..., 28 July 2014
By 
Evan Marshall - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Spartans: An Epic History (Hardcover)
Such a disappointing book. Having recently read Tom Holland's excellent "Persian Fire" I was in the mood for some extra detail on a longer period of Spartan history but this book sadly wasn't able to provide it.

Straight from the very long and rambling introduction I was a bit worried. I don't know what Paul Cartledge thinks an introduction is actually for but in my experience it's not to give a sort of précis of the entire book you're about to read, going through pretty much every major event, often with levels of detail that leave you wondering what the point of the actual chapters will be. Of course, this leads to a tremendous amount of repetition of facts in the main bulk of the book that you've already read in the introduction, but this is as of nothing compared to the repetition delivered by his "box out" biographies.

Again, I'm really not sure what Cartledge's grasp of what a book should be actually is. If he was putting together an illustrated coffee table style book on the Spartans (and many such tomes exist on periods of classical history) then he would be quite entitled to have the main flow of the text, and the main thrust of the history it contained, taking up most of each page while boxes could appear down the sides giving more information on various people being mentioned. However, what he does in this book, which is a standard text-driven publication, is to interrupt the narrative every time a new person is mentioned to give a biography of them. Seeing as it's impossible to have a box down the side in a normal text based book he instead has to just clump this right in the middle of what you're reading so that for three, four, maybe six, seven or eight pages you have to take a sidestep and read this biography.

The problem with this is that you end up with endless repetition. The reason for this is that for many of the people (and he presents a *lot* of biographies within the book) we don't know a lot about them until they actually start achieving things. Their early lives are almost always largely unknown and it is by their deeds that we remember them from the histories of people like Herodotus, Thucydides and Xenophon. So what Cartledge does is to break up the narrative with a biography which then tells you everything that person did, often in quite a lot of detail and very often going decades into the future. Once you return to the narrative he then proceeds to tell you all the same things in only slightly greater detail that you've just read, often with the exact same phrasing!

What was he thinking? Has he ever read a book himself where this happens? Does he think that's normal? And, more to the point, what on earth was the editor thinking of? Did she just make sure there were no spelling mistakes and think she'd done her job? How can she have let all the endless repetition through and think it was okay. Some stories are told not just twice, but three times throughout the book, and not by saying, "as we saw earlier", but each time presented as if being told for the first time. And he keeps it right up to the very end with the penultimate paragraph presenting us with information he's already told us before.

All this is frustrating enough but there are many other failings with the book. Handy maps would have given a lot of context to events throughout the book but instead we get just two right at the front which are somewhat less than useless. They look as if they've been photocopied from some ancient school textbook and then reduced to about 25% of their true size so that it's virtually impossible to make out any of the writing on them.

There's a disappointing lack of detail to the early days of Sparta which is just not acceptable on a book about the history of Sparta and I found that I knew far, far more about Spartan society from Tom Holland's overview in the early chapters of "Persian Fire" where Sparta was just one of three societies (the others being Athens and the Persians/Medes) that he was trying to cover. We then get something important like a chapter on Women and Religion plonked randomly down into the second half of the book when it should have been near the start, in the set-up as it were, and, of course, it was repeating much of what he'd already told us by that stage anyway.

The lack of detail continues to envelop, surprisingly, the Persian War - surely the most famous moment in Spartan history. It's understandable that Holland would go into greater detail in his book on this but there were many key stories told by Holland that are bafflingly left out by Cartledge. Even when it comes to the two authors giving motives to the people of this time Cartledge always falls up short with Holland giving reasons for events which sound truer and which are backed up with whatever evidence he can provide. For instance, Cartledge has the 300 who fought at Thermopylae as being a mere suicide squad. This doesn't make any sense at all. In a war which they'd been anticipating for years why would the Spartans send one of their kings and 300 elite fighters to just die if, as Cartledge suggests, they had given up all hope of winning the war? Surely they would just not bother going at all and then submit to the Persians when they finally came down the Pelopennese. Holland's argument appeals more to common sense. That the Spartans led by Leonidas were a holding force to keep the Persians at bay to buy time for the religious festival (preventing the deeply pious Spartans' attendance) to end and thus their entire force could turn to Thermopylae. The small force under Leonidas with some allies was a compromise between their religious obligations and the utter necessity of holding the pass at Thermopylae at all costs. The version presented by Cartledge makes no sense at all.

Of course, the book even manages to end disappointingly by having no real ending at all. You would think that a book on the history of Sparta would show what happened to the city state after its fall from grace. But, no. Cartledge tells us about the final major battles they lost but nothing after that at all. No comment on the devastating effect the loss of their helot slave cities would have had on their economy and society. No comment on the gradual disintegration of their authority and the complete irrelevance they became (just a few years later!) under Philip of Macedonia and his son Alexander. All we get is fleeting references in a few of the never-ending biographies which manage to extend events beyond what should surely have been the scope of the actual book.

All in all, the book is very surprisingly lacking in some key details and is often written in a rambling and waffling style. The endless retelling of the same stories and repeating of the same quotations lends you to think that the book just hasn't been properly edited at all. Sadly, it smacks of being of the standard of being self-published and that is a very bad reflection on Channel 4 Books and its editor. I'll continue my search for a good book on Spartan history elsewhere.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent general account; perhaps not for total beginners, 4 Aug. 2012
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I studied ancient history at university but 20 years on, needing to teach something to my pupils on Sparta, I was concerned I had forgotten some details about Spartan history and so I decided to read this book to brush up a little.

Cartledge is on top of his subject and was able to combine textual and archaeological evidence in an interesting and effective way to produce a very readable account. The book is much better on the growth of Sparta until it reached the peak of its power and influence in the C5th and early C4th. Cartledge does, however, assume some familiarity with the subject and had I not been able to recall some of the details about key Spartan kings such as Cleomenes or Demaratus, at some points I could have become confused. Perhaps this is always going to be the case in a book for the general reader. I also found the description of Sparta's decline dealt with in a more cursory way, though this may be more to do with my greater unfamiliarity with events after 404BC.

The appendix is rather idiosyncratic and unusual in such a book, but amused me.

Certainly a better general introduction than Forrest's History of Sparta which I still have on my shelves from college days, I enjoyed taking it away on holiday and am better informed than I was before.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Spartans Review, 24 Oct. 2010
An interesting book that seems to suffer from a tendency to lurch from one biography to another and winds up repeating information we've already read, and read and read. It may even have been a series of essays at one point, at least that's the way it reads to me. These essays were then thrown together and finished off with a critique on fox hunting. The rant on fox hunting came at the end and you're left thinking what has that to do with Sparta? I agree with one reviewer in that it seems to suffer from a lack of editing.
By no means a definitive history of Sparta it does provide a summary for those who want to know more about Sparta but due to the disorganised nature of the book I have to give this three stars and I know he can do better with the material he's got, it's just that this book never really lives up to its name.
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29 of 43 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars seems like a thesis draft, 28 Dec. 2006
By 
D. Forster - See all my reviews
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Although this book does contain much nice detail on the history of Sparta and the Spartans, it seems like a first (and crude) draft of a thesis ... which has never passed through the hands of an editor. It may be good as an introduction to this topic, but most of this information can be found elsewhere.

There are several typo's throughout the book, including the names of some of the main "protagonists" Cartledge has chosen, as well as in figures accompanying the text. Further, he is inconsistent in providing dates - sometimes far too many, sometimes none at all.

It is filled with personal opinions on certain topics reflecting no more than the author's own bias - without considering these topics in their historical setting.

Much of the book is divided into "mini-chapters" based on famous (or popular) figures from history. This means that, rather focusing on a consistent historical time-line, the reader is forced to jump back and forth in Spartan history. This results in a lot of repetition ... often with no link to a previous mention of the event/persona, or even drawing different and/or opposing conclusions (again without reference to previous mentions of the topic). This makes it seem like Cartledge has simply copy & pasted from different undergraduate and postgraduate essays (presumably his own).

Added to this, huge chunks of chapters are dedicated to Cartledge delineating what he is setting out to do in a given chapter/section, rather than just getting to the point (and sometimes simply failing to accomplish what he is setting out to do).

This is a poor read.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Longevity..., 23 May 2011
You will return to this book many times. A great overview of Spartan history that does not skimp on the details. The author does not shy away from giving his authoritative opinion on causes, events and people. I gave it four stars because the biographies of the leading Spartans interrupt the flow of the main narrative. However they are still essential reading.
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12 of 19 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars shoddy, repetitive, boring, 9 Jun. 2009
By 
A. J. McGowan (London) - See all my reviews
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I was quite excited about reading this book: I'd read quite a lot of popular classical history and I wanted to know more about the Spartans. Cartledge is a well respected historian, and I'd read his biography of the spartan King Agesilaus. However the rather rambling nature of that book should have warned me, as should his poor attempts at humour and populism. But nothing could have prepared me for the poor quality of this 'epic history' as it is laughably subtitled. The fault is partly the structure - potted biographies interrupt the narrative. This leads to endless repetition, as the material in the biogs is repeated, often word for word in the narrative sections. I was particularly amused when he told me for the second time about Herodotus repeating himself! Relatively unimportant issues are dwelled on at length, while other key events are rushed through/over. The writing is lazy and slipshod. All in all, a disgrace - almost any general history of the classical world would serve as a better introduction to the Spartans than this. (I can recommend that by Robin Lane Fox - a model of approachable and yet rigorous prose.)
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5.0 out of 5 stars Gave it as a gift, 9 April 2015
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This review is from: The Spartans: An Epic History (Hardcover)
Gave it as a gift and it was most appreciated
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8 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ideal, 3 Nov. 2006
By 
E. A. Hall "Wii-viewer" (England) - See all my reviews
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This book is ideal if you are thinking of, or are studyng AS Level Ancient History. It covers all the facts that you need to know about The Spartans, and also provides an interesting story for further reading. The book itself is easy to pick up and read, but difficult to put down again.
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The Spartans: An Epic History
The Spartans: An Epic History by Paul Cartledge (Hardcover - 8 Nov. 2002)
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