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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating tale of a little known slice of history
Being an infrequent reader of fiction, and NOT a student of history, I get great enjoyment from Valerio Massimo Manfredi's historic fiction books. When I sit down I want to be transported to another time, another world, "when men were men" and lived life on the sword edge. "Tyrant" does just that, sweeping you up in the little known story of Dionysius the Elder, who...
Published on 17 Jan. 2006 by Mr. S. B. Cook

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2.0 out of 5 stars too one-dimensional for fiction too one-sided for fact
With any novel centred on a historical figure it can be expected that a more human, sympathetic picture of that person should emerge. Here we get some of that treatment as we see the descent of a young idealist into a merciless despot.
However, I couldn't help but feel I was reading the story of Dionysius written by Dionysius. Almost everything about his character...
Published on 24 Jun. 2011 by Gilolc


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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating tale of a little known slice of history, 17 Jan. 2006
By 
This review is from: Tyrant (Paperback)
Being an infrequent reader of fiction, and NOT a student of history, I get great enjoyment from Valerio Massimo Manfredi's historic fiction books. When I sit down I want to be transported to another time, another world, "when men were men" and lived life on the sword edge. "Tyrant" does just that, sweeping you up in the little known story of Dionysius the Elder, who became the tyrant of Syracuse, an important "Greek" city on what is now the Island of Sicily.
Historic fiction gives you a flavour of what it might have been like 'back then'. You don't expect it to be perfectly accurate in everything but the the big landmarks, the big events and people. The gaps in our knowledge are filled in with the author's intuition and imagination. And for me, Manfredi does a great job. Let's not forget that he is Professor of Classical Archaelogy too -- so, despite being a popularizer, he is basing his works on a fairly solid grasp of the history.
Some people might find the translation (he's Italian and wrote the book in Italian) a little clumsy, the dialogue at times a bit cheesy and unlikely, or the scenes a little over dramatic -- and if you are fussy like that... try something drier, you are welcome to it.
For the general reader, this is a great yarn, a welcome distraction from the mundane existence of 21st century living and an opportunity to learn something of a time about which most of us know nothing. I enjoyed it, as I have his other books.
Manfredi fans will also enjoy books by Stephen Pressfield, such as "Gates of Fire" and "Last of the Amazons" -- Pressfield writes in English and his battle scenes are gut-wrenchingly gripping.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The best book from Manfredi, 5 Feb. 2012
By 
JPS - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Tyrant (Paperback)
Again, this is a review of a book that I bought and read long ago (in 2005), hugely enjoyed, but didn't bother to review at the time. Contrary to other reviewers, I found Tyrant, the life story of Dionysios the Elder of Syracuse, to be Massimo's best book, probably because this is essentially a historical novel with little fiction in it and because Manfredi obviously knows his topic well. A further element that made this book interesting is that the topic itself is one that is rarely covered, in historical novels at least.

The basic story is about the descent and transformation of a young (but rather ambitious) man from a good family of Syracuse (although not among the highest aristocratic families) "into a merciless despot", as another reviewer puts it. However, this is certainly not "the story of Dionysios written by Dionysios" for, despite all the facts explaining why he becomes such a despot, I certainly did not get to sympathize with him. Another interesting character, presented as a contrast to the Tyrant and who, unlike him, has not put aside his initial idealism, is that of his brother Leptines. Here, however, the author may have introduced some license. Leptines is a historical character who seconded his tyranical brother. Whether he really was as described in the book is however another matter.

I won't go into too much details and spoil the story by summarizing it. The only thing I can say is that since Dionysios became (and remained) tyrant on the basis of his ability to win the war against Carthage, the book is full of battles and sieges, as one war follows another. Another element is that Valerio Massimo Manfredi paints a picture of Dionysios which I belikeve to be much more convincing that the one that you find in the historical sources. These almost unanimously blacken his name and put each and every of his actions in the most unfavorable light they can come up with. I do agree that Manfredi's book does show some sympathy for his main character at times and does largely omit some facts - such as his efforts to appear as a great poet and philosopher - which might make him more ridicule than anything else since he seems to have been rather untalented in this respect. Nevertheless, his paranoïa and cruelty, however justified, are rather well described. Some elements may be missing from the book, especially regarding the relations among and within Sicilian cities at the time - the so-called "stasis" or social conflicts between oligarchic and "democratic" factions that so often lead to civil war.

Anyway, to learn more about this period, the most accessible book is Jeff Champion's first volume on the Tyrants in Sicily. It has some limitations, but it certainly is a useful addition to this book if you are looking for more historical context. So, four stars, but not five.
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2.0 out of 5 stars too one-dimensional for fiction too one-sided for fact, 24 Jun. 2011
This review is from: Tyrant (Paperback)
With any novel centred on a historical figure it can be expected that a more human, sympathetic picture of that person should emerge. Here we get some of that treatment as we see the descent of a young idealist into a merciless despot.
However, I couldn't help but feel I was reading the story of Dionysius written by Dionysius. Almost everything about his character was lionized, his failings are hardly mentioned and the author or protagonist is always quick to excuse them as necessary of the fault of others. This contrasts with the detail with which he describes the atrocities and stupidity of his enemies and how they brought destruction upon themselves. Sometimes it can be downright hypocritical. At one battle an opponent of Dionysius is criticised for leading his men into a trap, but the same general is later condemned for doing exactly the opposite and holding his men back. The correctness of a decision seems to rest upon who makes it, not its intentions or consequences.
I wouldn't mind this bias except that it does not allow for an interesting story. We see little conflict between major characters, which are usually under-developed and two-dimensional. The book is therefore reliant on the events themselves being interesting. This is usually the case apart from some painfully forced expositions that slow them down, mostly in the form of clunky, awkward dialogue which would not seem out of place in a non-fiction history book.
Overall it's a nice book if you want a more personal view of ancient history, but not if you're looking for engaging characters or a strong human narrative.
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3.0 out of 5 stars The Godsfather, 19 Mar. 2013
By 
Rotgut "rotgut" (Warrington UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Tyrant (Paperback)
Valerio Massimo Manfredi's "real" job as a top-notch historian shines through in every page of this tale of classical Sicily, centring on the giant figure of Dionysus of Syracuse, the eponymous Tyrant of the title.

There is a wealth of historical detail, including maps of the major battles, and the descriptions of the tactics and strategies the ancient world's finest generals employ are never less than interesting.

As a novel though, despite Manfredi's short afterword describing all the sacrifices of fact he's made to get a good storyline, the book is a bit bogged down with all the information the author strains to convey.

The reader doesn't really get taken under the protagonists's skin and without this, a novelised biography like this is inevitably flawed.

Most interesting aspect, in my opinion, the speculation (within the novel, and in the afterword) of the origins of Sicillian organised crime back in the classical era...even in 412BC, it seems, Sicily belonged to these shadowy figures!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Historical Fiction at it's Best, 22 Sept. 2006
By 
J. Chippindale (England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Tyrant (Paperback)
Few authors can be better equipped to write about the history of ancient Greece and Rome than Valerio Massimo Manfredi. Professor of archaeology at the university of Milan, he has carried out many excavations and expeditions in the Mediterranean region. He has produced many factual books on historical matters, mainly military and has still found the time to write several novels and this is one of the best of them.

I think that this is one of the authors best books to date and he has written several excellent ones including the Alexander trilogy which received world wide acclaim and probably brought the authors name to the forefront of ancient historical writers.

The book takes place in 412 AD and charts the clash of one man and a superpower. The man is Dionysius of Syracuse. The superpower is Carthage, a city with thriving trade links and one of the most powerful navies in the Mediterranean. How can a 20-year-old even think of going against the might and resources of a place such as Carthage.

Thus begins the journey into manhood of a man who rose to gather one of the greatest armies in the Ancient World and also invented many of the trappings of war that lasted for centuries. Machines never seen before by mankind. Machines that could wreak havoc and destruction on a scale never before dreamed of. Dionysius also invented the quinquereme a five module battleship that had fifty oarsmen to propel through the water.

But who was the man Dionysius, was he the ruthless, murdering tyrant that his enemies depicted or was he an intelligent man born ahead of his time. History has lumped him with the so called tyrants, but the greatness of the man is impossible to deny.
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2.0 out of 5 stars A Thin Slice of History, 16 April 2008
This review is from: Tyrant (Paperback)
As usual Manfredi writes reasonably well and the story at least has the benefit of some sense of reality. But, and its a big but, I always come away from one of his novels with a sense of disappointment. The book is too brief, the characters are not explored fully and large slices of history are simply ignored. The conclusion that Dionysis fails because of his absolutism is trite and is not explored properly. As usual Manfredi sacrifices a the opportunity to write a really good book in the interests of airport sales. This, of course, is not uncommon nowadays, but I really do think that a bit more effort should have been put in. We see the story of Dionysis but never really understand it or him. Verdict - could have done better.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good- but not his best, 28 April 2005
This review is from: Tyrant (Hardcover)
I have so far read the last legion and the Alexander trilogy, to which Tyrant does not compare, but is nonetheless a thoroughly entertaining novel.
There are places in the book where Manfredi captures the epic scale of events as he does so well in other books, but there are other places when the book seems like a cheaply made film. The sudden mood swings of the main character and impetuous decisions very often feel out of place and unreal.
There are also frequent instances where the book just seems quickly written, though this may be down to the translation process. The book felt as though it was over too quickly, you find yourself just becoming attached to the characters as towards the end of the novel they finally display some realistic emotions and characteristics when the novel finishes (rather abrubtly).
Overall I enjoyed reading this because of its subject matter and storyline, and there are some brilliant pieces of writing embedded in the book, but they are few and far between: the book just doesn't display the polish and depth shown in Manfredi's other novels.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but not great., 19 Aug. 2005
This review is from: Tyrant (Hardcover)
After reading the Alexander trilogy I was expecting the same high standards but it never quite lived up to my expectations. The story of Dionysius and his rise to power in Sicily is facinating. He has taken a subject of some complexity and crammed it into one book. This makes the storyline feel rushed at times and the ending was disappointing due to its abruptness. Never the less, it is still an enjoyable read and worth buying. It is good, but not great and far from his best.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't finish it, 29 May 2006
By 
A. D. MacFarlane (England, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Tyrant (Paperback)
Highly interested in ancient history, I approached this novel with enthusiasm and high hopes but ultimately I felt let down. While Manfredi's characterisation of Dionysius is very good - throughout the story, his motives and actions are wonderfully clear - I found the style of the piece far too dull.

I think the problem is that Manfredi has tried to cover a very large chunk of history in what is an average-sized book, and in doing so he has skimmed over some parts of the history. While this is possibly a good thing - every little detail might get boring - the way that Manfredi does this is lacking. I feel that he spends a lot of time telling things and that his narrative when doing this, sometimes covering a period of several years, is uninteresting.

I got about two thirds of my way through the book before I finally lost interest. I know the outcome and while I would normally read on anyway (as I learnt while studying ancient Greek plays, it's not so much as the outcome as the journey getting there), in this case I probably won't.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, entertaining book, 18 Feb. 2005
This review is from: Tyrant (Hardcover)
As with all Massimo Manfredi books, you'll find this a grasping adventure. Not as good as other titles such as the Alexander trilogy or The Last Legion, it manages to transport you back in time so you actually feel what the characters are going through. The language used also helps in this as you don't get slang words or phrases that Greeks of that era would not use.
Being as well a political book with insight into different political systems, with their advocates and adversaries, this adventure will keep you entertained while teaching you about well researched ancient history.
Look at the maps as you go along, especially the battle ones to have a better understanding of what's going on.
A very good buy indeed.
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Tyrant by Valerio Massimo Manfredi (Hardcover - 4 Feb. 2005)
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