Customer Review

39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cannot recommend this book too highly, 11 Jun. 2006
This review is from: The History of the Peloponnesian War (Wordsworth Classics of World Literature) (Paperback)
Who should read this book ?

* Anyone who wants to understand how free societies can descend into tyranny:

* Anyone who does not realise that merely holding free elections is not enough to preserve a society worth living in, especially if you don't combine democracy with the rule of law:

* Anyone who needs to understand how two or more nations can stumble into a war devastating to both:

* Anyone who imagines that genocide and ethnic cleansing were limited to our own era:

* Anyone interested in reading one of the first works of true history ever written.

In other words this history of a terrible war nearly two and half thousand years ago is as relevant in the first decade of the third millenium as it was when it was written, four centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ.

If I had to nominate one historical work for my son and daughter to read, I would think carefully between this volume, Suetonius's "The 12 Caesars", and Herodotus's "Histories", but Thucydides "History of the Peloponnesian war" would edge it.

The Wordsworth Classics version includes an introduction by Lorna Hardwick which I found most helpful in understanding the importance of Thucydides and the context in which his writing needs to be understood.

You cannot take every word in this book for granted, but Herodotus and Thucydides came closer to an objective search for truth than any writer whose works survive and was writing before them or for centuries afterwards.

The story of the tragic wars, initially between Athens and Sparta, which decimated Greek civilisation between 431BC and 404 BC is absolutely gripping, and Thucydides brings the story to life for me.

This translation by Richard Crawley was written more than 130 years ago, and slightly revised by R.C. Feetham in 1903. Despite being more than a century old, I found the translation to be accessible and easy to understand. I understand from those who know more about history than I do that Crawley's translation is now preferred by current experts to the rival Victorian translation by Benjamin Jowett which provides more of a general sense of Thucydides' writing but is less good at conveying the detail.

The most irritating thing about Thucydides book is that it stops suddently in the middle of a sentence in 411 BC, shortly after the overthrow of democracy in Athens and the Athenian naval victory at the Dardanelles. E.g. well before the actual resolution of the conflict between Athens and Sparta, let alone the subsequent struggle between both cities and Thebes.

If, like me, this leaves you wanting to learn more about what happened next, your best bet is to read Xenophon's "A history of my times" which was deliberately written to follow on from Thucydides, to such an extent that it actually starts with the words "And after this."

The reputation of Xenophon among historians as a reliable source has fallen dramatically over the past few decades, and he is undoubtedly not in the same class as Thucydides as a historian, but he certainly is in the same class as a storyteller and he does complete the story of the war.
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