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BC only Athens: A Portrait of the City in Its Golden Age Hardcover – 20 May 1999

4.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 634 pages
  • Publisher: John Murray; First Edition (UK) edition (20 May 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0719559596
  • ISBN-13: 978-0719559594
  • Product Dimensions: 22.8 x 16.2 x 4.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,270,628 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By rob crawford TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 6 May 2011
Format: Hardcover
This book, which covers one of the most remarkable eras in the history of mankind, attempts to be both scholarly and literary/popular. Unfortunately, while the content of it is utterly fascinating, the way it is written - or translated - leaves much to be desired: the style is flat and dull, frequently unclear, and simply a chore to plod through.
That being said, it covers the flowering of Athens as an imperialist democracy after the defeat of the Persian invasion that briefly united Greece. In the wake of the peace that followed, Athens used the Delian League to create an empire, drawing enormous wealth into the city state and dominating innumerable smaller states, eventually threatening the hegemony of the Spartans in the Pelopponesus. By developing a naval empire, the Athenians needed to enlist the loyalty of lower classes to man the boats and serve as hoplites, which encouraged the development of direct democracy.

Meier meticulously covers the details of these developments in a masterful synthesis of scholarship - it is a kind of updating of the Kulturgeschichte of Burckhart and is very valuable. THe reader is treated to the unique characteristics of Athens as well: it was in an era before there were "specialists" and so everyone was expected to participate in the city's governance, sometimes by elections and sometimes by lot; for historical reasons, Greece had lacked heredity kingships (and empires) to fall back on, preferring instead to guard the independence of smaller and more directly governable city states.

What was particularly interesting was Meier's portrayal of the excitment - the sense that all boundaries were crumbling - that permeated Athens of this period.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars 8 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars birth of the "west" 10 Feb. 2003
By Robert J. Crawford - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book, which covers one of the most remarkable eras in the history of mankind, attempts to be both scholarly and literary/popular. Unfortunately, while the content of it is utterly fascinating, the way it is written - or translated - leaves much to be desired: the style is flat and dull, frequently unclear, and simply a chore to plod through.
That being said, it covers the flowering of Athens as an imperialist democracy after the defeat of the Persian invasion that briefly united Greece. In the wake of the peace that followed, Athens used the Delian League to create an empire, drawing enormous wealth into the city state and dominating innumerable smaller states, eventually threatening the hegemony of the Spartans in the Pelopponesus. By developing a naval empire, the Athenians needed to enlist the loyalty of lower classes to man the boats and serve as hoplites, which encouraged the development of direct democracy.
Meier meticulously covers the details of these developments in a masterful synthesis of scholarship - it is a kind of updating of the Kulturgeschichte of Burckhart and is very valuable. THe reader is treated to the unique characteristics of Athens as well: it was in an era before there were "specialists" and so everyone was expected to participate in the city's governance, sometimes by elections and sometimes by lot; for historical reasons, Greece had lacked heredity kingships (and empires) to fall back on, preferring instead to guard the independence of smaller and more directly governable city states.
What was particularly interesting was Meier's portrayal of the excitment - the sense that all boundaries were crumbling - that permeated Athens of this period. In this he is certainly correct: we see the rise of Perikles, the great Greek trajedians, the beginning of modern philosophy, the flowering of artistic realism, and new forms of architecture. Meier views all of these developments as of a living organism, mixing political history with art criticism and long interpretations of the contemporary events that the dramas may have been referring to. In spite of these achievements, Meier also studies the fatal flaws and contradictions of this democratic experiment, in Athens' need to subjugate others in the name of democracy, the tendency of the citizens to indulge in excess and sudden blame, and the rise of demagogues. Thus, the portrait of the city is very well rounded. From that point, Meier moves to more military history, chronicalling the catastrophies of the Peloponessian War in painful detail. It is here, really, that the notion of the West and Europe were born.
However, it is amazing to me that the book is so poorly edited. The prose is leaden and utterly lacking in style, as in so much of the academic tradition. But the content is so interesting and compelling that it kept my interest through 600 pages. Indeed, I want to read more on the period.
Recommended.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Okay, but... 26 Oct. 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I wasn't terribly impressed with this, considering his supposed standing as a scholar and historian. The first hundred or so pages regarding the Battle of Salamis and Solon's early notions of democracy are engaging, but the author soon settles into rather sweeping assertions that become less and less rooted in historical examples. He may very well be right about it all, and probably is, but posits far too little to support his observations on particularly art and literature as a reflection of the concrete belief in democracy that Athens had and others didn't. He writes well (rather it is well-translated), just found myself wishing for more meat and less gristle. Still and all, there's much to learn from it and it is an entertaining read.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Athenian Politics from the Inside 6 Feb. 2010
By conjunction - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Just as I was reading the last page of this book, which primarily is an account of the internal politics of Athens during the century of its greatest glory, a knock on the door revealed a candidate for Plaid Cymru, the candidate for Welsh independence in the forthcoming UK general election. I found myself discussing with him the UK involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the policies we and the Americans had followed in these countries over the past hundred years or so.

Meier's book is a triumph of scholarship and understanding, although presented in an unacademic way with no footnotes and a skimpy bibliography. It is a meditation on experimentation in political form and policy. Meier endeavours to understand how the increasing democratization of Athens gave it greater power and ambition, as the old humility and reverence of the gods gave way to sceptical enquiry and at first triumph then rash pursuit of wars that could not be won.

Moving further and further away from tyranny as Athens realised that involving the middle classes and then the working class in the shape of soldiers and rowers brought wider and more powerful interests and perspectives into decision-making, Athens eventually found itself rolling a snowball that couldn't stop.

One of the greatest delights of this book is the way over and over again Meier looks at one of the Greek tragedies or comedies, viewed in the context of the year of its first production, and what it has to say about the political situation of the time. I certainly gained an appreciation of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes that I did not have before.

Meier does not really look at the philosophy of Socrates or Plato, but acknowledges that coming as it did at the end of this process it was perhaps Athens most important legacy.

I would not I think recommend this book as a starter for someone interested in Ancient Greece. Start with Homer, Herodotus, and if you can get a copy Stringfellow Barr's wonderful 'Will of Zeus', which summarises the politics and culture from Homer to Alexander, the whole span of Ancient Greece. Then read Plato. But Meier has given me a viewpoint into the internal dynamics of Athens as it twisted and turned to coordinate Greek energies against the Persians then tried to build an empire of its own before tripping over its own contradictions, showing how geographical and political circumstance combined with Greek history to allow experiments in political form which became a template for the next two thousand years.

The characters of Solon, Cleisthenes, Themistocles, Pericles and Alcibiades and several others are also vividly drawn, and placed in their context.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging, but not documented 3 July 2001
By Richard R. Simpkins - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I thoroughly enjoyed Meier's narrative style, but was somewhat disappointed by his lack of references. Even outright quotations were not footnoted, and I often had no idea where the quote came from! Many of Meier's views are obviously well informed, but he certainly had time to address opposing views. The only reason that I can think of as to why he chose not to defend his views (but only describe them) is that he intended this work to me for popular instruction. If so, he succeeds. The book drags on during periods (such as early Athens) when he describes mostly sociological details, but becomes far more engaging when he actually has a personality to describe (such as Solon or Pericles). Since the book focuses on the fifth century, there is scant information on earlier figures, such as Cylon and Pissistratus. This is unfortunate, because the title (and thickness of the book) suggests a more exhaustive account of the polis in question. Finally, Meier deals well with the interactions between Athens and other poleis, though I still would like to see him address opposing theories and document his sources. If I were grading for a scholar, I would give this three stars, but if you are a beginner at this topic, the current rating of four is more appropriate.
5.0 out of 5 stars For those who already know Athenian history 21 Jan. 2014
By Bruce Oksol - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
As one of the other reviewers said: Meier's book is not recommended for someone wanting to learn Athenian history for the first time.

This is one of those books where one is treated to a historian, standing at the front of the class, expounding on the Golden Age of Athens as he sees it (or saw it). The book lacks footnotes, and end notes, which I really would have appreciated; in that sense, it does not seem to be a scholarly book on first glance. In fact, I think most folks will be dissatisfied if they buy this book "sight unseen." But the way Meier ties Greek literature to the overall story is what makes this book unique.

I think the majority of folks who purchase this book "sight unseen," as noted above, will be disappointed. But for those who already have a college freshman understanding of classical Greek history, this will serve them well.

The hard cover, by the way, looks quite elegant on one's bookshelf by the way.
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