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Persian Fire: The First World Empire, Battle for the West Paperback – 3 Aug 2006
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Gripping and authoritative ... An awe-inspiring story of the struggle for freedom (Express)
Confident, fluent and accessible, and with salutary lessons for our own times, this is history at its best (The Times)
A brilliant new account of the world's very first clash of civilisations between the Persians and the Greeks in 480BC.See all Product description
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Although it covers Marathon and its aftermath, it also gives a detailed account, with occasional wry humour, of the origins of Persia, Athens, Sparta etc. The book also introduces you to a host of other peoples you half know, including those of Assyria,, Babylon, the Phoenicians and suchlike. In short, there is a pretty high percentage here of all the stuff you need to know about the ancient world (excluding Rome and Egypt), contained in less than 400 pages of well-written and engaging narrative.
Very highly recommended.
In Holland's books on Caesar and the Julio-Claudians he had copious amounts of classical texts to work with and this justified his confident narrative style. With the Greco-Persian wars he has Herodotus, with a few forays into Thucydides, Plutarch and Diodorus). This material does not justify the same assured approach here, nor is he shy of using a dozen words where one or two will suffice (which eventually becomes tiresome in itself).
Presented as history, but ultimately a work of historical fiction I fear, though not a bad one at that; the reader would be better off sticking with reading Herodotus, which is far more enjoyable.
I was delighted, therefore, that I found this history to be highly readable. Indeed I found it difficult to put down once it got into the drama of the battles for Greece. High praise for a factual book. I also enjoyed the contemporary vocabulary used in the judgements of the main characters. I felt that this popular style made the events and players vivid and accessible for the non specialist.
I was however a little disappointed that it did not keep its focus on the Persian world. I would have liked the story to continue its account of the empire through to Alexander and even beyond. In doing so it would have helped by shining light into the place I think best served by the promise at the beginning of the book.
Andrew Sachs and Tom Holland are a marriage made in heaven. Finding myself doing a lot of motorway driving and finding both the radio and my CD collection tedious, I decided to have a go at audio books, starting off with Holland's Rubicon, which I had simply not found the time to read in printed form. Having loved that I bought Persian Fire on audio.
As with Rubicon, Sachs is the perfect vehicle for carrying Holland's richly enjoyable prose. The story is a complicated one, far from linear, and you have to follow it closely, which means that it is probably more suitable for the house than the car. But even in this abridged version there is no sacrifice of clarity. Sachs and Holland carry the reader along on the adventures of a world which eventually culminated in the division of east and west.
Sachs has a lovely speaking voice, reads the book at an even speed, and clearly enjoys the pace, liveliness, vibrancy and dry humour of Holland's writing. He becomes part of the text, never imposing himself upon it. A triumph.
My only regret is that the CD cover doesn't have a mini-booklet with maps. Mini booklets are common with opera and classical music CDs, so it's an easy enough add-on, and because the geographical scope of Persian interests and the location of individual battles are so important, I would really have valued a couple of maps to show me where things were taking place.
As I said in my review of Rubicon, if you're a driver and new to audio books you may worry about how intrusive they will be whilst you're negotiating obstacles. Speaking for myself, I found that I simply edited out the audio book when I needed full brain activity to deal with traffic conditions. It meant going back to the beginning of the particular track, but that didn't matter very much.
It centres on the war between the Persians and the Greeks; described by John Stuart Mill as more important to British history than the Battle of Hastings. It's the clash between Dictatorship and Democracy, alien values versus the values that are at the core of the "West" today. And it's so well told. It has a brisk friendly style, eminently readable, but not glib. A depth of scholarship comes through, Tom Holland uses a range of ancient and modern authorities to bring to life the world shaping events he describes, drawing a direct line from Xerxes and Athens to Osama bin Laden.
If you are into history, or want to know why our world today is as it is, read this