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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 12 September 2017
For all the problems Thucydides’s work poses for the contemporary reader – the dryness of the prose, the author’s own admission that the speeches are unlikely to be accurate reporting, his inability to transcend the particular for the universal – it is beyond churlish to criticise the man who may be seen as the first real historian, the first to consider history as a product of human agency, not as something predetermined by the whims of the gods.

By his own admission, Thucydides’s account is short on literary merit. There are occasional references to human emotions, especially fear and panic, but in general the history presents us with little but a litany of events on a grand scale, free of any descriptions of the actions of individuals. Early on there are instances where the speeches in particular offer the potential for learning, but these are implicit rather than explicit. It has been left to his successors to generalise the lessons.

But what lessons! The greatest, of course, is that succumbing to the apparent need to wage war on a challenger or incumbent has enormous and often unforeseen consequences. When Sparta and Athens allowed themselves to be sucked into conflict with each other they were both great nations. By the end of the war they were depleted almost to the point of no return, leaving a power vacuum for others to exploit. In the 20th Century, the parallels include Great Britain, Germany and the United States in that respect.

On another level, there is the sheer brutality of the way war is waged. Even with individual suffering overlooked, it is difficult not to be horrified by the merciless and summary killings that take place, of soldiers and civilians alike; the calamities that befall both sides due to overreach, miscalculation, hubris, treachery, caprice, forces of nature such as earthquakes, plagues, volcanoes, storms and the tides, and sometimes pure stupidity; and the way in which some people, through no fault of their own, are caught in the middle with no viable means of escape. I lost count of the number of times one side or the other lay waste a region.

This Penguin edition, it has to be said, has a few faults of its own. MI Finley’s Introduction is scholarly and informative but in a 1970s kind of way. (I found Graham Allison’s overview in Destined for War, which I have also reviewed, a useful, though by no means complete, supplement.) Rex Warner’s translation dates back to the 1950s, and it shows, and could at least do with an up-to-date commentary. There are numerous typos, problems with the tiny typeface, a number of examples of poor proofreading, including a few times where infinitives have “to” preceding them twice due to a line change, and at least one sentence which, no matter how many times I read it, made no sense at all. Additionally, having read about a quarter of the book wishing there were maps I found them, at the back. But they’re useless, not only committing all the cardinal sins of maps but also giving the appearance of having been printed on blotting paper.

It’s impossible, however, to give Thucydides anything less than five stars, no matter how he’s packaged.
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on 25 March 2011
For anyone who wonders how an unfinished manuscript from the 4th century BC became one of the seminal works of military history, influencing people from Machiavelli, all the way to analysts of our present day, one only has to indulge in Thucydides highly readable, and extremely eventful narrative.
The first book explains the treaty system that preceded the outbreak of hostilities, describing a diplomatic process between Corinth, Athens, Lacedaemon and other city states within the Greece of its day, henceforth referred to as Hellas.
Early on Thucydides posits the cause of the war as the growth of the power of Athens, and from the ensuing pages, it becomes clear that many states joined the anit-Athenian alliance more out of fear of subjugation, rather than pursuit of particular grievances. Corinth had a particular grievance against Athens, namely that they fought against them with the Corcyraeans at the time of the original treaty. As Thucydides states, "the love of gain would reconcile the weaker to the dominion of the stronger, and the possession of capital enabled the more powerful to reduce the smaller towns to subjection."
Much detail is given to the deliberations and consideration of war, such as manpower, naval power, and logistical control of sea and land. One can evince from this 2,400 year old text that rational considerations of real politik played just as an important part in war and peace back then as they do today.
The Peloponnesian war, we learn, was often beset with a variety of natural disasters, such as a wide outbreak of disease, earthquakes, and the eruption of Mount Etna.
All through out books II to IV alliances shift, as the various Hellenic peoples shift their alliances, wagering on the strength of their adversaries, and the feasibility of their alliances. A diplomatic process is in play throughout, with various city-states exchanging embassies, and establishing a diplomatic dialogue.
Various truces follow, including a truce which established naval rights, and sharing of holy places, in many ways a good example for the parties of today's Middle East Peace Process. However, truces soon collapse, and wanton devastation is routinely dished out, including attacks upon retreating armies, and event the destruction of temples.
The most startlingly relevant feature of Thucydides work is that it reads in many ways like a modern day conflict with the formation of alliances, the break down of relations, the proclamation of truces, their subsequent abrogation.
An interesting part of the book features a campaign in Sicily, which features a decent insight into Sicily's ancient history, revealing how it has from time immemorial been a land of different masters.
Considering that the world of 4th Century BC Greece was certainly not as small as the world of the present day, the logistical difficulties of such a war, coupled with the incursions into Sicily, and limited involvement of the Persians, this was pretty much as close to a world war as one is likely to read from classical history.
Despite this works unfinished status, it is a timeless classic and relevant to many modern day studies, whether it is classics, philosophy, or most importantly, international relations.
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on 5 March 2017
Arrived promptly and in new condition. Fascinating book, written by a literary master, at a time when recorded history had not even started in Britain.
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on 7 June 2017
Not much can be added to what the longer reviews have said.

This is a monumental classic.
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on 19 August 2017
words are tooooooo small to read!
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on 23 June 2017
Fascinating
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on 4 March 2016
THE historian of 5th Century Athens; brilliant.
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on 31 July 2017
I wanted the Jowett version and this was an excellent price. The cover was attractive and robust and the size of the book, almost A4, makes reading very pleasurable. The paper quality is also very nice and you can make notes and highlight without it showing through on the reverse.My only criticism is that there are no numbers marking the passages making it difficult to use academically. I've actually pencelled these in. Also, there seems to be a constant typo with 'valour' which is constanly spelt as 'velor' or 'velour' ( I can't remember which). I spent a good ten minutes checking in dictionaries and I'm sure from the context it is meant to read 'valour'. I wonder if the typo and lack of passage numbers are the reason for the low price of this book? Apart from these criticisms and the fact there are no introductory notes or maps, this is a good buy.
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VINE VOICEon 26 March 2010
I first read Thucydides' "History of the Peloponnesian War" in the sixties, when the Cold War was fast simmering towards a boiling point. Reading Thucydides at that moment, which (thankfully) passed into modern history with a whimper rather than a bang, was a revelation. The 5th-century BC historian writes a riveting account of how two major powers--Sparta and Athens--became embroiled in a twenty-seven-year war because of self-interest, mutual distrust, and buildup of arms. He then notes that he is writing his history as a lesson for mankind so that such wars will never occur again. With chilling cynicism, however, he notes that since human nature is essentially rotten, the same wars will break out over and over for exactly the same reasons.

Rex Warner's translation from the Greek is both enlightening and readable. The headings at the top of every other page allow the reader to 'skim' easily to particular topics. I shall note only two passages, which speed by despite their length, as examples: the Plague of 430 BC (Thuc. II. 47-55), and the Corcyrean Revolt of 427 BC (Thuc. III. 69-95; esp. 82-83). The first demonstrates Thucydides' brilliance as what we today would call a journalist. His account of the plague is based on keen observation of the disease, which he both caught and survived. Originating at Athens' harbour, it swept through the confines of the city, partly as a result of Pericles' disastrous policy of moving the population into an already-crowded city (Thucydides does not know about rats and lice, but he does note that all domestic animals and birds of prey, which came into contact with the stricken, died). The historian, whose narrative is considered the first epidemiology, describes the disease from its symptoms, through its crisis, to its devastating end, sometimes in recovery, most often in death. As riveting as his narrative is, Thucydides transcends straight reportage as he describes the psychological toll on the populace, who not only became demoralised, but also sank into committing normally unthinkable acts, such as sneaking out at night and dumping their dead relatives onto someone else's funeral pyre, or allowing the sick to die of neglect.

The other not-to-be-missed passage is Thucydides' narration of the Corcyrean Revolt, which is far more than an account of a mere rebellion. It is an account of propaganda, and how the very language undergoes transmogrifications of meanings during times of stress. For example, what in peacetime might be considered "a thoughtless act of agression," in wartime becomes "courage"; what in peacetime is a consider-all-sides-of-an-issue policy, in wartime, becomes cowardice; Thucydides writes: "Fanatical enthusiasm was the mark of a real man, and to plot against an enemy behind his back was a perfectly legitimate self-defence" [Thuc. III. 82]. The passage seems especially relevant in this commercial age of mass media, when language becomes so easily distorted and misinterpreted.

Thucydides' history breaks off in 411 and thus does not cover the end of the war in 404. Even so, its themes are so universal that they convey an immediate ring of truth that bridges the gap of the millennia.
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on 19 May 2017
Very pleased
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