Not an easy book to review. This is a 'scholarly' account - Curtius' "History of Alexander" is one of the sources for the great general's life, written some time after his death, written by a Roman, and written for a Roman market which venerated the military genius of Alexander and appreciated his skills in prefiguring the Roman methods of diplomacy ... i.e., proffering the hand of friendship, but carrying a very sharp sword. Anyone with an academic interest in the era will be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of this work and will hardly require a populist review. However, anyone looking for an accessible, readable account and analysis of Alexander's career and impact on Europe and Asia will not find it here. So, while the work merits five stars for its scholarship, as a piece of accessible, popular history, two stars is not an uncharitable assessment. Curtius' "History" is preserved in fragmentary form only. The first two 'books' are missing and can only be offered in summary form. Written at least three hundred years after Alexander's death, Curtius' work is based on primary Greek sources which are no longer to be found. In his introduction Heckel argues that the author, Curtius, was alive in the time of Claudius and wrote this work around 40-50 AD. Others, however, have suggested that the writer lived later, and wrote around 200 AD. This may appear a spurious debate for those interested solely in Alexander himself, but Heckel demonstrates that the content of the work does make allusions to contemporary Roman life and politics, and that it's historical accuracy is distorted to provide commentary on Roman life, thus diverging from a true description of Alexander's world. Heckel's introduction is informative, well argued, and provides a sound basis for appreciating the value of the text. John Yardley's translation is fine. It is scholarly and, from what I can gather, an accurate translation. This does not, however, make it a 'good read' in 21st century terms. The Roman style of historical writing is a trifle staccato for modern tastes, tends to follow a process of making statements or offering allusions. Its narrative dynamic and analytical style are slow, terse, and somewhat disjointed. Given that fragments of the 'books' are missing, the sense of continuity is further fractured. The content of Curtius' "History" is fascinating. For anyone with a scholarly interest in the era (and that can include amateur historians or even wargamers), there is plenty of detail and plenty of flavour of the Greek world to have you poring over this for years. This is a book to dissect, to search for evidence rather than to read. It is a book which poses questions rather than provides answers. An essential source, a fine translation backed by a sound introduction, this is not a book for light reading, but it is a 'must' for the shelves of the enthusiast, and it is a book which will be referred to again and again by anyone with more than a passing interest in the world of Alexander.
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