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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 25 August 2009
'After the capture of Babylon, Darius invaded Scythia.' Thus commences book four of the Histories, and if these are the kind of words that set your pulse racing, your eyes going all dreamy, this book is for you.

The ancient Greek historian's famous opus has an impressive geographical and chronological spread, and this, together with its precedence over most recovered documents of its type, explains why it is regarded as so important. Herodotus relates over a century of Persian expansion, including the Egyptian and other conquests, from about 600 BC, and of Persian conflict with the Greeks, culminating in his compatriots' victories at Salamis and Platea. As it is explained in the notes and introduction, much of his account has been reaffirmed by modern historical and archaeological research, some of it over earlier condemnations, though much is also being questioned.

Indeed, intriguingly, this rings both as history as we understand it and as something else. Herodotus explicitly aims to make an objective and truthful account, unlike other chroniclers of antiquity (for example Egyptian) driven by religious, political or artistic imperatives. He traces facts to sources and steps back when sources conflict. This is familiar. But in other ways, his book is from a culture very distant from ours. Herodotus believes in oracles, in the premonitory value of dreams. It doesn't shock him that a queen might give birth to a lion, or a god strike down an army to protect a sanctuary. Hubris is always punished, and disregard for the warnings of fate, or the desecration of temples. And descriptions are inflated for effect. For example, Herodotus has five million Persian subjects crossing the Hellespont; this probably exceeded the adult male population of the Persian empire, and modern historians have the number at 100,000 to 200,000. In many ways, the Histories are myth, epic, as much as history, and they probably tell us as much about the ancient Greeks and their beliefs as about what happened in the Persian wars.
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VINE VOICEon 26 March 2010
When students read Herodotus for the first time, they sometimes object that they are not reading real history, only entertaining stories: e.g., the tale of Gyges, a mere bodyguard who, after being forced by King Candaules to peek at his beautiful wife as she is undressing, murders the king, marries his wife and becomes tyrant of Lydia; or wealthy Croesus, King of Lydia, who keeps pestering the Delphic oracle, finally learning that if he attacks Persia, a Great Empire will fall, a riddle that Croesus does not understand until he has been ensconced on his own funeral pyre by Cyrus, King of Persia; or Cleisthenes, Tyrant of Sicyon, who throws a big engagement party for his daughter, Agariste, only to have one of her suitors, Hippocleides, shock the guests by performing gleeful handstands (in his little short skirt) on a table, when he loses out to Megacles of Athens. Such delightful antics cannot possibly constitute history, which ought to be a strict no-nonsense recitation of 'the facts'.

And yet, Herodotus of Halicarnassus both coined the term, 'historia,' and invented the genre. History can therefore be anything that he, the very first historian, pleases. And 'historia,' to Herodotus, meant 'enquiry' or 'investigation.' It is therefore fruitless to lament that Herodotus' account of the Persian Empire and the Greek City-States does not live up to some modern criterion. We are lucky to have this treasure-house of anecdotes. Herodotus, who travelled around the Greek and Persian city states, asked questions and wrote down answers. Thanks to Herodotus, we learn that the Egyptians hunted crocodiles, respected their elders, and ate outdoors [like the Italians]. We also learn why the Spartans--called the Lacedaemonians in this edition--have two kings; we learn about Leonidas and the legendary 300, who made their famous last stand at Thermopylae against Xerxes' forces: "Stranger, tell the people of Lacedaemon/That we who lie here obeyed their commands." These are only a few examples from Herododtus' treasury.

I assigned Robin Waterfield's excellent translation of Herodotus' "Histories" for the first time last year in an undergraduate introduction to Greek History/Civilization class, and my students found it as enjoyable as I did. In addition to an excellent introduction and bibliography, the book contains copious endnotes and appendices as well as maps. The only possible annoyance is in the index, which cites passages only by Herodotus' book and chapter number instead of by pages, a detail that requires some acclimation on the part of students.

I recommend Herodotus' "Histories" for their sheer exuberance. If you accept the adventures of Croesus and the host of other characters on Herodotus' terms, you will have the pleasure of following a master storyteller willingly, as he conducts you on a wondrous journey into an antique land.
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on 4 February 2013
I chose to rate this book at 3 stars because what it seriously needs is a map, or several maps, in order for us to locate all the various countries. A fold-out map would be good, otherwise one has to have a historical atlas which means the book cannot be read other than at a table. I usually read in a horizontal position, and shall have to position myself on a chair with a table nearby.
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on 2 September 2011
I brought this book because I have a personal interest in the Ancient Greeks. I do not speak or read Ancient Greek and I am not an expert by any means.
Therefore, I found this translation very easy to read and the notes/appendix made the book even better. I'd highly recommend this book to anybody with an interest in Ancient Greece.
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on 27 December 2015
This review is not for the Histories themselves (a book which can be read for pleasure nearly 2500 years after it has been written needs no recommendation from me!) but for Robin Waterfield's excellent translation and notes. The translation is not only scholarly but extremely readable. The notes are both extremely helpful and unobtrusive. It was a pleasure to read and I am looking for more translations by Waterfield.
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on 17 June 2011
I am not a specialist in Greek or ancient history, but enjoy reading ancient texts as a lay person, albeit one who has a PhD and is well versed in academic criteria.

I'm afraid this edition did little but cause me immense frustration, as I found the reference systems adopted more than a little baffling. I'll give you an example.

On page 179 there is a passage about Ethiopians and coffins of transparent stone. Hmm, me thinks, that's interesting - visible death, decay - I'd like to find out more. I turn to the references at the back. It says "For the crystal coffins, see Strabo 17.3 and Diodorus 2.15" Strabo? I'm an ignorant reader, I don't recognise the name. But it can't be a reference back to the text as there isn't a book 17 - and there's no Strabo in the surrounding notes or listed in the bibliographies. What is the note referring to??? Same with Diodorus. I ended up having to Google to try and find what the options might be.

This has caused my first encounters with Herodotus to be horribly off-putting and head-bangingly irritating. Do the editors just expect me to know they are talking about "The Geography of Strabo", which I am just guessing is the text I have to buy (and that any edition of the work will have the same notation)? The object of the Diodorus reference still eludes me.

I'd also say a word about the translation - the translator mentions the difficulty of finding a balance between modern fluidity and Herodotus' lack of rhetorical flair. To me it comes across as a a bit stilted and a little too modern-day business like - but as I said, I don't speak Greek so am not really qualified to talk about linguistic fidelity. On the plus side, though, that at least makes me want to learn Greek to decide for myself! I am, however, off to try the Penguin edition and maybe another, like the Landmark, in the hope of finding a less frustrating experience with the referencing.
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Super read that provides an overview of the conflict between Greece and Persia.

Often described as the first historian, Herodotus is probably a little too accepting of the myths of the day and doesn't question too closely what his reseaches, be they oral or written, turn up.

It is however an easy read and the content is fascinating stuff. Ostensibly it is about Greek and Persian history leading up to the Persian War and indeed these two are covered in readable form, but he also touches upon many other areas of interest. Egypt is given a large chunk of the book looking at its history and traditions.

Herodotus gives great stories about the people involved, even if some of these tales are rather suspect. He brings the characters to life in a very accessible form.

Much more of an easier read than Thucycides Peloponnesian War which tends to be drier and more factually orientated.
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on 8 January 2013
The Histories is one of the classic books of western literature, and in this version it is brought helpfully into the information age. There is a detailed introduction which sets the scene, and then hyperlinks from many sections into the helpful notes which makes good use of the Kindle facilities.

The Histories is somehow a cross between a travel guide and a true history of the Persian invasions of Greece. In many ways the anecdotes on culture and customs are the substance of the book, but the final battles against the Persian under Xerxes still feature in our culture today - Thermopylae, immortalised by the stand of the Spartan 300 being the best example.

I read the first book before finding the Appendix with notes on the units of measure used by Herodotus - worth reading!
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on 2 December 2012
The Histories is Herodotus' account of how Persia came to control Asia and how poor and fractious Greek states repelled the invasion of a massive army and navy comprising all the people under Persian domination, including Phoenician sailors and spear-wielding Ethiopians in leopard skins.

Herodotus reports stories that he has picked up on travels around the Mediterranean about historical events of the 7th and 6th centuries BCE, and about social mores among the people involved. The sources are rarely identified, and Herodotus himself is less than certain about the credibility of some of the tales. There's probably as much myth as there is history in this book, but the translator's notes are very helpful at separating the wheat from the chaff for the reader who wants to know (I'm referring to the Oxford World's Classics edition translated by Robin Waterfield, just in case Amazon posts this review on every other edition, as it is wont to do).

For a history of the period, there are probably much better books to read than this one. What's exciting about The Histories is the feeling of hearing the account of events as it was told in Plato's Athens. Here are the stories that were shared in antiquity about the bravery of the Spartans at Thermopylae, the wiliness of Themistocles, the fearsome habits of the Cannibals, and the hubris of Xerxes, to mention just a few.

Regardless of their truth, the stories are hugely entertaining, such as the one about the renegade Egyptian commander whose only response to the messenger come to deliver an ultimatum from the Pharoah was to raise himself on his saddle and fart, or the better known story about the lashing of the Hellespont ordered by the Persian emperor Xerxes for not remaining calm during his army's passage. If nothing else, they confirm that malicious gossip is not a modern invention.
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on 16 August 2009
From a modern day perspective, Herodotus has little ability to write in the accepted prose that we have come to expect from modern historians. He certainly rambles, and rambles frequently. He tends to switch back and forth between periods in time and with such a large amount of words foreign to the english language that it can be hard to keep up.
But what is the point to this book? As a fan of Hellenistic history, it is not the prose that interests me but the characters and events, and there is more than enough of that to go around.
Herodotus' eye for detail is to be admired, but it must be accepted that his history does contain mythology or legends, but this is a time when history was more word of mouth than written accounts and so we have a long game of Chinese whispers.
I bought this book mainly for the stories of the great Leonidas at Thermopylae and the bravery of the lone Athenians at Marathon against the Achaemenid might.
However, there is much more than that. The tale begins with the Lydian empire, moving to the Median and then to Persian empire (perhaps not smoothly) until the famed Greco-Persian war.
For a history of the time before the classical period of Greek antiquity when the Greeks were first realising their place as a nation, there is no better or detailed account. This is the definitive article.
It's not perfect but then that's part of it's charm. As a student of history or literature there is enough here to last an academic year.
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