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on 15 November 2017
Great book. Informative and very readable, from an author who must rank amongst the best in the historical non-fiction genre.

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.
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on 5 May 2017
I purchased this book because it was mentioned in a popular novel in a strange and intriguing list of must read histories.

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.
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on 5 May 2018
Having enjoyed Holland's translation of Herodotus (and his Roman books) I had high hopes for this; alas, they were dashed. The Persians fascinate me but I learnt nothing new about them in this mistitled book which is (perhaps inevitably, as it is rooted in Herodotus) written almost entirely from the Greek perspective.

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.
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on 15 November 2015
I've only just started to read this, but it's a hard-to-put-down book.
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
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on 3 August 2012
For a review about the book itself, its subject and content I refer the reader to any of the positive reviews that you will find on this page. This is a review of the 6-CD Audio 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.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 6 April 2013
I thoroughly enjoyed this very readable and excellent history of the resistance of Greece to the world power that was Persia around 2500 years ago. I knew very little about ancient Greece and wanted to extend my knowledge. This book certainly helped me to do that and i found it to a very enjoyable read too. It takes great writing to make ancient history exciting to read, but the author has achieved that in this book. I found that this helped me to tie little bits of my existing knowledge together and to begin to make sense of it - Marathon, the origin of the olympics, spartan, nemesis, opollo, the creation and defence of democracy, ostracism, the oracle at Delphi and much more are covered in this excellent book, which for me brought the past alive and helped me to understand much better the roots of our way of life today

Highly recommended
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on 25 September 2017
Tom Holland's thoroughly engaging style renewed my interest in Ancient History. Recommended particularly for Classics students like me, who feel their historical knowledge is far inferior to their literary knowledge, but find reading history in the original language tiresome.
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on 4 March 2008
This book is outstanding. I could barely put it down. Except at the beginning. At the beginning the centuries fly by (mostly over my head) as Holland lays the groundwork to the rise of the Persian Empire. In this admittedly necessary introduction the reader is introduced to dozens and dozens of Asian chieftains (all with tongue-twisting names) and the whole ebbing and flowing power struggle becomes very confusing as one struggles to remember who is who and who fought who and who betrayed who and who bribed who. It is frustrating to follow. I seriously considered giving up after about eighty pages.

How many of these details, I wondered, would I be required to remember to understand the rest of the book? But I stuck with it and I'm glad I did. The story slows down as the main subject of the book -- the Persian invasion of Greece -- approaches. I raced through the pages from that point on. The story is fascinating. However, another reason that I struggled to get into this book from the start is Holland's style. He tends to use such long-winded, meandering sentences that it's easy to forget the beginning by the time the end is reached! Here's one example, grammatically correct, no doubt, but tortuously long and riddled with commas:

"To the hoplites of other cities, the wealthy elites whose armour, every season, would be brought out of haylofts and dusted down, and whose tendency, in best amateur spirit, was to regard warfare as a ritual, if often lethal, sport, the prospects of meeting the Spartans in battle was a dreadful one."

Surely that can be broken down? Anyway, a third and final criticism I have of this book, and as I had with Holland's other book Rubicon, is that there's very little information about the everyday lives of the people whose exploits in battle he describes. This book is really centred on the great and the good of their times and of the battles and skirmishes that occurred during the Persians' campaigns. There are many names and dates to remember throughout. However, overall I will say that I enjoyed this book very much as an introduction to the period. It was as gripping as any thriller and only in hindsight have I started picking any holes in it! I was on the cusp of awarding Persian Fire five stars but can't bring myself to do it. It IS better than Rubicon.
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on 11 November 2017
It is sort of a commentary on Herodotus - gives great insight into both ancient Persia and Greece - east meets West
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on 16 April 2018
Amazing book, full of insight
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