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on 28 September 2008
My preconception was that ancient history like this was hard to read. How wrong. This book is absolutely gripping. It is full of asides and stories that will keep even tabloid readers awake. I don't know why I read so much Greek and Persian history second-hand ... it was from the Father of History that it was most readable! I have not only been able to read about the principal wars, battles, and Kings, but been bedazzled and amused. Highly recommended.
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on 20 May 2009
The amazing thing about some of the books this old is just how familiar the author seems. Herodotus wrote almost 2500 years ago, but you feel that if he were transported to the middle of modern-day Tokyo, he would immediately look around in wonder and try to start a conversation with a passer-by.

Throughout the book you here the curiousity, garrulousness and elopquence of a man who has made it his love to learn as much about the world as he could, and to tell as many others about it as would listen. The book reads like a conversation - one which you can't get a word in edgeways, but would not dream of trying to.

Although not as strictly accurate in his descriptions of hippopotami and crocodiles as he would like us to believe, even the dour Thucidides does not consider it worth revising Herodotus's narrative of the Persion war. When it comes to the historical issues, Herodotus describes the various alternative histories that he has heard, and usually ventures his opinion as to which is most likely (usually the one with the least divine intervention).

If you think this may be 'out-dated', 'accademic', or 'dry', then put aside your fears. My only criticism may be that Book II about Egypt is quite a long deviation from the central story, and it appears early in the book. Nevertheless, if you are even tempted, then you should buy this book!
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It was Michael Ondaatjee's The English Patient that finally pushed me to read this classic. The central character views The Histories as the essential reference in his travels around the Mediterranean. It is mentioned more than 20 times in Ondaatjee's work, including the subject quote. Clearly it borders on an obsession, so I decided to find out what all the fuss is about.

Herodotus has rightly been called the "father of historians." This account was written in the 5th Century BC, and unlike Homer's Iliad, depicts roughly contemporary times. The central theme is the Greco-Persian wars. Greece lay on the periphery of the Persian Empire, sometimes accepting its suzerainty, at other times throwing it off. Xerxes, the Persian emperor, was determined to crush the "upstart" Greek city states. The reason why people run a "marathon" today, commemorating the famous run of Pheidippides, stems from this war. The runner is mentioned in The Histories, though the classic tale that he dropped dead after announcing the Greek victory is not covered by Herodotus. Likewise, Thermopylae, of recent Last Stand of the 300: The Legendary Battle at Thermopylae fame, where badly outnumbered Greeks held the Persians for three days is covered, as is one of the most seminal and pivotal naval battles ever, the Battle of Salamas, in 480 BC, a resounding Greek victory. These events are covered more comprehensively and coherently by other historians, so why read Herodotus? I was astonished by some of the details in his account; for example that Xerxes lead an army of 5,283,220 men into Greece. A number of surprising precision, given that even with today's resources, most historians would more accurately convey a similar number as simply five million. The logistics, and the "surplus labor" involved in such an undertaking is truly mind-boggling, and worth some contemplation, which Ondaatjee would no doubt agree. On another level, there was the Greek propensity for having events foreshadowed with trick riddles from the oracle at Delphi, and Herodotus includes one in full, with the line: "that the wooden wall only shall not fall, but help you and your children." In retrospect, of course, "the wooden wall" is the Greek ships at Salamas.

Herodotus was more than a straight historian, and laced his work with philosophical insights that resonate today, for example: "...human prosperity never abides long in the same place..." (Hum!) Concerning man's fate: "But mark this: until he is dead, keep the word `happy' in reserve. Till then, he is not happy, but only lucky." Ah, to have Herodotus's wisdom in the White House: "No one is fool enough to choose war instead of peace - in peace sons bury fathers, but in war fathers bury sons." Or, "This is the worst pain a man can have; to know much and have no power to act." And could a contemporary Afghan ironically quote Pausanias, cited by Herodotus on page 529, and contemporize the countries: "Men of Greece, I asked you here in order to show you the folly of the Persians, who, living in this style, came to Greece to rob us of our poverty"?

Herodotus also claimed that Africa (which he calls Libya) was circumnavigated, from the East side to the West, at the beginning of the 6th Century BC, a most interesting speculation. In terms of his ethnographical accounts of people he never met, he seems willing to accept some rather "tall tales," which has also earned him the far less flattering title of "father of lies."

Penguin has performed a superlative job in making Herodotus's work more accessible to the modern reader, including some excellent maps of the ancient world, a solid introduction, chronologies, structural outlines, extensive notes and an index, all of which help the reader keep the story straight.

Some historians as well as others like to cite the Greek victory over the Persians, justly touted by Herodotus, as one of the most seminal events in human history, preserving Western "values" from "Oriental despotism." But Herodotus does not, perhaps because he is too contemporary, but neither do many others, cite the "law of unintended consequences." Suppose Xerxes won. Could not a "democratic virus" have then infected his whole empire, changing the way he and his successors saw the world?

Overall, it is THE classic account of the ancient world in the Eastern Mediterranean. Correspondingly, there may be far too many names and events for the modern reader to retain, or even desire to. And there are those "tall tales" that he willingly accepted. An essential read, but only 4-stars.

(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on November 22, 2010)
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on 16 May 2003
Whenever I read a history book I'm always amazed at how little human character has changed. You would expect that when reading about 6th century BC this would not be the case...you'd be wrong. Herodotus uses his own mix of practical and mystical to present a time where lies and truths were mixed in order to gain favour and further your own aims (sound familiar?).
The Histories at its core takes you on a fantastic journey covering a fairly short period of time, while constantly diverting into stories of even greater antiquity to set the scene.
A must read for anybody with an interest in ancient history or modern thrillers...
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on 19 April 2012
Herodotus's The Histories is an immense trove of knowledge. He is often given the handle Father of History as his pioneering work help set the stage for the field of historians. The Histories tell the story of the Greek and Persian Wars. This is the first and only surviving history by a ancient writer about the Greco-Persian Wars. We wouldn't have details about the Spartan last stand at Thermopylai or the Greek victories at Marathon, Salamis, and Plataia without Herodotus. But, the scope of The Histories does not stop there. It gives the story of many peoples and events that connect the dots to give a complete background of the conflict. The Histories covers the following:

*Croesus the last king of Lydia and their defeat to the Persians including the reasons for the conflict
*History of the Medes and how they came under Persian power
*Persia's development into an empire under Cyrus
*The History, Geography, Customs of Egypt
*Some insights into the Trojan War
*The Persian conquest of Egypt
*The Persian failed attempt to conquer the Scythians
*The History, Geography, Customs of Scythia
*The events leading up to the revolt of the Ionians
*The quashing of the Ionian Rebellion
*The Persian defeat at Marathon
*The second Persian invasion and defeat in Greece

Herodotus's style may put off some readers. As he is describing one storyline, he drifts into related topics to provide background. So it takes patience or a love the subject to truly enjoy Herodotus. What I found most interesting is how he presents the various sides of a story. He will describe the differences in what various parties say is the truth and then provide his opinion on which is correct.

This is a must have for anyone interested in Greek or Persian history or even later Egyptian history.
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Herodotus, called the Father of History for inventing the term, (though in Ancient Greek it actually meant something closer to 'enquiry') takes us on a wonderful tour of the ancient Greek mind. Ostensibly his book traces the relations between the Greeks and the Persian empire, east and west, starting with the mythic beginnings of conflict such as the abduction of Io, Medea and Helen, and ending with the Persian invasion in 490-480 that made Athens the leader, temporarily, of the Greek world. In between Herodotus works through Egypt, Lydia, and Media taking in stories of Croesus, the richest man in the world, Midas, and Gyges.

The highlight for most readers today is probably the Persian invasion with the wonderful set pieces of Marathon, Salamis and, of course, Thermopylae (the original source of Pressfield's bestselling 'Gates of Fire').

Unlike most history books, this is rivetting reading as Herodotus writes like a dream and is so clearly fascinated by his story that he can't help but carry us along with him. Wonderful stuff!
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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 28 January 2014
I am required to study Herodotus' 'The Histories' for my A2 Ancient History course, and had intended to buy it on my Kindle so that I could study it in my own time prior to my return in September this year. So, of course, you can imagine how delighted I was when it was reduced in price!!
I've already read part of this book - it's a fantastic piece of writing. And it comes with a detailed and in-depth introduction, which is a must-read for anybody hoping to get their heads around this book - it is complex (as one would expect of a Greek writing in the 400's BC!) but once you read the intro it's perfectly easy to get your head around... well, most of it. A fantastic account of the Greek and Persian Wars, a definite must for those who want to understand this period of Ancient History.
This book also acts as a sort of prequel to Thucydides' 'History of the Peloponnesian War'. Another must-read book for those wanting to know more about the Ancient Greeks. You'll find yourself quite surprised by how they turn out to be!
Can't fault it!
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on 9 June 2008
'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. Thus, 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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on 22 January 2013
History (historia - inquiry) was in ancient times more than human history. The book, therefore, is packed with fascinating digressions from the main plot (the Greco-Persian Wars) to geography and the natural world to discourses on politics and philosophy and accounts of strange customs and cultures. The text engages you right from the start, taking you on a journey throughout the then known world from ancient times to the present - that is to say circa 470 B.C.

On the racier side there is enough lust, scandal, blood and crime to engage the prurient, the machiavellian and the morbid, beating News of the World by a landslide. Just how much is factual history or how much derives from the oral tradition of Folk Tales (similar to those collected by the Brothers Grimm) is unknown, but it's all very entertaining.

The book's recurring theme concerns the frailty of the human condition, however blessed or bountiful, and that no care or prudence nor the power of oracles may necessarily save one from the vicissitudes of fate. How heavy the mighty fall.

This edition contains an introduction, a useful chronology, plenty of maps and explanatory notes that reference the text.
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