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3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5 stars
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 12 December 2010
It was always going to be tough -- and brave -- to take on the childhood of Alexander after Mary Renault's stupendous re-imagining in Fire From Heaven but Lyon does a superb job. Her Alexander is less romantic and melancholy, tougher and more robust, sometimes barbaric and deliberately terrifying (I loved his contribution to the staging of the Bacchae, for example) but at the same time imbued with a charm, resilience and intelligence that makes him into such a charismatic figure.

The story is told through the voice of Aristotle who returns to Macedonia and falls into the role of Alexander's tutor, and is as much about the growth of the middle-aged philosopher as it is about the coming of age of his famous pupil.

Lyon's prose is flowing, fluent and elegant, unobtrusive without glaring stretches of literary ornamentality, and thus keeps the book human and intimate despite the grand themes with which it engages. There are some beautiful vignettes -- the first time Aristotle's wife sees snow, Alexander in the bath-tub eating apples and honey -- and the intensity of the story is allowed to develop at its own pace, feeling unforced and organic.

Above all, I'm always very wary of historical novels which are defensive of the morals of the past - here Lyon is, rightly, unapologetic of Greek attitudes to slavery, warfare, homoeroticism etc. and the book is all the better for the lack of any kind of PC overlay.

So overall this is a beautifully written and well articulated book that gets under the skin of one version of Alexander, keeping him both true to the sources but also immediately human and accessible. Well done Ms Lyon - I loved this!
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on 10 September 2013
Macedon. 367 BC. Philip II is bringing war to Persia. Forged in the warrior culture of Macedonia, the time has come for his young son Alexander to take up his inheritance of blood and obedience to the sword. It is a training that has made the boy sadistic; fiercely brilliant, but unstable. A dangerous trait in a king fated to rule the vastest empire of the ancient world. Compelled to teach this startling, precocious, sometimes horrifying child, Aristotle soon realises that what the boy needs most to learn - thrown before his time onto his father's battlefields - is the lesson of the golden mean, the elusive balance between extremes that Aristotle hopes will mitigate the boy's will to conquer in this age of fighting heroes...

Told in the PoV of Aristotle, this is the story of his relationship with young Alexander of Macedonia, whose mentor he was for years. Though Macedonian by birth, Aristotle is Greek by choice and is quite turned off at first by the 'barbarism' of his friend King Philip's court. But he and his wife make a life there, as he becomes friends with members of the royal household (and an aging actor), especially as he learns to accept and love both Alexander, whose warlike and conflicted nature is a source of constant concern and whom he tries to teach to be a better man, and his brother Arrhidaeus, whom Aristotle teaches how to live.

All initial concerns about reading a book whose main character is a philosopher flow out of the window after the first couple of pages - there's nothing ancient-like or boring about this book. It's written in present tense (my favourite way of reading historical fiction since "Wolf Hall") and though it does have a sense of time and place, it could have taken place yesterday - everything's so vivid and matter-of-fact.
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on 22 November 2010
The philosopher Aristotle was engaged by King Philip II of Macedon in 343 BCE as tutor for his 13 year old son Alexander. This novel, written from Aristotle's first person perspective, tells the imagined story of the relationship between him and his most famous student: the boy who went on to transform the world as Alexander the Great.

Ms Lyon has crafted an interesting and enjoyable novel around the lives of some key historical figures (Aristotle, Plato, Philip and Alexander) and done so in a way that integrates the broad sweep of history with the very human foibles that each possesses. As depicted, Aristotle is a fascinating character: a blend of contradictions who is both curious about the world around him and caught within the conventions of the times in which he lived. On the pages of this novel, Aristotle comes to life.

Alexander is still being shaped: his training for leadership and war is tempered (in part) by Aristotle's training in philosophy and the arts. The aim is to find a balance, or the Golden Mean, between the two extremes of deficiency and excess. The objective is to prepare Alexander to succeed Philip, and while Aristotle views Alexander as `a violent, snotty boy' at the beginning, he comes to love and respect him by the end of the novel.

I enjoyed this novel because of its perspective of Alexander. I found the depiction of Aristotle fascinating. While he doesn't seem terribly pleasant person, he is believable and I could imagine him teaching, challenging and shaping Alexander. For me, one of the most interesting characters was Philip of Macedon, and I would like to read more about him.

`Never be afraid to enter an agreement you can't immediately see your way out of.'

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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on 6 August 2011
The Golden Mean is the first novel by Annabel Lyon is a story set in 367BC. The story starts with Philip II at war with Persia the time has come for his young son Alexander (soon to turn into Alexander the Great) to take up his inheritance of blood and obedience to the sword.

Aristotle is his teacher and he soon realises that Alexander has a lot to learn before he can attend his father battlefields, this is the lesson of the golden mean.

This is a story with a huge amount of historical fact with Aristotle philosophising a great deal and can therefore in parts be a hit heavy going. It is definitely a thinking book not a relaxing easy read. I will be honest, I had real trouble finishing this book and needed help from a family member for some understanding! It was far to deep and heavy for my little mind! I did enjoy relationship between Aristotle and his Father in teh flash backs.

It is very obvious that Annabel has had to do a tremendous amount of research for it and it is clearly shown in the way she has beautifully put the story together. Unfortunately, it just wasn't for me. If you love factual novels set in this period, then this a book for you.
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on 24 April 2011
I read Mary Renault's Alexander books (Fire From Heaven,The Persian Boy,Funeral Games, and the less fictional The Nature of Alexander) when I was in my tweens, and they sparked a life-long love affair with Ancient Greece in general and Alexander the Great in particular. The problem with Alexander is that he is too often used as a surface for the writer (and reader) on which to project their own desires and dreams about who the great man was. We see him cast as a great human rights activist, a gay rights activist, even a women's rights activist, and whereas I have no problems understanding why this is (after all, a lot of Alexander's appeal is undoubtedly down to the way we pick up on something in him that we recognise in ourselves), it sometimes makes for very boring reading. Renault's books, though I still love them, show signs of being vehicles for her own agenda.

There's nothing wrong with that, necessarily, but I think one of the great merits of Lyon's book is that her Alexander is so delightfully imperfect. She deals with the stories we've heard so many times (Alexander taming Bucephalos, for example) in a way that made at least me feel like she was giving me the account as it "really happened" (yes, I'm sensitive of the fact that this is a complete and utter illusion). Taking on those stories, taking on Alexander himself, in the wake of Renault's books is recklessly courageous. Doing it in a first person narrative of the great Aristotle himself even more so. But it works. It works fantastically well. The prose flows easily and beautifully. She doesn't shy away from vulgarities, but they fit in well. She will casually mention same-sex lovers without the tedious dwelling on the difference between homosexuality today and "homosexuality" then. It's a fun, clever, beautiful read, and I would recommend this book to anyone with the slightest interest in the ancient world.

As someone who's read a lot of both fact and fiction on Alexander, I must say that this book is the first one on the subject that I have read in a long, long while that felt fresh and new. It adds something to the vast bulk of literature on Alexander, it doesn't just regurgitate well-known legends. Lyon's Alexander feels alive and human. A rare chance to meet the boy behind the myth.
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on 31 July 2011
This fictional story about factual ancient history gripped me.

Annabel Lyon writes Aristotle's story in the first person and we start our reading in the present time. Throughout the book we flashback to an earlier time and then we find ourselves in the present. At first I found this confusing but once I was into the story, it didn't affect the flow of my reading.

In the past we find out about Aristotle's relationship with his father. His father's absences and lack of understanding about his character make him lonely and afraid. When his father spends time in the village before taking up post of King's physician Aristotle accompanies him on his medical rounds. It is here that the gap between their different personalities is very evident.

When the family move to Pella and live in the royal household, Aristotle's friendship with Philip develops. To escape becoming a possible hostage after his father's death, he is sent to Plato in Athens by his brother-in-law.

During the present time, when Aristotle arrives back to Pella with his wife Pythias, he decides to help Philip's first-born son Arrhidaeus. Arrhidaeus was a healthy boy until at age five he contracted, what to me, sounded like meningitis. Aristotle saw he could be much more and so instead of being neglected, spent time teaching him hygiene, how to eat, draw and play music. Aristotle becomes the tutor of Alexander and we find out the complete distaste Alexander feels for his brother Arrhidaeus.

It was interesting to read how the author fictionalised Aristotle's relationship with Alexander - the philosophical discussions/sparring they had and the growing love and respect for each other. I liked the way the author has Aristotle dealing with another tutor who had the potential to become an enemy.

Being a lover of nature and the seasons I enjoyed when it snowed in Pella and Aristotle found his wife huddled in a room with her veil covering her head (she had never seen snow before). His wife wanted him to say the snow was a result of something a god had done in anger (the time the story is set in the gods were responsible for everything ............) but he gave a scientific explanation.

I think the author displayed Aristotle's symptoms of bi-polar illness really well.

In this ancient historical novel there is philosophy, court intrigue, politics, love, family life and religion.

Fictional interpretations of history intrigue me and this was no exception.
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Set in ancient Greece circa 342 BC, The Golden Mean is the story of Aristotle's time with the young Alexander (soon to be Great). The great philosopher takes the position of the young prince's tutor as well as his disabled brother and forges an odd friendship in a time of war.

Leave your modern morality at the door to avoid being offended. Obviously lifestyles were very different back then and there's plenty of sexual references and coarse language that would be the norm for warriors of the time. Think Spartacus Blood and Sand in literary form (only Greek not Roman). As far as I can tell, the historical aspects are well researched and there's only a few occasions where the speech comes across as a bit modern.

The cover blurb would have us think that Alexander was a sadistic and unlikable child but I found some of the moments between him and Aristotle almost tender. I would have preferred more insight into the young mind of Alexander but the story revolves much more around Aristotle, although it skims over his depression. He explains he suffers from black bile which from description sounds like manic depression but I rarely felt it through the storytelling. The prose came across as a bit impersonal so I think it would appeal more to the reader with a historical interest.

It's interesting reading some of Aristotle's ideas with a modern perspective. He was eerily close on some areas of biology but others were so far off they are nearly laughable. For info, Ox Head is the translation of Becephelous, Alexander's famous horse. Considering that other names aren't translated I don't know why this was, especially as it's not flattering nor recognisable.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 12 February 2013
In this novel Aristotle tells us - unchronologically - about his life: at the court of Amyntas, King of Macedon to whom his father was a doctor; his studies under Plato in Athens (those 20 years are rather skimped); his return to the court at Pella, where his boyhood friend Philip was now king and where he became tutor of Philip's son Alexander. Well researched, even if the author's knowledge is sometimes conveyed a little clumsily, as is often the case in such novels. I don't know whether everything is sourced - Aristotle's occasional depression, for example, or his propensity to weep suddenly, or his loving relationship with his somewhat mysterious wife Pythias, or the touching way he dealt with Philip's brain-damaged eldest son Arrhidaeus - far more severely handicapped in this novel than merely having the "mild learning difficulties" mentioned in the Wikipedia article about him.

The relationship between Aristotle and the boy Alexander is interesting. Aristotle is not in the least deferential to his princely pupil. Interesting also is the human relationship between Aristotle and Pythias on the one hand and their slaves on the other (no hint that the historical Aristotle described slaves as "animated instruments".)

Aristotle had been born in Stageira, but he had loved his stay in Athens. When Macedon is at war with Athens, Aristotle finds himself regarded as an Athenian by many Macedonian courtiers, while the Athenians will not elect him when the directorship of the Academy falls vacant, because for them he has become a Macedonian.

The book ends at the point where Aristotle leaves the service of Alexander, now king; and the epilogue has just a sentence or two about the next part of his life, when he returns to Athens, founds there his own school, the Lyceum, but has to flee again when Athens is again at war with Macedon. I gather that this later part of his life is covered by the author's sequel, "The Sweet Girl", and is told by Aristotle's clever daughter (also called Pythias).

Naturally Annabel Lyon incorporates a good deal of Aristotle's philosophy and theories in her novel. Her style is sometimes manneredly staccato, and here and there less than completely clear. In dialogue it is not always easy to make out who is speaking.
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on 4 April 2012
I was immediately drawn into this unusual historical novel about the philosopher Aristotle and his appointment as tutor to the young Alexander the Great. Told in the first-person voice of Aristotle, the story moves back and forth in time. This is not an action novel, but it kept me reading. Much of the narrative consists of Aristotle's memories: of his father, who was a doctor; of his childhood in his home town, Stageira; of his studies of natural phenomena; and of his marriage to Pythias. Annabel Lyon has the ability to draw you in and keep the story moving through interest in the characters. I liked the way Pythias develops and changes, and the way Aristotle tries to teach Alexander's brain-damaged older brother. In particular the author conveys the extraordinary charisma of Alexander - a highly intelligent boy born into a culture that glorified war and had as its ideal the figure of the warrior king. From his first appearance I was captivated by Alexander, who always brought to the narrative a sense of heightened expectancy and a hint of danger.

This book never shouts "research" at you, and yet it is full of deep background knowledge about the times these men lived in, about war, politics, different attitudes to slavery, the treatment of disease, and all the detail of everyday life. The story is narrated in the present tense and the dialogue is modern. This works well and feels natural. I loved the author's clear, straightforward style and found this a compelling read.
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on 9 March 2016
Although I enjoyed reading the book (I read anything I can get about Alexander), I was disappointed in a number of aspects. Hephaistion did not come to life at all, and Aristotle was his tutor too, and in later life exchanged letters with him, though these have unfortunately not survived. So I had hoped for more insight into that particular relationship. A more important gap for me was an almost total absence of the nasty internal politics of the Macedonian court, reduced to a bit of jealousy between lovers and ex-lovers but in reality far more than that. Philip's death and its aftermath in particular suffer from a brief treatment, as though the author had got tired of it. There are also some historical inaccuracies with no justification in the story-line - especially in the epilogue. Hephaistion did not die in battle, he died of disease, and Alexander did not die of a stomach bug but probably of blackwater fever, although poison is a possibility. Philip's general Antipater appears, but Parmenion, an equally important character, simply does not exist.
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