on 12 December 2011
If you have read Robin Lane-Fox's biography of Alexander there is nothing new in this book. However, Prof. Freeman is a good writer, who knows his subject well, and this book makes a worthwhile companion to his biography of Julius Caesar.
The paperback edition is set out in a nice readable format with some interesting colour and b&w photographs. As one would expect, it has a glossary, source notes and bibliography.
If it had been published before Lane-Fox, I would have given it 5 stars, but 4 stars still means a good read.
on 28 January 2016
This is a must read book. The life of Alexander from youth to his extraordinary achievements when still only mid twenties. One finds oneself asking ,why did he not return home in triumph when all his staff were telling him it was time to return home.That makes this book so attractive. Thinking to ones self, would i have quit and returned home or carried on to finally die in suspicious circumstances so very far from home?
on 15 June 2015
I have been fascinated by the subject for some time now.
My dilemma has been which of the many biographies to read.
In choosing Philip Freeman, I struck lucky.
What could be a crusty old story is written with such elegance and skill that you might be forgiven for forgetting this is a history.
The pace is breathtaking, while retaining a scholarly grip on the facts, Mr. Freeman has managed to make the biography interesting through his compelling style. I shal not hesitate to purchasd another work by this author.
on 7 August 2016
A wonderful account of the life of Alexander the great. I've always had a great interest in the life of Alexander and this book brilliantly outlines his characteristtics, his battle tactics, motivations and innovations in warfare of one the greatest military leaders of all time.
This book also introduced a character I knew little about, a man who laid the foundations for Alexander to become the man who cemented his name in history, his father King Philip II of Macedonia. I won't go into too much detail, but the accounts of Philips life helps to answer how Alexander became the motivated and ambitious leader the world would come to know.
Philip Freeman writes in a way that at the begging of each chapter he gives a brief history of the topic of the chapter which ties into the story of Alexander, which leads to a better understanding of Alexander's military and political choices throughout his conquest of Asia. The book is entertaining from beggining to end and I recommend it to anyone curious about Alexander the great.
on 14 June 2016
This is an excellent biography of one of the 'greats' of European history. Even if you have no interest in history, the two names you probably do know from the ancient world are Alexander the Great and Julius Caeser. Much has been written about Caeser - not least by the man himself - but of Alexander there is much less to choose from. There are a few ancient sources, one or two very detailed, but they need to be treated with caution. Immediately after Alexander's death, his empire fell apart, and the generals competing for the parts of it all painted different pictures of themselves and Alexander for their own ends, and various myths appeared very quickly.
This work picks its way carefully through these sources to give a detailed, but very readable, account of Alexander's life; and what a life! He achieved as much as probably any other individual in history. We may not agree with what he did, but we cannot deny his incredible drive and breadth of ambition. His life really does read like a work of fiction; tracing out his journeys on a map is astounding. When you consider that he travelled - with an army - into areas that the Greeks before him didn't even really know existed, it is hard to understand his motivation, and how he persuaded his followers to go with him.
The author deals with all this in a straightforward, direct style, and reaches conclusions that I found work well. There are many myths about the man, and many events in his life may never be completely untangled, but if you are looking for an intelligent, readable life of the man, this is it.
on 20 April 2014
Alexander the Great was one of those characters who utterly disprove the dreary Marxist doctrine that history is determined only by economic forces and not by individuals. Even today the world would be significantly different had Alexander never lived or had been killed early in his career.
Freeman gives a very even-handed appraisal of Alexander’s character and achievements. He makes the point that each society and period has its own image of Alexander. Previously I’d read accounts of him by authors steeped in the mystique of the British Empire, who saw Alexander in their own image- a military genius who was also gallant and humane, and above all a civilising influence, spreading virile Greek culture among the effeminate Asiatics.
Freeman reveals this as a gross distortion. Alexander’s gallantry to the family of Darius gained him great political benefits, and was certainly not extended to the thousands of ordinary women whom he sold into slavery after massacring their husbands or fathers for daring to resist him. One book I previously read even stated that he only once used torture. Freeman tells us however that Alexander crucified all 2,000 male survivors from the siege of Tyre. Admittedly he was less sadistic than the Persians. As to his civilising mission, Freeman shows us that Alexander’s only real aim was to amass limitless power and wealth for himself. It was his successors (the Ptolemies and Seleucids, often portrayed as decadent usurpers), who oversaw the fascinating blending of Greek and other cultures that influenced the development of Hinduism and Buddhism in India, and of Judaism and Christianity in Egypt. Alexander himself was regarded by non-Macedonian Greeks as a barbarian- unsurprisingly, given what he did to Thebes!
As to his military genius, this also seems over-rated. He had one favourite tactic that he seems to have used in every battle, to good effect. However, none of his tactics would have worked if his father Phillip hadn’t bequeathed him the most highly trained army of the pre-Roman world. Some of his officers did remind Alexander of his great debt to his father- an unwise conversation topic especially when Alexander was blind drunk! Although he was certainly an impressive conqueror, much of his empire was ready-made by the Persians, whose governors often surrendered to Alexander without a fight in order to maintain their own positions “under new management”.
Notwithstanding all this, Freeman makes it clear the Alexander’s success owed a lot to his unusual personal qualities. How many Emperors would be the first up a siege ladder, as he was? How many would set off on their own to attack an enemy camp, leaving their large bodyguard behind? And how many could have persuaded an army to follow him far beyond what was (for them) the limits of the known world?
Although the text of this book is very clear a few small additions could greatly improve it. Firstly, it needs more and bigger maps, showing the terrain and the modern names of those cities that still exist (e.g. Kandahar, which is yet another Alexandria). Secondly, there should be more genealogical charts, as the Macedonian royalty used many replicated names, which gets confusing. Thirdly, the battles could be explained much better with diagrams than with long-winded verbal explanations.
This engrossing and unpretentious book starts pre-Alexander, it explains how Philip (Alexander's dad) laid the foundations for his son by dramatically reorganising his army. The book then follows Alexander from boyhood to the man who crossed the world conquering all who stood in his way. There are some detailed human/emotional stories, including how Alexander came by his horse, Bucephalas. Plus, Alexander's apparent kindness to women (at least for the time) as well as his lack of sexual interest in them is also mentioned.
The book tracks Alexander's journey from Macedonia all the way to India and there are helpful maps at the front of the book which really get across the distances Alexander and his army travelled. There's also a glossary at the back of the book which is helpful because there are many people mentioned. I found this book a very enthralling read and the author reminds us that while the battles were brutal and the punishments inflicted on towns and cities seem cruel/evil to modern day readers this was the world in which Alexander lived. There's an interesting discussion at the end of the book on Alexander's character and the different viewpoints that exist. For example we are told Alexander features in Dante's work inhabiting the 7th level of hell. Other interesting tit-bits of information the book mentions; the origin of the word' bible' and that Alexander is mentioned in the Koran.
Overall I found this book very readable and enlightening. Alexander is shown as a complex character, a deeply religious man with an ambition that would always be both his strength and his curse.