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Customer Review

31 of 40 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A book about the Greeks not the Persians!!!, 2 Aug. 2011
This review is from: Persian Fire: The First World Empire, Battle for the West (Paperback)
Having read 'Rubicon' by the same author (which I avidly recommend) I decided to brush up on my Persian history so bought this book. I thought from reading the reviews on the back cover and from the title the book would focus upon the Persians, their rise to power and detail their Empire etc but I was sorely disappointed.

This book for about the first couple of chapters does indeed sketch out the Persians, which is gripping, witty, informative but easily understood, showing Holland's writing style off to perfection. After this however I lost interest as the focus shifted onto the Greeks, and their well documented battles with the Persians. I have studied this subject for Classics and did not wish to look in detail at it again as I know the facts, but wanted to expand my knowledge of the Persians as their role is often skimmed over.

If you want a short introduction to the Persians before ploughing over and focusing on the Greeks role then by all means this is a brilliantly written book, but for those (like me) who want to learn about all aspects of the Persians culture, history, politics etc take my advice and avoid this book!!!
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 7 Sep 2012, 19:02:20 BST
JPS says:
If you are really looking for a book on the Persians, then try "From Cyrus to Alexander: History of the Persian Empire" from Pierre Briant. It is massive (something like 1200 pages), very scholarly, but you will get exactly what you wanted: "all aspects of the Persian culture" (at least the little of it that can be reconstructed through archeology and epigraphy), "history and politics". It is fascinating because the author shows to what extent our views have been influenced by the Greek sources, but also because it attempts (and in my view succeeds) in showing the other side's view of the Greco-Persian wars, that is the view of the superpower of the time. It's a tough read, but if you are really interested, it's well worth it.


In reply to an earlier post on 7 Sep 2012, 19:12:17 BST
Laura says:
Oh thanks so much for this! I'll be sure to look it up, thankfully I quite like dry heavy texts, Josef Wiesehofer's Ancient Persia is quite good. Yes, from studying the Greco-Persian wars for A level classics I always wondered why the Greeks were held in such high esteem and the Persians marginalized. Will definitely get this book on your recommendation!


In reply to an earlier post on 7 Sep 2012, 20:22:16 BST
Last edited by the author on 10 Jan 2013, 15:25:04 GMT
JPS says:
I am afraid a large part of it has to do with the "usual story": it's the "winners" who tend to write history, not the "losers". In this case, the Greek sources were relayed by the Roman ones, simply because while the Persian Empire was portrayed (not always accuratly, to put it mildly) as the "arch-ennemy" of the Greeks, the Parthians (who were also the ennemies of the Greco-Macedonian Seleucids) and then the Sassanids were the ennemies of Rome. Much the same kind of distorsion happened with Carthage, the ennemy of both the Greeks and the Romans...

In reality, and at least at the time of Marathon, Thermopylae and Salamine, the "barbarians" were probably the European Greeks, who were both much poorer and much less sophisticated than the Persians had become over the past 70-80 years. Around 500 BC, the most "developed" civilizations, as we would say nowadays, were still rather in Mesopotamia, Syria-Phenicia and Egypt, NOT in Greece, and even less in Rome (although for Italy, the Etruscans are a rather different case). Anyway, if you can get hold of the book, do so and read it. Although massive and not cheap, this is real history and scholarship - not crowd pleasing "journalism à la Tom Holland". It is worth every penny of the price. I've had it for years, and have just reread it after finishing the book that you have reviewed.

Also, if you are interested in Carthage, try "Delenda Carthago". This is also a scholarly book. Although written in an entertaining way, it has the same king of ingredients (history, religion, politics, army, institutions, economy, archeology, architecture etc...) that you will find in the History of the Persian Empire.

Hope you like them at least as much as I did!


In reply to an earlier post on 7 Dec 2013, 07:06:09 GMT
Laura says:
I just noticed your reply now, I must apologise for the ungodly delay! Thank you so much for your recommendations it really does help fantastically as many bookshop workers often look at me blank faced or indeed point me towards the Tom Holland books! I am indeed interested in reading scholarly books which deal with the topics in depth so I can learn, and hopefully in future have a least a firm grasp on ancient civilisations. I totally agree with your points on the European Greeks/Hellenistic peoples being the barbarians in all likelihood since delving into the histories of the Sumerian's and learning of their contributions to civilisation. Fascinating stuff.

Thank you for your recommendation on the Carthage book, I have previously studied the Punic wars as part of classics and found it immensely interesting so further literature on the topic is great. I am a glutton for books anyway!

Thanks again!


In reply to an earlier post on 18 Jul 2015, 17:20:40 BST
Last edited by the author on 18 Jul 2015, 17:21:32 BST
J. Braga says:
While I am inclined to agree with you two that the Greeks were probably the Barbarians at the time, there is something to be said for a bunch of tiny city states seeing off the onslaught of the superpower of the time.

And most likely Ancient Persia's contribution to the world wouldn't have been much greater had they managed to marginally expand their empire onto Greek mainland. But we would probably have lost quite a lot if Greece had become just another province of the Persian Empire, and the Athenian democracy had been killed in the bud. By the same token I wonder how much we've lost because of the destruction of Carthage.
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