RaveThe Wall Street Journal... his taut historical narrative...exemplifies its darkly lyrical style. In prose that evokes (and often quotes) tragic verse, Mr. Stothard tells a grim tale that spans 15 chaotic years and 19 violent deaths ... A tale of such breadth and scope, with characters often shifting venue or changing political partners, would strike terror into many authors, but Mr. Stothard is a writer of rare talent ... he weaves a tense, fast-paced tale from the many strands of a turbulent era ... free indirect discourse is more typical of fiction than ancient history, but Mr. Stothard wields it so expertly that only the most umbratic scholar would object ... by no means an easy read, especially for those who feel oppressed by a welter of polysyllabic names. But the vigor of Mr. Stothard’s prose, and the acuity of his insight, will propel many readers past all difficulties, into an ancient Roman world that is startlingly real.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalWriting here about Greek affairs for the first time, [Goldsworthy] steps cautiously around the fault lines in his sources, often weighing competing versions without choosing between them. His Philip and Alexander is thus a compelling but temperate book, giving readers an in-depth but dispassionate account of its subjects ... The word \'perhaps\' can’t be avoided in narrating ancient history, but its overuse can be debilitating. Mr. Goldsworthy is a consummate professional in his handling of evidence, but one sometimes longs for firmer convictions or a deeper sense of engagement. In the final chapter of Philip and Alexander, he disclaims the right to frame moral judgments, \'for that is best left to individual readers,\' and describes the personalities of his two principal subjects as \'unreachable.\' He didn’t stand so aloof in his previous books, which offer intimate portraits of Julius and Augustus Caesar, among others ... With its episodic series of military clashes, the Alexander story is not an easy one to tell and even harder when preceded by that of Philip. Mr. Goldsworthy has a rare gift for imagining and describing ancient warfare, but even so the endless sequence of march-fight-repeat may tire some readers, especially when the Macedonians always win. Alexander’s army reached such a peak of skill as to defeat foes that outnumbered it or that held vastly stronger positions. A long string of such odds-on victories can become tedious or even morally disquieting ... None of this is meant to detract from what Mr. Goldsworthy has accomplished, in this book and in his career generally. Here, as elsewhere, he combines the talents of scholar and storyteller, bringing to life the full drama of ancient history while assessing the evidence with a critical eye. The Macedonians put both talents to a more severe test than his previous Roman subjects, but most readers will agree that he emerges from the fray, like Alexander himself, \'invincible.\'
PositiveThe London Review of BooksThebes, a survey of a thousand years of Theban myth and history, marks a new phase in Paul Cartledge’s career. ... in the last decade Cartledge has turned his attention to the topic of democracy as practised both in ancient Greece and in the modern West. His previous book, Democracy: A Life, made a brief case for seeing the rise of Thebes as evidence of democracy’s vitality. In this book, he expands on that thesis, seeing the heyday of Theban power as part of a ‘great age of democracy in the Greek world as a whole’ ... Throughout his career, one of Cartledge’s strengths as a Hellenist has been his awareness of the way sexual love between older and younger males influenced Greek political and military power structures. This topic is too often ignored or, occasionally, over-stressed by scholars for subjective reasons. Having already dealt with the subject deftly in his biography of Agesilaos and elsewhere, Cartledge again shows admirable insight into the historical importance of Greek male homosexuality.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalFirst impressions count for a great deal, and this first encounter with Alaric in Mr. Boin’s narrative—one that need not have even occurred, given the unreliability of the sources—hardly bears out the view that he later tries to adduce. He seems to want to have it both ways in his presentation of Alaric, making him out to be a dashing brigand at some points, an oppressed Roman wannabe at others. Readers of Alaric the Goth will often be uncertain which side its subject is on or what he is fighting for ... It’s apparent from Alaric the Goth that Mr. Boin, whose previous books have dealt with social and regional history, is more skilled at applying a broad brush than the more focused tools of biography. The most engaging parts of Alaric the Goth, and by far the greater portion of its contents, diverge from Alaric’s story to give a sweeping view of Roman life near the fall of the empire. It’s here, especially in matters of Christian-pagan tension, that Mr. Boin excels rather than in trying to fathom the complex Gothic warlord of his title.
F S Naiden
PanThe Wall Street JournalIt has to be said that the book falls short of its objective, a \'religious portrait of Alexander.\' Mr. Naiden, a professor of history at the University of North Carolina and the author of two scholarly studies of ancient animal sacrifice, does not have the narrative skill, or judgment in the handling of evidence, to pull off this difficult task ... Despite his deep interest in religious beliefs, Mr. Naiden often takes a strangely snarky tone in describing them ... occasional errors of fact ... For all his expertise in the realm of religious ritual, Mr. Naiden lacks those insights or else lacks the tools to convey them. One comes away from Soldier, Priest, and God as puzzled as ever about the young king who conquered the world.
Steve P. Kershaw
MixedThe Wall Street JournalThe Search for Atlantis explores many...theories, perhaps too many. Mr. Kershaw’s journey through the list of Atlantis seekers feels at times like a forced march, and even he seems to grow weary ... Mr. Kershaw would have been well advised to omit some of his minor figures and expand on the more interesting or influential ones ... one feels the dead hand of the scholarly reference work ... Other Atlanteans, by contrast, deserve a more probing discussion than Mr. Kershaw gives them ... The tortured moves that Mr. Kershaw documents, by which the Atlantis myth has been recast as fact and willfully misread, remind us of how vital such distinctions are for a society striving to stay free.
MixedThe Wall Street Journal\'Who are you?\' asks Ingrid Rossellini at the outset of Know Thyself: Western Identity From Classical Greece to the Renaissance It’s a question that she intends her survey of art, literature and ideas to help us answer. She declares in her preface that she proposes \'to return to the early times of our history with the intention of rediscovering the building blocks of our contemporary personality.\' This grand claim goes beyond what she actually attempts in Know Thyself to say nothing of what she achieves ... As a tour guide, Ms. Rossellini is a stalwart if uninspiring companion. Her voice is closer to the dry tones of the college textbook. She never pauses from her itinerary for, say, first-person reflections or glimpses of her own moments of discovery ... A bigger problem concerns her reliability. No single author could claim mastery of all the areas she covers, but she commits errors that should have been caught by fact checking. Discussing the Persian invasions of Europe described by Herodotus, Ms. Rossellini confuses a bridge built by Darius with a later one constructed by Xerxes. She shows a bust of the Roman general Pompey to illustrate its evocation of Alexander the Great—by means of \'the same leonine hairstyle\'—though the style she refers to belongs to a different bust. Such missteps are small, but they undermine Ms. Rossellini’s authority ... Know Thyself ends with an exhortation toward inclusiveness and the breaking down of boundaries between the West and \'the other.\' This timely plea feels at odds with the way that Ms. Rossellini herself has presented other cultures and, like her title and grandiose preface, outstrips the more limited goals of the book itself.\'
PositiveThe New RepublicThough she here claims that 50 years of training and study have led up to SPQR, Beard wears her learning lightly. As she takes us through the brothels, bars, and back alleys where the populus Romanus left their imprint, one senses, above all, that she is having fun.