[Llewellyn-Jones] throws himself into this quest with enthusiasm and impressive, lightly worn erudition. He hunts down Achaemenid inscriptions on tombs and statues, surveys the artistic and latest archaeological evidence, and investigates the literary record to tell a gripping and more Persian-centric story ... Consistently entertaining ... At his best Llewellyn-Jones is very good at righting the record ... The chapters on the Achaemenid cultural contribution to world civilisation are excellent ... If there is a problem here, it is that in his understandable desire to put the Persians front and centre with their own stories, Llewellyn-Jones ends up doing a reverse Herodotus and indulging in some gratuitous Greek-bashing ... Sometimes the robust defence of all things Persian tips over into unnecessary apology ... Llewellyn-Jones starts to bring his story to an elegiac close, only to then spoil it in a final flourish by railing against the 'international threats to Iran’s liberty'.
In his effort to give 'ear to a genuine ancient Persian voice,' Mr. Llewellyn-Jones synthesizes what can be gleaned from artifacts, inscriptions and fragmentary accounts ... The lack of contemporary sources is particularly acute with Cyrus. Mr. Llewellyn-Jones gamely imagines his childhood and how he developed an obligatory sense of destiny, as well as the young prince’s physical appearance ... Whatever the attractions of Persian men, Mr. Llewellyn-Jones’s sketch of Cyrus is, I suspect, closer to an Iranian soap opera star than the likely homelier reality ... Mr. Llewellyn-Jones’s exegesis of the Cyrus Cylinder...is pithy and insightful ... Forster’s theme was how the living 'can recover self-confidence by snubbing the dead'; the dead, Mr. Llewelyn-Jones argues convincingly, have been snubbed long enough.
By examining the artifacts and monuments that remain, historian Llewellyn-Jones brings forth a view of ancient Persia that is rich in tradition and historical significance ... Llewellyn-Jones commits this book to telling the history of Persia, and in doing so he also sheds light on Persian political structures, court etiquette practices, and royal family structure. The book includes a cast of characters as well as an extensive list of further reading ... Recommended for readers with an interest in ancient Persian history and culture, Greek philosophy, and contemporary Iran.
[An] immersive history ... Llewellyn-Jones’s impressive research ranges from shocking palace intrigues to tax code minutiae, though he occasionally strays into speculation ... Still, Llewellyn-Jones expertly illuminates the decentralized, multicultural nature of the Achaemenid empire and offers valuable perspective on the modern Middle East, where the great kings of ancient Persia still feature in Iran’s national self-image. This is a valuable contribution to the understanding of 'history’s first great superpower.'