... a gripping history that combined deep scholarship with readability ... enjoyable and accessible ... an epic history. Very much in the vein of the Tom Holland histories of empire, enjoyable and informative but also gripping.
Writing 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.'
... effectively deals with the gaps in sources of knowledge about both men as people, with Goldsworthy avoiding conjecture when possible and presenting famous rumors and legendary incidents as valuable examples of the myth-building around both men but not always verifiable historical facts ... The thorough and riveting narrative of both Philip and Alexander’s lives and accomplishments makes this an ideal choice for the general reader, with some fresh insights to offer to those familiar with the subjects as well.
Goldsworthy is a first-rate popular historian of the ancient world, but he’s only as good as his primary sources, and in this case that’s a significant limitation. Even in the last twenty years alone, a score of conscientious and sometimes crusading biographies of Philip have appeared, each one attempting to rescue him and his accomplishments from the glare of his son’s renown ... They’re doomed to failure, of course, because we’re dealing with stories here, and Alexander has by far the better story. Goldsworthy’s book is nearly 600 pages long, and Philip takes a knife between his ribs before page 200 ... The two narratives here - Philip’s, full of wives, concubines (of both genders), and militaristic bluster, and Alexander’s, full of dramatic leadership, epic set-piece battles, and a wide swath of the ancient world - can never be made to mesh well, since Alexander’s doesn’t properly start until Philip’s ends. Goldsworthy does as good a job as can be done, although he’s curiously ineffective at one of his main stated aims: the book very memorably belongs to Alexander. As an Alexander biography, it’s lean and very good; as a study of Philip, it feels as strained and perfunctory as all those other studies of Philip. Studies of careful preparation can be interesting, but when the end sequel to that careful preparation is Alexander the Great, even a saint is going to be impatiently fidgeting for the conquest of Persia to begin ... Goldsworthy’s book is inescapably that book, but he brings a careful, often insightful balance to the familiar stories. His Alexander is far more compelling than his Philip, and though the one-eyed old ghost may rage at that, there’s no helping it.
Superb ... Countless books have covered the lives of Alexander the Great and his energetic father, Philip of Macedon, but this dual biography, one of the first for a popular audience, not only gives them equal weight, but emphasizes that 'both men were able, and Alexander won the war planned and prepared by Philip' ... Despite the plethora of accounts of Alexander’s campaign, readers will still enjoy this riveting one ... An outstandingly fresh look at well-trodden ground.
... impressive ... Goldsworthy expertly mines ancient sources to parse fact from legend, but admits that both Philip and Alexander remain elusive figures, better known for their battlefield accomplishments than for their personalities, about which less is known. Still, this is a fascinating and richly detailed look at two men who 'changed the course of history.'