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There’s no shortage of biographies available on Alexander the Great, but Peter Green’s Alexander of Macedon is one of the finest. The prose is crisp and clear, and within a few pages readers become absorbed in the world that made Alexander, and then the story of how Alexander remade it.
Green writes, “Alexander’s true genius was as a field-commander: His gift for speed, improvisation, variety of strategy; his cool-headedness in a crisis; his ability to extract himself from the most impossible situations; his mastery of terrain; his psychological ability to penetrate the enemy’s intentions–all these qualities place him at the very head of the Great Captains of history. Green’s vibrant biography–a History Book Club main selection and macedno BOMC alternate historiical cloth–deromanticizes the Macedonian general, portraying him as a ruthless megalomaniac.
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Until recently, popular biographers and most scholars viewed Alexander the Great as a genius with a plan, a romantic figure pursuing his vision of a united world. His dream was at times characterized as a benevolent interest in the brotherhood of man, sometimes as a brute interest in the exercise of power.
Green, a Cambridge-trained classicist who is also a novelist, portrays Alexander as both a complex personality and a single-minded general, a man capable of such diverse expediencies as patricide or the massacre of civilians.
Green describes his Alexander as “not only the most brilliant and ambitious field commander in history, but also supremely indifferent to all those administrative excellences and idealistic yearnings foisted upon him by later generations, especially those who found the conqueror, tout court, a little hard upon their liberal sensibilities. What Philip and Macedonia had to offer, Alexander made his own, but Philip and Macedonia also made Alexander form an important context for understanding Alexander himself.
Yet his origins and training do not fully explain the man. After he was named hegemon of the Hellenic League, many philosophers came to congratulate Alexander, but one was conspicuous by his absence: Diogenes the Cynic, an ascetic who lived in a clay tub. Piqued and curious, Alexander himself visited the philosopher, who, when asked if there was anything Alexander could do for him, made the famous reply, “Don’t stand between me and the sun.
For the general reader, the book, redolent with gritty details and fully aware of Alexander’s darker side, offers a gripping tale of Alexander’s career. Full backnotes, fourteen maps, and chronological and genealogical tables serve readers with more specialized interests. Read more Read less. Discover Prime Book Box for Kids. Add all three to Cart Add all three to List. These items are shipped from and sold by different sellers. Buy the selected items together This item: Alexander of Macedon B.
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Please try again later. Kindle Edition Verified Purchase. I guess it is mostly superfluous at this point, more than forty years after the first printing, perhaps the most widely celebrated Alexander biography in my lifetime, and even now enjoying robust reader ratings.
With combined skills as writer, researcher, teacher and translator of Greek primary sources, Peter Green bettered most of the 20th-century scholars with this primarily popular account. I only wish Green will continue to translate Diodorus Siculus’ Books the history of Philip and Alexander and Books the only continuous ancient account of Alexander’s successorsas he did with Books the history of the Persian and Peloponnesian Wars.
Some have said that Green has been too negative about Alexander. It is all here, the good and the bad and the ugly, thoroughly referenced with source materials.
This book should help to envision a realistic Alexander, along with other avenues of adventure to last a lifetime. Alexander the Great is one of those historical figures that provokes interpretation that tells as much about the interpreter as about the man himself.
Was he an incipient humanist, spreading the values of Hellenistic culture? Was he a cynical totalitarian autocrat, using propaganda and words when it suited him and according to circumstance?
While admittedly a military genius, was he a megalomaniac who progressively became unhinged and finally thought of himself as an infallible God? Is he a product of his time or a fundamental innovator? These are the questions that Green sets forth to explore in his exhaustive biography.
In a nutshell, it is one of the best biographies I have read in years, combining riveting narrative with thoughtful analysis of both context and our own assumptions. Truly, it is a masterpiece of scholarship, but also eminently readable. The book is a bit difficult to get into. Green sketches the situation of Greece at the time: Macedonia, which with its dialect and autocratic kingship was considered more barbarian than Greek, was a beleaguered outpost.
When Philip took over as king, it was under serious threat from all sides. But Philip proved to be an unusually cunning and shrewd political and military operator, developing a trained fighting force that was the best of its age, then picking off his enemies one by one, and emerging as the undisputed master of Greece – uniting it in a patchwork combination of allied coalition and outright military domination.
His overwhelming goal was to conquer Asia, i. Philip was a coarse man, given to drunken revelry and all manner of debauchery, but a survivor in the brutal game of political maneuvering in Macedonia. One of his wives, Olympias, gave birth to Alexander, whose teachers included none other than Aristotle; Philip groomed and trained him for 20 years as his heir, only to be assassinated possibly with the connivance of Alexander after their overt estrangement.
This takes up the first third of the book and is a splendid introduction to the end of the city state experiment in Greece, with all its cultural currents. When Alexander took over, he was barely out of his teens. Regarded as a figurehead who would not last, he nonetheless quickly displayed a military genius, winning every engagement with a creativity and coolness under pressure that shocked his contemporaries.
Of course, all the groundwork his father laid, in particular the crack infantry but also the political superstructure, helped. Still, the ease with which Alexander slipped into the role was nothing short of phenomenal, perhaps a reflection of the dangerous training ground of a life amidst Macedonian courtiers. Even this early on, his innate brutality emerged: His first forays into Asia were under the cloak of liberating the Greek dependencies in Ionia and Cappadocia.
Once accomplished, it became vengeance against Darius and, by extension, Xerxes. All the while, as Alexander’s army conquered the eastern coast of the Mediterranean to Egypt, he was strapped for cash and one defeat away from bankruptcy and total disaster.
However, once Persia was conquered, he became the wealthiest man in the world, gaining an unslakable thirst for further conquest. After a while, his reputation was so strong that most kingdoms offered tribute rather than face annihilation.
As becomes clear, he never hesitated to present whatever he needed to gain the upper hand; his was following no other ideological precepts than domination by any means as his disposal.
He was the first to bring historians with him on campaign the first was Aristotle’s nephew, last murdered for his big mouthto produce propaganda directly. Similarly, he propagated his image wherever he went, setting a precedent for the display of power by later conquerors, and founded cities in his name, e. Green covers his personal and religious transformation. Alexander was told by his mother that his father was Zeus, joining him to an illustrious tradition. As his exploits grew in grandeur, he came to regard himself as surpassing first Achilles, then Heracles, and finally Dionysus, the God of wine, who was purported to niography founded many city states in Asia.
Oracles along the way told him he was a God, which added to his megalomania and eventually increased his isolation.
This also coincided with his need to accomodate Asian custom, involving elaborate rituals that the Macedonians found both ludicrous and humiliating when Alexander demanded similar behavior from them. Together, this led to their alienation and dangerous mutinies late in his career, when they forced him to turn back in India – they wanted to go home after 10 years of hardship. In terms of his orientation, Green is discreet: Alexander never showed much interest in women and always preferred male companions.
Rather than the more complex macefon difficult task of governing his empire, Green believes that Alexander’s only interest was in domination and conquest, with plunder biogaphy servitude thrown in. He did nothing, in Green’s view, alexamder create wealth in a sustainable way, but rather looted treasuries so that he bjography keep going to conquer ever greater domains. By the end of his career, he was already finding himself short of cash and surrounded by plotting, corrupt potentates.
Indeed, his governing style never evolved beyond the set up of satraps, often the men who were already there or, increasingly, toadies of his own taste.
THis meant that the undergirding politico-administrative structure of his empire was weak – it immediately collapsed once he was gone with notable exceptions. Green examines the various interpretations of his death – as disease or assassination.
The conclusion of the book offers a wonderful historiography of Alexander’s image and character. Before the time of Julius Casear, Alexander was viewed as a brutal and cynical conqueror, a hated figure in Greece.
When great conquerors became admirable, particularly with the grand stabilizer Augustus, he came to be viewed as a hero to emulate for his audacity, courage, and indomitable will. This image lasted to the Victorian era, when he was portrayed as a man of high ideals as well. More recently, the 20th C has led to yet another view of him, as a totalitarian dictator of ruthless cruelty.
Green falls in the latter category and I must say, I found him completely convincing. I have no criticisms of the text: I always trusted his detail completely, which is rare with me. Green skillfully wends his way through what is propaganda, what can and cannot be known, and offers solid interpreations with full awareness of his own limitations.