Certain events 2,500 years (or so) ago have entered into cultural history -- Marathon; the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae and how a small area of squabbling city states held off a vast empire. This is the background to those stories. One good thing about this book is that Holland can write - clearly, concisely and with an ability to make ancient history fresh and relevant today.
Starting with the history of how Persia became such a vast empire and then moving onto Sparta, Athens and their relationships with other Greek city states and then building up to the Persian attempt to conquer Greece Holland uses primary sources to tell a coherent history. Of course most of those sources are from the Greek side of things as Herodotus and others wrote their accounts of their recent history, while on the Persian side we are mainly left with archaeological evidence - monuments, sculpture and bureaucratic records. So in some ways the information available is mainly one-sided but, in spite of this, Holland manages to present, what seems to be, a balanced account.
This is a very good, readable account of the past that is as relevant today as it would have been for the people who lived in those times. The characters of the main players of the time come through. Politics, personalities and battles this has it all.
Additional information - contains maps; colour plates; notes; timeline and a comprehensive bibliography.
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