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A War Like No Other: How the Athenians & Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War

4.07  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,249 Ratings  ·  85 Reviews
One of our most provocative military historians, Victor Davis Hanson has given us painstakingly researched and pathbreaking accounts of wars ranging from classical antiquity to the twenty-first century. Now he juxtaposes an ancient conflict with our most urgent modern concerns to create his most engrossing work to date, A War Like No Other.
Over the course of a generation,
Hardcover, 397 pages
Published October 4th 2005 by Random House (NY) (first published 2005)
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Erik Graff
Jun 02, 2013 Erik Graff rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Westerners
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: history
Having enjoyed another book by Victor Davis Hanson, The Soul of Battle, I picked this one up when a copy was put up for sale at the Hayward, Wisconsin Public Library over the Memorial Day weekend. Since reading Thucydides freshman year at Grinnell College, the history of the Peloponnesian War has held interest. This account was no disappointment. Indeed, compared to others, it was original.

The originality of Hanson's book is that he doesn't summarize Thucydides and the Oxyrhinchos Historian. He
Ancient Greece never seemed to be a cohesive, united lot as each city-state focused on its own objectives. Alas, this led to the eventual end of the Golden Age of Athens, which always puzzled me. The Spartans were also intriguing, a society built around masculinity and warfare and the complete opposite of its sibling neighbour of Athens. Why did these two giants fight and what were the consequences?

Hanson provides a full chronology of the issues leading to battles won and lost and he also does a
John Pinegar
Aug 11, 2015 John Pinegar rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I expected that I'd like this book. I thought it would be pretty good. Then I started reading it, and by the time I finished I realized it was great. I've read my handful of VDH, but this book is really right in his wheelhouse. A classicist by training, he hits this out of the park, but not necessarily in the way one would think. It is historically engrossing, and a very tight narrative, but more than that it is exceptionally moving. Because the Peloponnesian War is not examined merely from a st ...more
Oct 03, 2015 Jane rated it really liked it
For a layperson like myself this was an easy-to-read and fascinating introduction to the Peloponnesian War. Unorthodox in its approach, it was not strictly chronological. As the subtitle indicates, it tells HOW the two enemies fought this war. The title is taken from Thucydides, the historian, who wrote extensively on the war. He called it a "war like no other." Each chapter treated a theme: Why the war was fought; the Spartan ultimately unsuccessful scorched earth policy in Attica; outbreak and ...more
I enjoy reading classical Greek and Latin literature of all sorts: drama, poetry, and history, as well as books about these topics. So it was with the anticipation of something good that I sat down to read Hanson’s “A War Like No Other”. Hanson is a noted author, historian and classicist, so what could be more interesting than his take on the Peloponnesian war? A lot of things, actually.

Not that “A War Like No Other” is bad. Hanson, as has been noted in many reviews, departs from the typical lin
Jun 21, 2012 Dale rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A War Like No Other is classical historian Victor Davis Hanson's offering on the Peloponnesian War - the 27 year struggle between the Delian League (Athens and its allies) and the Peloponnesian League (Sparta and its allies) that ran on and off again from 431 to 404 B.C.

Hanson's book is perhaps also a "book like no other" if I may borrow a phrase. Despite the prominently placed quote for the New York Times on the front cover proclaiming that it is a contemporary retelling of the war, this is not
Jan 29, 2013 Lizzie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I started this book under the impression that this would be a conservative's take on the Juan Cole Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East model of history- an extended analysis of America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan told through the lens of another historical incident. Despite signaling in this direction in his first chapter, Hanson actually hews closely to the historical material at hand. The organization of the narrative by common war experiences (fire, disease, armor, horses, walls, sh ...more
Bookmarks Magazine

Victor Davis Hanson, military historian turned Op-Ed rabble-rouser, holds firm to his belief that there are important lessons to be learned from the past. He has written extensively on the subject (The Western Way of War; Carnage and Culture; Between War and Peace). As a "modern Machiavelli" (Daily Telegraph), he has bent the ears of policy makers all the way up to the West Wing. Critics are impressed by Hanson's ability to bring all the machinations of the Greeks alive in his thematic chapters.

E Stanton
Mar 17, 2014 E Stanton rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an excellent history by one America's best classicists. Helps to have read Thucydides first. Would recommend to anyone who enjoys history at all, not just ancient or military history
One of the author's goals in this book was to talk about the war from a top-level perspective, skipping the chronology of the battles or events. My eyes glazed over these lists of random facts or situations. I apparently need the structure of chronology in a history book because I much preferred the parts that were explained in sequence (e.g., the siege of Syracuse or Plataea). So while the information presented was interesting, I did not enjoy the format of this book.
Dec 16, 2008 JJ rated it liked it
As an enthusiast of ancient history, I was excited to start this book, that being said, it wasn't in a style that I enjoyed. Hanson broke down the war, not into stages, or years, but into the different styles of warfare. A lot of back and forth through history, and at times repetitive. I found Hanson's analysis of the political situations behind the military operations to be cursory and left much to be desired.
Brian Jackson
An interesting history highlighting some of the major factors impacting the conduct and outcome of the Peloponnesian War (Disease, Horses, Armor, Etc). If you're a novice to this period of history, it's not a great work to start out with, but if you have a relatively solid foundation in the geography and chronology of this conflict, it's a pretty fascinating analysis. I do take exception to the editor's description on the back cover describing this book as a chronological look, it is not. Each s ...more
Stella  ☢FAYZ☢ Chen
He really didn't have what I wanted. There were parts from this book that really helped my research but overall, he went off topic way too often!
Would loved for it to be more relevant and to the point. Your fancy comparisons were boring to read. But like I said, I got some cool stuff out of this book.
John Nevola
Sep 10, 2012 John Nevola rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For history buffs interested in the titanic struggle between Sparta and Athens, known as the Peloponnesian War, this book is real treat! Hanson looks at this conflict from different perspectives and groups his treatment of history into categories such as disease, fire, terror, ships horses and psychological warfare while examining the impact of those elements on the outcome of the war.

Comparisons with modern conflicts and tactics are plentiful which continue to remind us that much of what was d
Aug 11, 2013 Craig rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book brilliantly threads the line of popular history, avoiding being either too scholarly (with name-checking of the sort, "As Heyman Roberts brilliantly explicated in his influential study of Greek horses...") or too pandering (with invented scenes like, "Brasius's eyes widened in terror as he spied the dreaded red plumes of the Spartan infantry.") Instead, it is a thoughtful, intelligent look at how "the first civil war in Western history" radically transformed Greek society and the cultu ...more
Jan 10, 2014 Carissa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hanson does not take a strict chronological approach to the Peloponnesian War, instead dedicating each chapter to a particular topic ("Plague," "Horses," etc.). This approach provides more information about "how" the Greeks fought and enables the reader to better picture the challenges faced by each side. For example, as Hanson reminds us several times, the men fighting this war were only about 5'5. It is strange to consider that such an epic war was waged by men of such un-epic size. As Hanson ...more
Jan 10, 2008 Rick rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This was a book I was greatly looking forward to reading when it first came out. I waited some time to get it and then to read it and it didn’t quite live up to the anticipation. It’s a military history by a widely-respected expert and quite a serviceable read, not fully engrossing but good enough. Applications to modern times—references to terrorism as a method, not an enemy—are useful reminders of true conservative thinking. Hanson is a smart writer and I’d be interested in other books he’s wr ...more
The American Conservative
'Now Hanson’s newest project, A War Like No Other, drags one of my heroes, the great Greek military historian Thucydides, into his seedy propaganda campaign. A War Like No Other is Hanson’s retelling of Thucydides’ great story of the Peloponnesian War, the grim 30-year struggle between Athens and Sparta. That’s a pretty conceited project, even for Hanson. After all, this is Thucydides we’re talking about, a genius who practically invented the genre of military history. Hanson retelling Thucydide ...more
Mar 02, 2010 Jed rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating depiction of the Golden Age of Athens. While engaged in this 27-year war primarily against Sparta, Athenians were applauding the new plays of Aristophanes, Sophocles, etc. Then, this birthplace of democracy would vote to suppress a rebellion in one of its many colonies, killing all the men & enslaving the women & children. Shows how the Golden Age was built on a wide-spread empire kept in line by the greatest navy of its time. Displays human nature in all its cruelty, depravi ...more
Sep 15, 2008 Michael rated it it was amazing
Shelves: military, history
In the early 5th century BC, the Greeks united to defeat a seemingly invincible host of 250,000 Persians -- a saga that remains an object of fascination even today (see the recent movie "300"). Yet somehow a 150 years later, Phillip of Macedon and his son Alexander subjugated all of Greece with a mere 40,000 men. How? The answer may in part be found through an understanding of the cataclysmic trauma Hellenic civilization endured in between the invasions of Xerxes and Alexander: the Peloponnesian ...more
Sam Choi
Aug 11, 2011 Sam Choi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very engaging, highly detailed book about the war between Athens and Sparta (ok, the Peloponnesian states, as many other cities were involved). I'm a bit out of my element, so I can't comment on the actual originality of the work or where it stands in relationship to the other work ... but, from a layman's perspective, I found it very informative. There is a little strain between the narrative and analysis, where he begins a narrative, but interrupts it for analysis, or vice verse. So, ...more
Donald Luther
Jul 25, 2013 Donald Luther rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I was teaching World History, the war I least understood, either in terms of causes or the ideas and issues behind the course of the fighting was the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BCE). I daresay it is not very well understood by many who wind up teaching it, in large part because the issues seem so foreign to our sensibilities and of course the style of fighting was something we simply cannot relate to.

'A War Like No Other' goes a long way to sorting out many of these problems. First, however
George Fernandez
Dec 01, 2013 George Fernandez rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Though the author does a lot of time shifting in the initial chapters, enough to give a mental hernia trying to keep up, I found I looked forward to picking the book up again every night.
Rather than a factual, blow by blow, account of the war, the author instead gives the feeling of living through it, connecting to the experiences of those living at that time, the war's impacts on the known world and later conflicts. For me he was particularly effective giving that sense of experience, or at lea
Dec 19, 2007 Reid rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hanson has crafted a history of the Peloponnesian War which breaks form the traditional, chronological storyline. Instead, Hanson has broken down the conflict into the types of warfare and the whole book is essentially detailing the evolution of Greek warfare into the tactical juggernauts of Thebes and later, Macedon. Basically, Hanson contends that the Peloponnesian War exerted such stress on the Greek city-states, over twenty-seven years, that the old politics of pitched hoplite battles and op ...more
David R.
Sep 16, 2014 David R. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world-history
The eminent historian Hanson has written the definitive study of the final struggle between Athens and Sparta (The Pelopennisian War of the 5th Century BCE.) It's deep reading on the impact of naval conflict, use of walls and sieges, the impacts of plague and efforts to wipe out food base, and political considerations. This is not light reading for the casual student, but will offer gratifying thought points for students of historic conflicts.
Well, probably three and a half stars would be more appropriate. There's lots to learn about the tactics and conditions of warfare in ancient Greece, and the people who fought it. However, some of the things I was most interested in, the more narrative elements of personalities and motivations and the arc of narrative, were missing.

Almost certainly this book would be appreciated more by someone with a solid grounding in the Peloponnesian War, rather than a newcomer like myself. One last nitpick-
Nov 24, 2011 Greg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a great book on the Peloponnesian War, because it is different than other texts. Most texts approach the war from a chronological perspective. This one instead approaches it from the perspective of military technology and tactics and effectively leverages modern analogies to similar issues. It covers how the ancient greeks employed infantry, cavalry, fortified and besieged cities, used terror tactics and fought asymmetrical war, triremes. One thing from the infantry chapter that was help ...more
Jun 17, 2013 Richard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Solid commentary on the Peloponnesian War. Helps to have read Thucydides and other ancient commentaries, however Hanson fills in the blanks where needed. I found the chapters on the naval war to be most interesting and instructive as I had never really gotten a feel for the reign of the trireme before. Athens tried to maintain a main fleet of 200 triremes which has always sounded small to me. However Hanson points out that with a crew of about 200 men, this fleet required 40,000 plus to crew, to ...more
Cliff Etters
Feb 13, 2008 Cliff Etters rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: military history lovers, current events mavins, conspiracy theorists
Not your typical military history. Hanson splits from the usual historical timeline format of the genre and focuses more on a holistic view of the war with an emphasis on the themes of the conflict.

I've never read any of Hanson's other works, though I'm interested in them since the general consensus is that this isn't his strongest work. That's not to say that it's a struggle to get through or that it's boring, because it's neither. It's my opinion that Hanson's use of colloquial English is wha
John Warren
Apr 10, 2014 John Warren rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
i enjoyed this book hansons observations on the war i found very helpful and his facts of the war where very useful. i loved the footnotes and the cast of characters he puts at the end of the book. never new that a war the lasted some 27 years that u had very few of the hoplite battles the greeks where so famous for. the unconventional warfare that both sides used and the sieges along with the naval battles where very interesting. it was a very strange civil war but a very intriguing.
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Hanson was educated at the University of California, Santa Cruz (BA, Classics, 1975), the American School of Classical Studies (1978-79) and received his Ph.D. in Classics from Stanford University in 1980. He lives and works with his family on their forty-acre tree and vine farm near Selma, California, where he was born in 1953.
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