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The Nature of Alexander

4.12 of 5 stars 4.12  ·  rating details  ·  726 ratings  ·  46 reviews
The acclaimed biography of Alexander the Great.
Paperback, 288 pages
Published November 12th 1979 by Pantheon (first published January 1st 1975)
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Fire from Heaven by Mary RenaultThe Persian Boy by Mary RenaultAlexander the Great by Robin Lane FoxThe Life of Alexander the Great by PlutarchThe Campaigns of Alexander by Arrian
Alexander the Great
9th out of 105 books — 57 voters
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Classical Studies
33rd out of 59 books — 4 voters

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Mosaic, Alexander at the Battle of Isis 333 BC (Wiki)

Note: For a far more perceptive review than this one, see Sarah's.

This could be a five star book, but I’ve been conservative since it’s so long since I read it. (It’s probably worth a re-read, actually).

The Nature of Alexander is a popular, non-academic, very readable biography of Alexander the Great. It is Mary Renault’s only non-fiction book. There’s a very brief Wiki article on the book, in which it is stated that it’s not a “neutral” book
Sarah (Presto agitato)
I recently read and enjoyed Mary Renault’s trilogy of novels about Alexander the Great (Fire from Heaven, The Persian Boy, and Funeral Games). I was curious to see her approach the topic from a nonfiction perspective. The Nature of Alexander is her biography of the Macedonian king who managed to conquer Greece, Persia, part of India, and Egypt, creating an enormous empire without ever losing a battle.

Macedonian Empire
Alexander's empire (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Despite ruling for only thirteen years, Alexander
Alexander has always been a mystery to me. To be honest, I've always been a bit frustrated with his legacy. We tend to picture Alex as the beautiful, idealized conquering hero in a way that we never would with someone like Attila the Hun. For most of my life my theory on why this is has been related to the western world's huge affinity for Hellenistic culture and ideas. As a whole we have a serious boner for Greek stuff and while most of the time I share said boner it can be problematic. Alexand ...more
A very interesting and highly readable biography of Alexander the Great. You can tell that Renault is a novelist because she has a great turn of phrase and a highly tuned sense of pace. Unfortunately, her love of Alexander means that it reads as a hagiography - and even the parts where she's criticising his behaviour read as though it's really a disguised compliment. It was very useful as an overview of the life and the events, but I'm not sure how reliable it is as an assessment of character (o ...more
This is one of those books that I read to become an informed person and about which I will later remember only three to five things. In no particular order I predict that those three to five things will be: Bucephalas, Hephaestion, Darius, Roxane, and Olympias. This is, of course not how I will remember: the Horsey, the Boyfriend, the Cowardly Enemy, the Evil!Wife, and the Conniving Clingy Mother.

I am being glib because I am not really familiar with this period in history. I honestly will forge
Simply the best Alexander book I've read. Renault wrote brilliant historical fiction, but realized the facts would suffice to make a great story here. I got this book as a consolation prize after an horrific scholarship interview in high school (it was for Pitt so that's fine. I wouldn't shame my ancestors by going there anyway). Renault was the first I read to discuss Alexander's probably homosexuality- she really just touches on the facts we know, like how he kept turning down marriage possibi ...more
Shawn Steele
Renault's "The Nature of Alexander" is ripe with falsehoods, hyperbole, and factual errors., yet it is such a well written book that it is hard to not award it a high mark. The entertainment value alone of this text is extremely well worth the read. Even though Renault shows no effort at scholarship, her writing and tone throughout is handled so effortlessly that it is hard not to admire her work.
Biografía muy minuciosa que empieza con la figura de su padre Filipo II. Analiza muy bien la sociedad, política, cultura, religión y la moral de la época. También detalla muy bien las diversas expediciones, batallas, luchas, intrigas, etc., aunque a veces se hace más pesado y reiterativo describiendo detalles muy insignificantes. Pero lo más negativo es la ausencia de mapas históricos para poder seguir las numerosos itirenarios y conquistas (es recomendable tenerlos para seguir la lectura).
La o
Nov 10, 2008 El rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Josiah, Clovis
Focusing a great deal of her attention on Alexander the Great's psychological evolution, Mary Renault here writes a different sort of historical biography. She is clearly well-read in all things Alexander, and even more clear is her absolute bias towards him. She leaves little room for argument, though there are several throughout. She uses much of the histories of Arrian, Ptolemy, Xenophon and others but at times puts her imagination to good use by filling in the blanks. While not a poorly writ ...more
I really wavered between two and three stars here, but considering how long it took me to get through I guess two is more appropriate. Reading this was a decent primer on the life of Alexander the Great, but you get the feeling historical-novelist Mary Renault is WAY too enamored of her material. While she does succeed in portraying Alexander as a psychologically complex individual, the whole thing dips into hagiography once too often, and at every juncture where Alexander's motives are question ...more
Nalin Thakur
Alexander is one of the most written about characters in the world but the writers have seldom done justice to him. Either he is a God like character with altruism and integration of nations and mankind behind all his wars/battles or he is a devil, butcher. Mary Renault tries to strike a balance and has done a good job.
I'm just a big fan of Alexander the Great. I've read this book and a lot more about him, but I just can't recall titles and authors except for Renault. I'm reminded of Renault because I read her trilogy of historical fiction on Alexander. She also wrote this book which is more nonfiction or rater a collection of observations and opinions, legends, etc. on Alexander the Great told by the various cultures he touched, and influenced.

Who knows what Alexander the Great was truely like, but I've enjoy
Not a proper scientific biography of Alexander the Great, but written with all the knowledge and love for the subject that's so apparent in Renault's Alexander novels.
This book was wonderful. I really enjoy the bibliography at the end- it makes further reading much easier.
Accomplished writer Mary Renault creates a vivid portrait of one the most fascinating people in history. While sadly all primary sources on Alexander's life have been lost, she makes use of all the important secondary sources that remain, but always regarding them with a critical eye instead of taking everything at face value. Her style of writing, while giving a wealth of information, is never dry. I have rarely enjoyed reading a non-fiction book this much.
John Warren
i have read a few books on alexander this is good book but by far not one of the best ones i have read. she does go into alot of psychological behavior of alexander i found the book lacking more substance of other books ive read. it is well written but i enjoy her non-fiction ones alot better. overall i would give a high 3 stars it justs seems to me that alot of stuff was left out that that could have made this book a little better
This book was a great look into the life of one of the most enigmatic figures in history. This book is easy to read and understand. The author did a really good job of keeping the story moving and not bogging the story down. The only complaint that I had is that the author would just bring in a concept out of nowhere and never really explain what was going on. But for the most part this was a well written biography.
Joel Stratte-McClure
Jul 07, 2013 Joel Stratte-McClure rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: AlexandertheGreatophiles
I chose to read Mary Renault's Plutarch-influenced biography of Alexander the Great before attacking her Alexander Trilogy ("Fire from Heaven", "Persian Boy" and "Funeral Games"). I'm now especially intrigued to read her fictional accounts of reality. All of this is, of course, research as I continue my walk around the Mediterranean Sea in the footsteps of Alexander the Great (
A fascinating look at Alexander the Great. Renault, with her long history of historical fiction writing, tackles the subject of Alexander's personality and motivations rather than merely telling of famous battles and historical events. Although her portrayal can often be too sympathetic (take her opinions with a grain of salt -- she clearly loves the guy!), the project itself is engaging and enlightening.
-Trabajo natural después de las dos primeras novelas sobre el tema que escribió la autora.-

Género. Biografía.

Lo que nos cuenta. Repaso de la vida, obras y batallas del famoso macedonio, pero también un relato de los tiempos en los que vivió.

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Leí éste después de haberme leído la trilogía de esta autora sobre la vida de Alejandro y recuerdo que me embargó un profunda tristeza, no porque hubiera terminado la saga, sino porqué me había maravillado tanto con el personaje y como en los cuatro libros asistí tantas veces a su muerte, pues la última la sentí como si alguien a quien yo conociera y quisiera mucho hubiera muerto.
A biography of Alexander the Great. M. Renault loves her Alexander and makes no attempt to be impartial. She rejects his faults as depicted in some of the Greek and Roman biographies as (Athenian and Kassandros') propaganda. She presents some of her ideas and opinions on Alexander as if they were facts. Still, it's a compelling read.
Gary Christensen
This was the second time for this book. It's a easy, quick read. There are some interesting thoughts, and the bibliography is useful, but it's highly speculative and some of her conclusions are unconvincing. She must know as much about Alexander as anyone but the text too often strays into grey areas.
Mary Renault is an academic and author who really knows her stuff. Her fiction (The King Must Die, Bull from the Sea) is credible and highly enjoyable.
Her historical writing is well researched and brings a violent, disturbed hero to life.
Well worth comparing with Robin Lane Fox's treatment.
Doug Matthews
Impeccably researched and creatively written, this book sets a high standard for breadth of coverage of Alexander's life. It is very readable and engaging. It fortunately steers clear of an excess of academic writing. Enjoyed it and will use it for future reference in all things Alexandrian.
Alexander the Great is one of my favourite historical characters, that is why I bought this book. As a bonus, it made me discover wonderful mary Renault. This is a non fiction book but you can appreciate her simple, beautiful and powerful prose in telling the life of a character she also loved.
Apr 19, 2011 Mahala is currently reading it
Oh my God, I finally got my hands on this book!!!!!! Loving it so far. It's like the erudite extended DVD commentary of her Alexander novels, which are some of my favourite books in the world.

Will post a proper review once I'm done.
A super good alexander primer. The story comes to life. It surprised me how much this little book hammered so many important themes home much more effectively than much bigger books on the subject. Well worth the effort.
David Vanness
The best read on Alexander that I've encountered. I appreciate him and his accomplishments more. This volume is on my 'to reread list'. Would recommend to any ancient-history buff or motivational student.
Hero Worship. But not that bad... A world conquering megalomaniac has never been made so appealing. Recommended for classical newbs, clean lively style, just don't buy everything Renault tries to sell you.
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  • Ghost on the Throne: The Death of Alexander the Great and the War for Crown and Empire
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  • The Campaigns of Alexander
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Mary Renault was an English writer best known for her historical novels set in Ancient Greece. In addition to vivid fictional portrayals of Theseus, Socrates, Plato and Alexander the Great, she wrote a non-fiction biography of Alexander.

Her historical novels are all set in ancient Greece. They include a pair of novels about the mythological hero Theseus and a trilogy about the career of Alexander
More about Mary Renault...
The Persian Boy (Alexander the Great, #2) The King Must Die (Theseus, #1) Fire from Heaven (Alexander the Great, #1) The Last of the Wine The Charioteer

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