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The Nature of Alexander

4.13  ·  Rating Details ·  879 Ratings  ·  53 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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Mosaic, Alexander at the Battle of Isis 333 BC (Wiki)

Note: For a fine review, 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, but presents Alexander in a
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
Jun 12, 2014 Nate rated it liked it
Shelves: antiquity, owned
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
Jan 25, 2016 Steven rated it really liked it
After seeing the excruciatingly tedious and mangled film about Alexander the Great by Oliver Stone recently, I decided to find a biography that would better capture the character and achievements of the man. Many years ago, I read Mary Renault's wonderful novel, The King Must Die, so when I found this biographical study (written in 1975), it was a "no-brainer" to read it.

In it, Renault examined the writings about Alexander, much of it by his comrades and by historians who lived a relatively shor
Jan 07, 2010 Kathleen rated it really liked it
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
Feb 05, 2011 Owen rated it really liked it
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
Jan 04, 2015 Phil rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Shawn Steele
Dec 07, 2013 Shawn Steele rated it really liked it
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.
Aug 14, 2012 Lasiter rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2008
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.
Aug 06, 2012 Leslie rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I don't generally read non-fiction books, but this biography is so well-written that you can almost forget that it is factual.
Nov 30, 2016 Sean rated it it was amazing
I think this is my fifth biography of Alexander, and it's easily my favorite. It's not the most scholarly -- indeed, it's not scholarly at all. It's not the most balanced -- Renault is an aggressive partisan. It's not the most in-depth -- it's a slim, fast-moving book. But my god, what a gem.

Renault is clever, and a close reader of the source material. She's wordly, and reads between the lines, and through the lacunae. She's also an angel with her pen, and the book reads like a splendid novel. W
Daniel Deurbrouck
Jan 06, 2017 Daniel Deurbrouck rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Solid biography of Alexander the Great. Focused on the person of Alexander without becoming overly distracted with other characters.

The biggest pro and con of the biography is the positive bias it has towards Alexander. Renault has a tendency to explain away the evil things Alexander did; "...but you need to understand how different this was at this time in history...", "... but this was merciful by ancient standards...", etc.
Nov 10, 2008 El rated it liked it
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
Ian Banks
Jan 03, 2016 Ian Banks rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Worst things first: too easy to put down. Despite the fact that Ms Renault was a brilliant novelist, this is a book that is far too easy to lay aside for a while. That said when I picked back up again, it was quite difficult to put down. Her Alexander is a man she illuminates with contemporary writers, secondary sources and her own immeasurable skills as a lifelong observer of humanity. She compares the differing commentaries and accounts of the events and often disputes them by referring to Ale ...more
Oct 23, 2008 Jamie rated it it was ok
Shelves: history, non-fic
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
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
Feb 20, 2009 Jennifer rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 24, 2016 Karen marked it as to-read
* Top 10 Greatest Leaders of All Time

The Leader: Alexander the Great

nature of alexanderRead: The Nature of Alexander, by Mary Renault
A man who was thrust into leadership as the king of Greek kingdom Macedon at age 20, Alexander defeated the colossal Persian army and stretched his own empire from modern-day Italy to the Himalaya. But it’s his immense self belief and ability to inspire faith in his followers that we, today, can learn from. Read all about the nature of his greatness in Mary Renault
Jan 15, 2012 Denise rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own, favourites, read-2012
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.
Dec 02, 2015 David rated it liked it
Recommended to David by: Background reading for a Road Scholar course coming up in late September.
Shelves: history
For the time being, I've abandoned Mary Renault in favor of "Ghosts On the Throne." It's been many decades since I last read a book written by her, but I didn't remember how tedious and sometimes just not interesting she could be. I'll most likely finish the book, but for now I've moved on to more captivating material. With a personal library filled with so many great books, I don't have enough time left in my life to squander any of it on a book not up to the standards I generally demand.
John Warren
Sep 14, 2014 John Warren rated it really liked it
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
Jul 06, 2009 Jeff rated it really liked it
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 liked it
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 (
Jun 13, 2007 Olivia rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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.
Jul 04, 2013 Olethros rated it really liked it
-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.

¿Quiere saber más de este libro, sin spoilers? Visite:
Diane Cranson
Sep 14, 2015 Diane Cranson rated it it was amazing
I'm an Alexander fan, but also a Mary Renault fan, so this book can't go too far wrong for me. However, I agree with Sarah's review on many points. There are times when I'm not quite comfortable with MR's explanation. By and large though, I think it's a good understanding of the man in the context of his time. I love this book.
Feb 15, 2013 Zuzana rated it really liked it
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
Jun 21, 2009 Gary Christensen rated it liked it
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.
Nalin Thakur
Nov 23, 2014 Nalin Thakur rated it really liked it
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.
Dec 10, 2008 Rozonda rated it it was amazing
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.
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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...

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“Some would take nothing, like Perdiccas; whose inclusion suggests, in spite of Ptolemy, that he did the right thing at Thebes. “What are you keeping for yourself?” he asked. “Hope,” said Alexander, to which Perdiccas’ prophetic answer was, “That I’ll share.” 0 likes
“During this time he got news that a famous statue of Orpheus, enshrined in south Macedon, had started to sweat profusely. The seers, pondering the omen, decided that the new King’s exploits would give the poets work.” 0 likes
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