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Thucydides: The Reinvention of History

3.84  ·  Rating Details  ·  196 Ratings  ·  35 Reviews
A reconsideration of the first modern historian and his methods from a renowned scholar

The grandeur and power of Thucydides' The Peloponnesian War have enthralled readers, historians, and statesmen alike for two and a half millennia, and the work and its author have had an enduring influence on those who think about international relations and war, especially in our own ti
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published October 29th 2009 by Viking Adult
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Mar 04, 2016 Darwin8u rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
"I doubt seriously whether a man can think with full wisdom and with deep convictions regarding certain of the basic international issues today who has not at least reviewed in his mind the period of the Peloponnesian War and the Fall of Athens." - George C Marshall, 1947


"And, perhaps, my account will seem less pleasing to those who hear it because of its lack of fabulous tales, but if it be judged useful by those who seek an exact knowledge of the past as an aid to the interpretation of the fut
Sep 23, 2010 Chris marked it as to-read
A friend asked me about this book. Here is what I wrote to him...

Of course I recommend the book...It's Donald Kagan on Thucydides!!! I admit that I have only inspected the book and have not yet given it the complete reading it obviously deserves. But here's my preliminary impression.

First off, the book develops themes that Kagan has presented in some of his previous work, especially in a brief (and quite insightful) article he wrote about 20 years ago called something like, "The First Revisionis
Bryn Hammond
Sep 24, 2015 Bryn Hammond rated it it was ok
Shelves: writing-history
This writer on Thuc isn't for me; I found his interpretations influenced by his views on the present day (and I differ from his politics). But then it bugs me that Thuc is enlisted in our world affairs the way he is.
Jan 29, 2010 Pterodactyl rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Donald Kagan starts out with a simple thesis: Thucydides, who is widely renowned in modern times for giving "just the facts" in his history, is not entirely free from bias in his History of the Peloponnesian War... in fact, his point was to convince his contemporaries to accept a radically different view of the war than was popular in his day. Contemporaries blamed the war on Pericles, but big T, who had long been a supporter of Pericles, argued that the war was systemic and inevitable. They als ...more
Masen Production
Oct 16, 2013 Masen Production rated it it was amazing
“2500 years ago a war raged in ancient Greece that lasted 30 years. It was then chronicled by Thucydides an Athenian by birth & who too had been part of this war. His account of this war has been a treatise for all historians across two & a half millennia to muse over & to comprehend what caused this great war & draw parallels to wars of their times.
Thanks to his research & unbiased writing History had finally found a pioneer who taught how one should chronicle it. This book
Feb 08, 2016 Rob rated it liked it
Thucydides is commonly held to be the first "modern" historian. Kagan persuasively adjusts that perception to frame Thucydides as the first "revisionary" historian, as well. By looking at the intra-texutal clues, and available other evidence, Kagan shows that much of Thucydides goal was to persuade or dissuade his fellow Greeks from their commonly held beliefs. An exploration of why Thucydides seemt to gloss over important events and spend inordinate time on less critical happenings, plus the rh ...more
This is a look at Thucydides that seeks to pierce through one of the most well-written texts of all time to critique or point out sometimes subtle shaping and arguments made in the book that are framed more as statements than the contentious view they seem to reflect.

Does a good job marshaling other sources and keeping Thucydides personal role in events always in sight. Mileage may vary on each argument made by Kagan but overall a good backgrounder strongly thought tobebest read after reading Th
Jun 19, 2015 Alexandra rated it liked it
Shelves: history, read-in-2015
I bought this book ages ago because I was fascinated by the idea of finding out more about Thucydides. I've read bits and pieces by the man, of course, although never all that much. The thought of having such a seminal figure put in his context and explored as a fallible man and amazing historian was alluring indeed.

Alas, this is not the book I was expecting. It would be better titled Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War - which wouldn't have appealed to me as much, because I'm not quite as in l
Aug 09, 2011 Ken added it
I wondered what the author meant when he said that Thucydides was writing a revisionist history since he was the first one writing a history of the Peloponnesian War. He had two goals in mind to revise what he thought were errors in contemporary thought on the subject and to leave an objective record for future readers. The author disagrees with many of Thucydides' interpretations of event, yet finds that he has left a clear record for later readers to come up with their own interpretations and ...more
Andy Miller
Nov 25, 2012 Andy Miller rated it liked it
Thucydides wrote a history of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta and is widely credited as the first modern historian. The book was written by Thucydides while in exile during the war and his based on his research as well as his first hand observations of many of the key debates and votes in the Athens council. This book by Donald Kagan is not so much a biography of Thucydides as it is a critical analysis of Thucydides' history. Kagan's thesis is that Thucydides revised the thinking ...more
Sep 13, 2012 Greg rated it really liked it
Donald Kagan is the pre-eminent modern historian of the Peloponnesian War, and in this book, he retells the essential parts of the history in the context of Thucydides' aims. Kagan's essential point is that Thucydides, writing for a contemporary audience, is attempting to sway the readers away from popular interpretation of events toward the true, as he defined it, interpretation of events. He uses a number of artistic devices to do this - his selection of speeches and the juxtaposition of event ...more
Jan 01, 2012 sologdin rated it liked it
Shelves: ancient, history
The basic argument here is that Thukydides may well be decently reliable in his reportage, but that his interpretation of the events reported is subject to challenge on numerous counts, such as the causes of the Peloponnesion War, the effectiveness of Pericles, the meaning of Athenian democracy, the scope of the conflict, and the responsibility for the Sicilian disaster (i.e., Kagan makes a decent case that Thukydides' favorite, Nicias, should be cast in judgment).

The fundamental tool of analys
Aug 12, 2013 Trav rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
The title of this book is a partly misleading. Though Kagan does an excellent job of supporting his view that Thucydides was the world's first revisionist historian, this short, insightful, and well written book goes much further than merely critiquing Thucydides History. It provides the reader with a deeper understanding of the context and some of the key events of the Peloponnesian War.

The common thread that links the themes of the book is the influence the democratic system had on Athenian de
Stephen Tuck
Mar 13, 2013 Stephen Tuck rated it it was amazing
The cover notes for this book describe it as an example of one great historian engaging another across the centuries. The assessment is entirely sound.

Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War is an intriguing instance of a book which is both a history of a particular historical event, as well as being a historical phenomenon in its own right. One of the points Kagan makes is that Thucydides shaped - indeed, created - the Western conception of what a history (as opposed to an annal or a chron
Aug 18, 2014 Owen rated it it was ok
This is a book for serious students of the Peloponesian War. I don't qualify. But, I learned a lot about the period, and about Thucydides specifically. Kagan clearly knows his stuff, and he makes valid points about Thucydides being the first revisionist historian (and a player in the war, at least until he was banished. The book is academic and a little dry, but a solid read for a serious student.

Owen Gardner Finnegan
Jared Saltz
Oct 15, 2012 Jared Saltz rated it it was amazing
Kagan's popular-level introduction to Thucydides and historiography in general should be mandated reading for all students of history. This is a popular-level book that nonetheless introduces extremely nuanced issues in an accessible way. Kagan refutes the modern concept that "good history is unbiased history," and instead recognizes and lauds the integral role of the historian in history. It's only by recognizing and appreciating the authorial presentation that we can truly value the informatio ...more
Jul 08, 2016 Brian rated it really liked it
It is a thoughtful, provocative, and ultimately compelling argument suggesting that Thucydides, while an original and impressive historian, was also not without a biased agenda – which in many respects is in conflict with his own assessment of the Peloponnesian War.
Classics Fan
Sep 19, 2013 Classics Fan rated it really liked it
An interesting read. Kagan argues that Thucydides was writing against the popular consensus of the day, and that his History should be treated as a revisionist work, and an partisan pro-Pericles work. Kagan does a good job of interrogating the silences and reading against the text of Thucydides. I'm still not totally convinced by some of Kagan's criticisms of Pericles and his sympathies with the Cleon, and I wish he had discussed Alcibaides, the most compelling figure in the history to my mind. ...more
May 02, 2010 Yofish rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-on-tape
Pretty boring. It took me months to finish, and it didn't bother me. Not sure what I got out of this. Maybe I learned a little about the Peloponesian war(s)? Will I remember? He seemed to be trying to make a point about how Thucydides treated history different than others. But I think I missed that, too. I guess Thucydides was an exiled Athenian general, and part of the purpose of his writing was to present his side of the story. But most of it seemed to be focused on events he witnessed but did ...more
Josh Bousquet
Jul 20, 2010 Josh Bousquet rated it really liked it
I found that Kagan did a great job taking what Thucydides did and shown how he worked like any other historian, picking his topics and presentations.
To say that he's really 'revisionist,' though I think is misleading. To me, you have to challenge other historians to be a revisionist; and Thucydides, working concurrently with his subject matter could be said to be something more akin to journalism than history.
Kagan, I believe, is the true revisionist,challenging the hallowed name of his subject.
David Kowalski
Aug 22, 2014 David Kowalski rated it it was amazing
A superb analysis of Thucydides as well as a brief, yet deep, analysis of his sub text. A crucial accompaniment to Thucydides' history of the Peloponnesian War.
Jan 24, 2015 Paul rated it it was amazing
Excellent thesis on Thucydides as a Greek revisionist historian.
Frank Kelly
Kagan is the true master of Ancient Greek and Roman history -- and it always an illuminating experience to read virtually anything he writes. Here Kagan reviews Thucydides and his histories, seeking to dispel fact from fiction and thereby giving us a deeper and more robust understanding of this true Father of History. A great companion book to have and read with Thucydides works
Leif Erik
Apr 26, 2012 Leif Erik rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: war, ancient-history
It was pretty amazing so I'm going with the five stars. Kagan does an excellent job of examining what Thucydides actually says and even more importantly, what he doesn't say. In addition to a lucid explanation of the Pelopennesian War, you get a seminar in how historiography works. Check it out classic nerds.
Not sure how to classify this one, as it's about a book or author, not a history itself (Thucydides). At any rate, I wouldn't read it until you've read Thucydides and ideally Herodotus, but if you have, it's extremely interesting. I'm reading more history of historians, lately, so this fits in well.
Mar 18, 2011 Doug rated it liked it
Dense and academic. I guess you might expect that from a biography of Thucydides, but I have really come to enjoy a much more readable style of writing about dense and academic topics. Kagan is imminently knowledgeable, but his writing his challenging.
Dec 30, 2010 Mackay rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, history
Kagan's intelligence and erudition are ever worthwhile. This isn't so much a biography of Thucydides as it is a biography of his great history of the Peloponnesian War, its ideas and influence, and also a fascinating look into the practice of history.
Bryn Lerud
Jun 27, 2010 Bryn Lerud rated it liked it
I am very happy to be in a book club that asks me to read things I wouldn't have read otherwise. I thought the Peloponesian War was right after the Trojan War until I read this. History books are not generally my thing but this was interesting.
Mar 14, 2012 Leigh rated it it was amazing
Lucid, intelligent, compelling. Not sure about the subtitle 'reinvention of history' as Thucydides was the first history using accountable sources.
Tyler Malone
Dec 16, 2012 Tyler Malone rated it it was amazing
Looking past the author, this book makes one want to read more of Thucydides. I don't know if a biography can garner higher praise.
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Professor Kagan, who received his PhD from Ohio State University in 1958, has written The Great Dialogue: A History of Greek Political Thought from Homer to Polybius (1965 and 1986); The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War (1969); The Archidamian War (1974); The Peace of Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition (1981); The Fall of the Athenian Empire (1987); Pericles and the Birth of the Athenian Empire ( ...more
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