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The War That Killed Achilles: The True Story of Homer's Iliad and the Trojan War
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The War That Killed Achilles: The True Story of Homer's Iliad and the Trojan War

3.79 of 5 stars 3.79  ·  rating details  ·  818 ratings  ·  143 reviews

The Illiad is celebrated as one of the greatest of all works of literature, the epic of all epics. But while the dramatic events of the Trojan War are legendary, the true theme of this ancient poem is often forgotten: the horror and enduring devastation of war. Written with the authority of a scholar and the vigor of a s bestselling narrati
Paperback, 296 pages
Published September 28th 2010 by Penguin Books (first published January 1st 2009)
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Jan 10, 2012 Terence rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Terence by: London Review advert
There is a section in Mark Edmundson’s Why Read? where the author discusses the difference between “literature” – those works of prose and verse that are read and discussed for generations – and what isn’t – those works that may be well written and engaging but don’t have the power or impact that survives the ages. Two of the authors he chooses to illustrate this are Homer and Stephen King. The distinction, Edmundson writes, is that Homer (and “literature” in general) challenges the reader. He m ...more
So I have a somewhat guilty secret. I sorta, kinda, like the movie Troy, at least up to the part where Hector gets killed. I know it has its problems, least of all Orlando Bloom as Paris (really, him?), but I still enjoy it.

I've always had a thing for the Trojan War. The first "grown up" program I was allowed to watch was Michael Wood's In Search of the Trojan War. I couldn't stay up to watch it, but I was allowed to watch the next day (god bless the VCR, may it rest in peace). I always tended t
Christopher H.
Caroline Alexander says in her Preface to The War That Killed Achilles that "this book is about what the Iliad is about; this book is about what the Iliad says of war."

I loved this book! It is extraordinarily well-written, and to the point at 225 pages in length (plus another nearly 50 pages of end-notes). While scholarly, it reads very well. Alexander takes us through the Trojan War's cast of characters in chapters that cover topics like "Chain of Command", the "Terms of Engagement", "In God We
This is an excellent book to read in conjunction with your latest rereading of Homer's Iliad, which is just what I have recently done. Caroline Alexander manages to emphasize the relevance of the Iliad for today by exploring references to other literature and deepening the meanings found within the Iliad by the reader. While Homer's epic stands alone for the serious reader, the addition of these resources widens the breadth of possibilities of understanding for the reader and, in my case, assist ...more
Bill P.
I really enjoyed Alexander's Bounty book and picking up her analysis of the Illiad was a no brainer. I give high marks to her treatment and interpretation of the Illiad as well. The blurbs on the book jacket from other authors and generals were a bit of an exaggeration, but the background and interpretation of this most classic tale was well worth the investment of time and money. And unlike Hollywood, she didnt change the endings.
Interesting the difference a couple of years makes.

I tried reading this in 2012 and couldn't get into it. Read it again over the last weekend and found it quite absorbing.

The books is basically a commentary on The Iliad, with a number of odd little historical facts to whet the appetite.

Specialist reading though. You do need to be familiar with the source work to get anything out of it.
It's no secret that the Iliad is important to me; in what was once referred to as "the most pretentious tramp stamp ever," I've got the first three words (menin aeide thea, the beginnings of the invocation of the Muse) tattooed at the base of my spine. It's a fitting place for these founding words of Western poetry, at the root of the spinal cord, the walled-in fortress of the nervous system (and, to switch traditions, the location of the kundalini chakra). In many ways, the Iliad is Western cul ...more
I really liked this - it was slightly different than I expected, though. The subtitle, "The True Story of Homer's Iliad and the Trojan War," made me think that this would be a factual, historical breakdown of what happened and what didn't, but it was actually a far more literary analysis of The Iliad, and how, even as one of the world's emblematic epic poems, it is completely different from the epics of its day. It brought a lot of things to my attention that I hadn't thought about, and I really ...more
Excellent in-depth interpretation with references to recent events and referrals to recent history. I had not thought of the rationale why the other Argives' kings would firmly back Agammemnon for ten years, but C. Alexander presents a Greek rationale that all were at one time suitors of Helen, and I can agree with that conjecture. Hektor is all the more my favorite mortal in this epic as Alexander paints his portrait of a man with a family.
Having only vaguely encountered The Iliad before, I enjoyed listening to this book very much. A good mix of bits of archeology, lots of textual analysis, and a smattering of commentary on current events. Probably there are many better scholarly works on the subject, but this was good enough for the layperson and also engaging. Michael Page does a pretty good job as the reader.
I picked up this book for more perspective on The Illiad and The Odyssey after re-reading part of The Odyssey. It was unsatisfying in shedding more light on the history and writing. Indeed, a travel book titled "No Man's Lands" was more helpful.

Though Alexander wrote this book from a number of lectures, it is oddly unfocused.

Indeed, the focus of The Illiad and this book are on Achilles and of prophecies that the hero could remain comfortably at home -- or go to war and his death but have his li
Jeffery Moulton
I have to admit I was pretty disappointed with this book. I was expecting more analysis of war itself through the lens of the Illiad rather than a recounting of the Illiad with just a few paragraphs here and there about how it relates to modern warfare. This book had potential, especially given our current environment, to show the real costs of war as they are illustrated through Homer's epic, but it spent almost all its time recounting the story of Achilles than actually doing analysis. Having ...more
Barksdale Penick
I took a class in 10th grade that did nothing for a term but read the Iliad, and while I have a few distinct memories of insights and observations from the highly enthusiastic teacher, after reading this book it is apparent how little I appreciated of the essential dramatic structure of the epic. This retelling of the tale reminded me of an abridged version of Gibbons Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which excised long sections not germane to the overall flow. The War of Achilles also menti ...more
Katie Lawrence
This book didn't have a storyline or a plot. Instead there were passages of the Illiad and the author explained what parts of the story meant. It was interesting to hear alot more of the background of the story.
My reaction to the book was one of suprise. The book looked alot more interesting in the beginning than it did at the end. Near the end of the book there were a bunch of names and it really confused me. For example Achillles is also called Peleus' son. These names were interchangeable so
Based on the interview I heard with the author, I expected this book to make more connections between war (in general) and the Iliad (in particular). There were some, but I expected that to be the meat of the book.

Also, I've not read the Iliad and only read the Odyssey in high school (a terrible translation that was not even in poetry form).

With those caveats, this book was very interesting. Alexander bring the book to a nice climax and does a good job contrasting the immortal gods with the very
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Graham Starfelt
This is the best piece of classical scholarship I've read in ages. It is extremely readable, and Caroline Alexander's analysis is both provocative and deeply resonant. Reading Alexander's deconstruction of The Illiad reminds me why I first loved that story as a child. All the critiques and analyses I've read of Homer's epic over the years seemed to me to be directed at an entirely different story than that with which I was familiar. THE WAR THAT KILLED ACHILLES is the first book I've read that i ...more
This is an excellent overall guide or interpretation of the Iliad. For that, 3-4 stars.

This is a *thin* exposition on "The War That Killed Achilles," and all that it means.
It's a fascinating idea to posit this poem as an anti-war epic, Achilles as a heroic deserter, and the general
similarities between war experiences recorded millenia ago and modern war experiences.

But most of the book is just a (very) helpful overall guide to the poem.

Well worth reading for that, but I was just disappointed tha
It is a close reading of The Iliad, showing how odd a tale it is, and seeing it as a clear-eyed record of the total devastation of war. Though there is plenty of talk of glory and honor, when all it said and done, the Trojan War ruined both Troy and Greece. The last chapter I thought was the best, in which Alexander gives a sharp overview of the other classical works that refer to the Trojan War, and how virtually all of them lament the pointlessness, loss of human lives and culture that resulte ...more
Gerry Germond
The Iliad has long been my favorite book, but I had never regarded it as an anti-war story—until now. This is Dr. Alexander’s contention, and I think she has proved it. The major points I derived from reading is Achilles’ questioning of having to go to war for a cause not his personal own: “I for my part did not come here for the sake of the Trojan spearmen to fight against them, since to me they have done nothing….”; the ardent willingness of the Achaeans to quit the war on Agamemnon’s ill-cons ...more
Anthony Sebastian

The outstanding scholarship of Caroline Alexander in creating The War That Killed Achilles gives verisimilitude to the book's subtitle's claim. Delightfully readable. The War That Killed Achilles: The True Story of Homer's Iliad and the Trojan War

A marvellous book that turns the received wisdom about The Illiad on its head, providing an astute and fascinating look into and about the epic, the history, and the characters as they have come down the ages to us. (Additional bonus: the author used the Richmond Lattimore translation, which I love.) If you like the Classics or even have any vague interest in The Illiad, the Trojan War, or literary analysis, read this book!
If you've always meant to read the Iliad but haven't gotten to it, this retelling, commentary, analysis is a great way to do it. Extensive quotation including the author's own translation of the death of Hector. A new way of looking at the war, the two armies, the heroes, the gods, the aftermath. Even if you reread the I. every year, it gives you new ways of thinking about this war and all wars.
Amalia Dillin
This is a great read for the non-academic with an interest in the tradition surrounding the Trojan War and the Iliad, but most particularly, for anyone who has had trouble finding sympathy or understanding when it comes to the character and story of Achilles.

Until I read this book, I had never put the pieces together to see Achilles as anything more than the man-child sulking in his tent, but Ms. Alexander does an incredible job of deconstructing his mythology and allowing us a glimpse of a glor
This book provided a very helpful and interesting look at The Iliad. It explained many of the background details that had confused me on my recent re-reading, and also stripped away the traditional view of the story, building a strong case for Achilles as the reluctant warrior. My son the libertarian would really appreciate this book!
This was a terrific read. I loved how the author wove what we know about war and fighting now, based on interviews with soldiers, with Homer's description. Surprisingly accurate.

I also enjoyed her analysis of Homer's Illiad and how the characters were portrayed, what it meant and what we can take away from this epic poem
Nice, in-depth reading of The Iliad. However, the author as biased towards Achilles as I am to Hector. So in my opinion she is a bit too invested in portraying Achilles in the best possible light and completely glosses over Achilles' horrific treatment of Hector's corpse.
Margaret Sankey
Have we reached such a cultural nadir that it is "groundbreaking" to hammer (with excessive quotations from an old translation and recaps for the attention deficit) that the Iliad is about a war, and wars are timeless and sad. Really?
if you've ever read the Iliad, then read this book to get a new perspective. Or you might read the Iliad once you've read this book. great insight and research.
This analysis of The Iliad gave me many new insights into that great work, and did so with good scholarship, poignancy and occasional humor. A fascinating book!
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Caroline Alexander has written for The New Yorker, Granta, Condé Nast Traveler, Smithsonian, Outside, and National Geographic. She is the curator of "Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Expedition," an exhibition that opened at the American Museum of Natural History in March 1999. She lives on a farm in New Hampshire.
More about Caroline Alexander...
The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty Mrs. Chippy's Last Expedition: The Remarkable Journal of Shackleton's Polar-Bound Cat Lost Gold of the Dark Ages: War, Treasure, and the Mystery of the Saxons One Dry Season

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