The Peloponnesian War
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The Peloponnesian War

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  2,065 ratings  ·  84 reviews
For three decades in the fifth century b.c. the ancient world was torn apart bya conflict that was as dramatic, divisive, and destructive as the world wars of the twentieth century: the Peloponnesian War. Donald Kagan, one of the world’s most respected classical, political, and military historians, here presents a new account of this vicious war of Greek against Greek, Ath...more
Paperback, 544 pages
Published April 27th 2004 by Penguin Books (first published 2003)
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Daniel
Dec 04, 2013 Daniel rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Interested laymen
This book is rightly considered an historical masterpiece, but a few flaws kept me from thoroughly enjoying it.

Kagan's scholarship is tremendous, as is his breadth of knowledge on the subject. His style is generally entertaining, with a very British style of dry humor that tend to make history books much more readable to a wide audience.

My main fault with the book is his ideological biases which are extremely transparent. For example, he is pro-democracy to the point of forgiving the assembly vo...more
Ed Abbott
I liked this book. No, I am not a history professional. I picked it up because i wanted to know more about what happened. I had skimmed reviews and seen the general approval of the book when it came out so i gave it a chance. I am glad I did. I read lots of programming books so i have - ( believe it or not, follow me here) low tolerance for boredom. A low tolerance because if the information is not useful why am I reading it? This book was great because it changed my mindset from "How is this us...more
Regina Lindsey
The Peloponnesian War by Donald Kagan
4 Stars

Most countries and its citizens make two mistakes when contemplating war. Those are assumptions are 1) the war will unfold precisely in the way the proposed strategy dictates and 2) the war can be quickly won. That is true today and it was true in 431 BC. Approximately fifteen years into a tenuous thirty year peace treaty between Athens and Sparta, ,the hegemonic powers of Greece, war erupted. While Sparta is/was known for its prominence fighting, its...more
Rick
I have long wanted to read Thucydides but decided to read Kagan's work on the subject first in order to familarize myself with the historical terrain. For this purpose, the book is well suited since it both sums up some of the period covered by Thucydides and includes events that occurred after his death (before the end of the war). It also provides enough of the social, philosophical, and literary background to whet one's appetite to read more. Many of the most famous figures from Greek history...more
Rick
A single volume history by the author of a multi-volume account of this epic conflict, The Peloponnesian War reads a little like a cliff notes version. It never quite comes to life, seems all summary, rather than a re-telling informed by the larger work. It is also long on military chronology and short on culture and revealing political context. Still one is struck by how Athenian leaders were held accountable for results, facing exile, fines, replacement, even execution. We are three plus years...more
Justin Tapp
I should have read The Peloponnesian War before I read Xenophon's Anabasis. Xenophon's work takes place shortly after the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.) and that event sets the context of the relationship between the Athenian Greeks and the Spartans. One can see generals like Demosthenes and Lysander as influencing how Xenophon would have led, as well as learn what was expected of Athenian commanders both on the battlefield and in the realm of politics.

Donald Kagan is apparently the world's fo...more
Dergrossest
An excellent examination of the grand struggle between the two very different Superpowers and traditions of the ancient Greek world. The author does an excellent job of describing the competing Athenian and Spartan factions, their allies, strategies and battles as well as the themes which have been repeated in many of the wars since. The book is long, but very readable. Highly recommended.
John
I am a general reader with an interest in Greek and Roman history who wanted to learn more about the Peloponnesian War. Rather than read Thucydides' classic history (which ends in 411 BCE, seven years before the end of the War) I was looking for a modern history which would take advantage of recent scholarship and would also go to the War's conclusion. Donald Kagan's one volume condensation of his monumental four volume treatise seemed like the best choice.

This book is a military and political...more
Dinos
My knowledge surrounding this period of Greek history was pretty vague, and this book nicely filled that gap. Actually, it left me fairly astonished at the amazing triumphs and tragic mistakes the Athenians and Spartans both experienced in their conduct of this long, destructive war. The book also impressed upon me the extent to which these ancient civilizations were in an almost constant state of conflict.

In addition to learning much more than I ever knew about fascinating figures like Pericles...more
William
This book is wonderful because it takes Thucydides classic text--itself a wonder--and fills in the gaps, or corrects the ancient text where necessary. Thucydides is cited throughout in a manner reminiscent of the notation used to cite Biblical chapter and verse. In addition, Kagan refers to the writings of Plutarch, Xenophon, Diodorus, Socrates, Aristophanes, and others, especially for the last seven years of the war, a period Thucydides does not cover. Like any scholar worth his salt, Kagan is...more
Milton Soong
This is suppose to the be definitive account of the war by a modern author (It's hard to compete with Thucydides). The version I listened to (Audio book from Audible) is a condensed version of his multi-volume academic work. This one is targeting the more general reader.

The condensation effort isn't entirely successful. Often times the work has a "collection of facts" quality to it (reminded me of the worst aspect of high school history textbook). The reader is constantly bombarded with list of...more
Chin Joo
This book should be called The History of Athens During the Peloponnesian War for while it is generally agreed that this war was fought between two huge blocs lead by Athens and Sparta, it has a very thorough description of the history of Athens during the period and much less about Sparta. Perhaps the history of Sparta is much less recorded, but in the end the Spartans were made to look like a menace around Athens, or more aptly a bunch of goons who could do nothing right, except getting lucky...more
Graham
Jul 15, 2008 Graham added it
Good enough account: I understand this is a sort of summary/abridgment of Kagan's 4-volume work on this subject. But I'm still a little bothered by the fact that in 500 pages of narrative there is not a single source note anywhere.

Also, the "Sources" chapter at the end, only 3-and-a-half pages long, contains a bibliographic essay with very few monographs titles, and none in original Greek - not even Thucydides's. Based on my limited impression, Kagan can hardly be called a classical scholar, onl

...more
Cecelia Hightower
Oct 14, 2012 Cecelia Hightower added it
Shelves: bill
This book is about the thirty years of wars starting in 479 B.C. in the Mediterranean and the Greek Islands as two different parties to gain total control of the area. The two major players were the Athenian Empire and the Spartan Alliance, with the leaders of both sets of leaders fighting to maintain their upscale life style. This life style consisted of one where select groups of people lived the high-life on the backs of the common people. This book relates the author's interpretation of how...more
Adam A
A long, bitter war between Athens and Sparta.

Accounts from those who lived in those days and the notable historians who followed.

Stories of personal triumph and tragedy.

An exploration not only into the fragility of democracy but our very humanity.

All cobbled together by one of the foremost leading experts on the subject of this period in human history.

These alone would make for a good read, but what I did not expect was just how brilliant author Donald Kagan's writing was. Throughout, Kagan's ab...more
Tony
The lower rating is not for the content of the book, more for the ease of ingesting the information.

It was one of those books, on a subject I have spent a lot of time on in my life, that is akin to pain and pleasure. However, there is absolutely information and concepts in this book I have not read elsewhere.

There are many, many details. If sanitized political, social and philosophical intrigue is your bailiwick, this book is for you. If you cannot slog through page after page of dispassionate,...more
Brian
Informative cataloging of the 30 year Peloponnesian war between Athens and Sparta
I would have liked a bit more historical perspective. This book is covering a 30 year war in 500 pages, not really leaving much time to stop and take note of historical era, the criticality of the war, etc.
despite the author’s attempt to keep things straight with maps and short breaks, there are so many engagements, battles, side battles, sieges, rebellions and cities/territories that the many battles oftentimes ru...more
Michael Nash
I guess I can't really complain about buying a book and then getting Just What It Says on The Tin, but this book is an excruciatingly long blow-by-blow account of the war. I bought it because I liked Kagan's On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace, but what was great about that book was that he was using events like the Peloponnesian War to demonstrate broader points. Here, he's trying to answer all of these really archaic questions about whether so-and-so's actions were justified o...more
Peter Mcloughlin
Donald Kagan is a historian in disagreement with the first historian of the Peloponnesian war Thucydides. Thucydides believed Pericles defensive posture was wise and the Athenians would have won had they stuck to it and blames the Sicilian campaign as the disaster brought on by an offensive posture. Kagan thinks Pericles defensive war did not have the deterrent power to make the Spartans sue for peace. And while Sicily was a disaster it in itself did not spell the end for Athens but Persia ente...more
Matt
Donald Kagan, one of the foremost scholars of Ancient Greek history, wrote a concise but thorough history of the Peloponnesian War for a general audience based off his four-volume academic masterpiece on the same subject. From the start Kagan brings the reader to the time period of the war with enough background information that someone not familiar at all with Ancient Greece will understand the circumstances of the beginning of the war from each side's viewpoint. Throughout the work, Kagan brin...more
Don
What makes this book outstanding is the breadth of scholarship and the transparent, thoughtful analyses of sources which are woven into the narrative. Drawing on multiple ancient authors, as well as geography, Kagan takes the reader through the greatest catastrophe to strike the Greek world, and in the process the reader gets to observe conflicting sources and the process of historical reasoning which leads the author to his own conclusions.

Additionally, Kagan's analyses of states at war makes t...more
Patrick
Kagan is supposedly the greatest living authority on the topic, so I overlooked his egregious political views to give this a read. It's well enough written (stylistically it's no great shakes), but it doesn't really add anything to Thucydides besides different interpretations of what Thucydides presents and the period from 411 - 404. So definitely read Thucydides first and if you want a little more (but not a whole lot more) detail, you could try this. Frankly, I thought that Lords of the Sea an...more
Columbus
A great companion to Thucydides. Kagan naturally draws heavily from Thucydides, but is also able to draw from other sources and from newer research to give a more complete picture of the war and the strategies of its belligerents. The narrative is presented in a very sterile and factual manner, which is a good thing in an objective and all-encompassingg account like this one. The two most apparent elements of Kagan's own thoughts are his acceptance of Thucydides' own hard-nosed realism and his t...more
Ian Fleischmann
An excellent read alongside the Landmark Thucydides. Kagan introduces alternative perspectives to Thucydides attempt at an objective history.
Pete daPixie
It's all Greek to me. Over two and a half thousand years in the past, I found Kagan's account of this epic Athenian and Spartan struggle to possess a disturbingly modern day feel to it.
A gigantic chess like encounter, played over the ancient Med, that spilled into North Africa and Corsica, much like a twentieth century World War.
The leading players and personalities of the opposing societies, with their economic and agrarian advantages and disadvantages are so very well dealt with here. Who won...more
Ben
This is a pretty good, comprehensive, relatively easy to read history of the Peloponnesian War. Parts of it seem little more than a summary of Thucydides though that's because Thucydides is the best and only source for a lot of the war. However, Kagan does supplement Thucydides where he can, particularly for the end of the war.

The best part book is the numerous, clear yet detailed maps. I have a problem keeping places and names straight, so having a large number of maps to refer back to helped i...more
David
An excellent in-depth and yet readable history. The comparisons drawn to modern times are fascinating.
Mike
Sep 30, 2008 Mike rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: history buffs
Recommended to Mike by: found it on the bargain table at Borders
It took me forever to read it, but worth it. This book is described as a single-volume for the general or non-professional reader (I believe the author wrote a lauded four volume version for the professional scholar). Sort of a "The Peloponnesian Ware for Dummies".

By all reports, the author knows what he is writing about. The nature of the topic requires the filling in of certain gaps of information by using informed judgement and I did not interpret these observations as any kind of ideological...more
Dan
This is an excellent read, and it taught me a lot about a period I know absolutely nothing about. The book is designed for the layperson (self included), rather than the academic, so on that token, I think a glossary of terms/concepts would have been helpful. For example, what exactly were the capabilities of a trireme? What was a trophy of victory? I think a glossary of terms of several pages would have been useful for the layperson.

Otherwise, it's a fascinating read about a fascinating time....more
John Bladek
Best one volume study of the Pelopennesian war (other than Thucydides). Kagan goes into great detail and doesn't seem to share much of the modern world's love for Alcibiades. Kagan paints the Athenian hero/traitor/demogogue as mostly hot air with occasional flashes of luck to back his overwhelming nerve. The whole war comes off as the supreme tragedy of ancient Greece, seemingly unavoidable yet clearly the result of grand human failings, unmatched even by the great Athenian poets.
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