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Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West

4.15 of 5 stars 4.15  ·  rating details  ·  3,689 ratings  ·  237 reviews
In the fifth century B.C., a global superpower was determined to bring truth and order to what it regarded as two terrorist states. The superpower was Persia, incomparably rich in ambition, gold, and men. The terrorist states were Athens and Sparta, eccentric cities in a poor and mountainous backwater: Greece. The story of how their citizens took on the Great King of Persi ...more
Paperback, 464 pages
Published June 12th 2007 by Anchor (first published 2005)
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I Bought Persian Fire in Heathrow returning from Morocco. We had spent the night before with my wife's brother in Reading. Having returned from the dually (you know what I mean) arid Marrakesch, we were greeted with a bounty of Czech pilsners. The following morning I was half-pained and entirely groggy. I bought this upon entering the airport. It was only then that we discovered that our flight had changed gates and we literally dashed for 45 minutes until we arrived for our flight, dripping wit ...more
I think that merits of this book need to be judged from two rather different perspectives. Seen from purely literary point of view, 'Persian Fire' is an excellent book. Holland's writing style is both rich and engaging. What's maybe even more important, he makes all those historical figures come alive. If the book was a pure work of fiction, I probably wouldn't be able to stop prizing Mr. Holland's amazing gift of story-telling.

The thing is though that this is not work of fiction, but retelling
Very readable and entertaining, this book tackles a topic that has been covered by many historians and attempts to give a balanced view of the events leading up to and following the war between Greece and Persia, as well as of course covering the war itself in detail. The striking thing about this one is that the Persians are given equal time and a fair treatment. It is all too tempting to dwell on the heroism of the Greeks defending their liberty in a series of dramatic episodes out of Herodotu ...more
I picked this up because although three years of a degree in Ancient History mean that I know the history of this conflict quite thoroughly from the Greek side, I think I'm less informed about it from the Persian point of view. I'm not sure that this did an awful lot to correct that—while the early part of the book does discus the Persian Empire, Holland focuses much more on Greece and a recounting of the battles than he does on Persia. I would have loved a deeper cultural analysis of what happe ...more
Sean DeLauder
The title of this book would lead a reader (this reader, anyway) to believe the focus to be the Achaemenid Empire and it's leading men, Cyrus, Darius, and Xerxes, leading up to and through the clash between Persia and Greece. That assertion is an error of scope, as Holland looks not only at the rise of Persia, but that of all the major players (e.g., Persia, Sparta, Athens, etc.) in characteristic thrifty but efficient detail, which was much more than I expected--so much the better.

Persian Fire
I recently read The Classical World by Robin Lane Fox, which makes only a passing mention of the Battle at Thermopylae, Battle of Salamis and the invasion of Greece by Xerxes, King of Persia. So I decided to fill in the gap with Persian Fire by Tom Holland.

The author provides a well written narrative of the rise of the Persian Empire, the political experimenting/squabbling of the Greek city-states (such as Sparta and Athens) and the eventual clash of Persia and Greece. Holland has the ability to
Tom Holland's history of the Persian Wars is thorough, enlightening and eminently readable, striking just the right balance between big-picture analysis and enthralling personal anecdotes. The tricky thing about this conflict -- which pitted the small but scrappy city-states of Athens and Sparta against the almost inconceivable might of the Persian Empire under the all-powerful Darius and Xerxes -- is that there were very few battles, but to understand them requires a story spanning several gene ...more
Stoyan Stoyanov
This book is a truly remarkable achievement. On one hand, it is genuine, unadulterated history... no fiction about it. On the other hand, though, Tom Holland's prose is remarkably vivid, more readable and exciting than many books of fiction I've read.

This is the history of the clash between Greece and Persia (remember the movie "The 300"?). What makes this book really great is the fact that Holland provides a panoramic view of almost 3 centuries of rather obscure ancient history. He tells the s
The title is somewhat misleading. Persian Empire serves more of a backdrop to a narrative about the heroic struggle and legendary civilization of Ancient Greece. The story is wonderful in its own right, but this is not what I counted on. There're many good books on the Greek-Persian war. I expected a more thorough investigation of this world's first superpower, to which that conflict amounted to something more than a border skirmish. Too bad yet again we only scratched surface and seen just a ti ...more
Comprehensive look at the battles between the Greeks and the Persian Empire: Thermopylae, Salamis and Plataea. Not so much comprehensive as to the battles themselves but more about what brought these two forces into conflict. So you get a lot of backstory which is good.
Slightly less effective was the author's attempt to contemporize things by referring to the Greek city-states as "rouge terrorist nations." Not that I don't think such a comparison is wrong I felt the author didn't see it through
Neil Pearson
Despite the title, the majority of the book is about the Greeks (which the author suggests is largely due to the amount of information available). Luckily, my knowledge of ancient Greece was clearly not so in-depth and I enjoyed the accounts of Athens and Sparta. When the book gets into the Persian invasion of Greece things become interesting and I appreciated that there was a lot more than 3 key battles occurring in this period. I wasn't aware of how long the war went on and just how close Pers ...more
Superb pop-history. Despite the title, still a bit graeco-centric; understandable, given the sources available. Certainly more sympathetic to the Persians than any number of recent histories, though in the end it does toe the "Western civilization was nearly stillborn" line.

At any rate, a nice overview written in a flowing narrative style (and he even clues you in when he's making assumptions or arguments based on fragmentary evidence!). not bad for seven bucks.
Ali Khan
I must say that this book was really disappointing for me as I was, judging from the title, excitedly expecting a historical narrative of the first Persian Empire. The title was, however, misleading, to say the least.

The book starts with a rather hasty overview of Persian empire's background and even with the clever and very interesting insertions of anecdotes, one cannot but feel that the pace is forced. Cyrus the Great gets a decent but short description and his two sons are mentioned in the p
An enjoyable, well-written and well-researched history of Persia’s war with the Greeks. Holland clearly describes the events of the time period from both sides, but with a decided focus on the Persians. Holland gives us plenty of background, beginning with the Assyrian empire to the rise of Persia, and why Persia viewed Sparta and Athens as such dangerous threats.

Holland gives us plenty of background, beginning with the time when Athens was ruled by a rapid succession of quarreling tyrants (mobs
Holland doesn't really answer the question he poses in the introduction. 'Why do they hate us?' Yes this was a question my friends and I posed on the morning of 10 September 2001 sitting around a table drinking bad coffee, trying to take in the news we had all woken up too in the morning of two planes flying into the twin towers in New York. 'Why did the Middle East hate us? What had we done to encourage such an extreme and horrifying reaction? Was the never ending coverage going to push back th ...more
This is a narration of the events of the war between Persia and Greece around 485 BC. It begins with portraits of Persia, Sparta and Athens before discussing the progress of the war and the decisive battles of Marathon, Thermopylae, Artemisium, Salamis and Plataea. What is good about the book, in my view, is that the author has taken the historical evidence and come up with his own interpretation of what these cultures were really like. This is good because it, like a historical movie, gives the ...more
I'll confess, I was first prompted into reading this by seeing the film 300 a few years, and I'm so glad I did. It's just as good a read the second time around.

It's absolutely wonderfully written, really engaging and gripping, and Holland really makes the history come alive. I never really knew much about the period other than Thermopylae, but this has made me so interested in the Persian Empire, the beginnings of Greek democracy, and the great battles, Marathon, Thermopylae, Salamis and Plataea
Tom Holland scored some major points with Rubicon, a terrific, narrative account of the fall of the Roman Republic. His clear prose, entertaining characterization and solid research and diverse use of sources can be apppreciated by all levels of readers. Holland may not have improved between his two books, but he certainly hasn't lost a step either. In Persian Fire, he recounts the rise of the Persian Empire and the revolutionary changes in Greek life, focusing on the late Archaic age in Sparta ...more
Probably one of the first pieces of non-fiction I have read voluntarily in quite some time...and I actually finished it! Pretty good- it seems to give a pretty balance view of the Persians and the Greeks, pointing out the strengths of each, as well as the stupidities and follies of each. It covers the rise of the Persian Empire under Cyrus through the Persian Wars with Greece (under Darius and then Xerxes), and ends with the beginning of the Peloponnesian Wars in 431 B.C. It then gives a quick r ...more
I enjoyed this even more than I had "Rubicon".

Holland knows how to present and deliver on ancient history. He questions and cajoles his sources but does so in a way that doesn't lessen the pace around the unfolding dramatic events. He looks into the psychology of the time, the motivations of the peoples, factions and warring tribes. All of this combines beautifully into a narrative that honestly it is so hard to put down once started. Although I had read about these events before, it didn't les
A great historical narrative of the voracious King Xerxes and his attempt to gobble up his first major Western alliance, that of classical Greece in the Greco-Persian Wars. Here is Herodotus monumental History brought to life along with the archeological records of the past century. The battles of Marathon, Thermopylae, the navel battles of Artemisium and Salamis, the final victories of Plataea and Mycale are all recounted as if the Western world depended on it. And it did. I was not aware of t ...more
Such a fantastic and engrossing book! Very enjoyable, despite being heavy on the names, dates and locations throughout, and Holland brought the story to LIFE. Vivid details, in-depth character portraits, a I-can't-put-it-down read! HIGHLY recommend, from one history lover to the next!
This book is a must for ancient history buffs. These are the Persians! You know, the guys on the other side of the pass at Thermopylae! This is the other empire, the one the Romans could never quite defeat. This book is so full of the meaty stuff of history that I wanted a knife and fork. It didn't hurt my opinion to find that Tom Holland still writes as fluently and beautifully as he did in Rubicon, his previous history of the end of the Roman Republic. If you love learning new stuff about old ...more
This book straddles the line of fact and fiction, but in a wholly enjoyable manner. It recounts historical events with accuracy, but with an appreciable trend toward dramatization. In Persian Fire, a few embellishments to enhance the impact of the facts does not diminish the book.

Persian Fire starts by explaining why the events of the Greco-Persian wars matter in the greater context of history: the "west", as we know it, would not exist had the conflict turned out differently. It then recounts t
Zelie moest leren over de oorlogen tussen de Grieken en de Perzen, op school, en ik schreef daar iets over en Hendrik reageerdeterecht dat het eigenlijkvoor een deel propaganda is, de dingen die we moeten leren. Tijl reageerdewat verder met een verwijzing naar dit boek, en meer heb ik niet nodig om het om mijn "te lezen"-lijst te zetten.

Tom Holland is een beetje van een pitou: hij vertelt een coherent en vloeiend verhaal, waar zo op het eerste zicht weinig speld tussen te krijgen is. Het leest m
Jostein Moen
Tom Holland is unsurpassed among historians. His style is vivid and inviting. His book is not a balcony seat from which to watch history unfold but a place right in the turmoil. His narrating technique might be called 3.person eyewitness. He balances on an edge though: One step further in that direction and he’ll easily lose his credibility as a historian and become a writer of historic docu-fiction. As it is, I figure that he has backing from sources in everything he writes. One hilarious highl ...more
Elliott Bignell
This was one of the most rivetting reads I have encountered in the field of popular history. I finally tackled it shortly after seeing the cartoon cut-out version of the film "300" for the first time, and actually found this more balanced account the more moving and fascinating. There can be no doubt about the unique symbolic significance of Thermopylae, which might have been made for cinema, but once one looks past the pro-Greek propaganda to try and see how the suicidal stand fits into the bro ...more
Michael O'shaughnessy
Came across this volume when looking for books on the Achaemenids. The subject has always fascinated me - the first people to really act on that ancient conceit of universal empire, a people that had a very strong ethno-national identity in a pre-transport revolution age when the folks in the next village spoke an alien language..

Unfortunately this book focused a bit too much on the Greeks to really be a primer on the Achaemenids, but it does help put you into their head-space (and the head-spac
I am Persian at first I was happy to find this book but when I red the preface I got disappointed I will explain why.
Persians are Islam there is two brach:Shia and Sunni.we are Shia and Osama bin laden is from a brach in Sunni itself who believe in cutting hands of Shia infants and kill the rest .how can someone compare a crazy monster like bin laden to Persians and say "why do they hate us?" Why would we hate u?infect I like to ask why bin laden hate us?the conflict between east and
This is an easy book to figure out if you're going to like. If the prospect of an in-depth history of the "Great Game," Imperial England and Tsarist Russia's brokering for territory, market share, and prestige in Central Asia in the 19th century sounds interesting to you, I can't recommend a better book on the subject (with the caveat that this is the only book I've read about it). Likewise, if you fell asleep halfway through the last sentence, first, wake up, and second, well, I'm sure you alre ...more
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An acclaimed British author. He has written many books, both fiction and non-fiction, on many subjects from vampires to history.

Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

Holland was born near Oxford and brought up in the village of Broadchalke near Salisbury, England. He obtained a double first in English and Latin at Queens' College, Cambridge, and af
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