Diane's Reviews > The Battle of Salamis: The Naval Encounter That Saved Greece -- and Western Civilization

The Battle of Salamis by Barry S. Strauss
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's review
Jan 19, 2011

it was amazing
Read on January 17, 2011

To the layman the Persian-Greek war consisted of only a few very important battles when in reality it consisted of many. One of the most underrated of these unknown encounters is the battle that took place in the Salamis straits between the island of that same name and the Attica coastline. Instead of focusing on the popular battles of Thermopylae or Marathon, Barry Strauss gives us an in depth snapshot of the days leading up to that late September day in 480 B.C. along with a detailed account of what went on during that fateful day and the days following. Strauss argues that this naval battleground was the main turning point in the Persian-Greek war and it, subsequently, saved the recently born idea of democracy from certain Persian ruin under the tyrannical Xerxes. Without retaking Athens the city would never have flourished as it did or become the hub for democratic thought through political philosophers such as Sophocles in later years. In turn, the Romans would not have adapted the Greek ways and democracy would never have spread to the shores of Italy, Britain, and then, eventually, the United States of America.

Each chapter is entitled with a place in or around Greece and the first paragraphs of each chapter starts with a perspective from one of the many figureheads of the battle. We are graced with the outlooks of war lords, slaves, poets, and politicians from both sides of the war. Though most of the battle includes guess work two (arguably three if you include Plutarch) very important sources still remain today. One is Aeschylus the playwright (who invokes more poetic leeway than should be taken seriously) and the more down to earth historian Herodotus. Combine these two (or three) works and there is an accurate representation of what occurred.

Though most history texts are rather droll, Strauss creates a brilliantly vibrant read that is borderline edge-of-one's-seat thriller. As said before, most of this is guess work, and a lot is assumptions, but that is what makes the idea so thrilling. He sticks with the facts as much as he can while engaging the reader in the sights, sounds, and actions of the battle. He even gives us emotions to go with the reading, such as sympathy and elation at the bravery of the oarsmen that sat in the three tiered triremes who could see little, but hear a lot of the commotions outside. Danger lurks around every corner and the stakes are high so the reading goes fast. What's even better about this book is that one does not need to know the war too well to just pick it up and start reading.

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01/17/2011 page 211

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