Kevin Tole's Reviews > Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West

Persian Fire by Tom Holland
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's review
Jul 26, 2011

did not like it

I was quite excited to find this gadgee Holland writing books about interesting things, more so when I found that he'd written a book about the Persians and their occupation and hegemony over an empire stretching from the Aegean shore to the Indus valley, the first super-power as Mr Holland rightly states. Particularly so as I had just finished Vidal's 'Creation' and was hoping for some facts to go with Gore's epic spin and floss.
I find myself somewhat dismayed then, having just finished reading the book. Firstly Mr Holland states in the introduction that it is difficult to piece together what happened in and through the Persian Empire because extant sources are thin on the ground and you have to be an expert in cuneiform. This is followed up by stating that Herodotus and Xenophon as historical sources are pretty much unreliable, except they are reliable when you take them with Mr Holland's pinch of salt when they then become 'toadally' reliable.
So what does the book consist of? Well, a lot of regurgitations of Herodotus and Xenophon which we've already been told are unreliable, some modern, hip-to-the-ancient-history-scene, daddio, sweary words, and plenty of conjecture and gloss paint over a very complex architecture. There's very little on the Persian Empire to the East and the foundations and structure are skated over like Torvill and Dean - with good grace and excellent technique but still errrrrr skating when it comes down to it. I can't totallly knock it because the writing is good and it gives a decent picture of a short period of GREEK history when the conflict with Persia was to the forefront and it helps to explain the dichotomies of power that existed between city and nation states. Also it is an excellent, 'grabbable' (as in airport blockbuster bollix sorta thang)history book in a linear narrative stylee.
What it isn't is an explanation of the ancient Persians and how they came to control such a vast empire for so long a period and a discussion of them and their artefacts in more detail to give a picture of the ancient Persians, their beliefs, their art and culture etc etc.

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