William's Reviews > The Peloponnesian War

The Peloponnesian War by Donald Kagan
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's review
Apr 14, 12

bookshelves: history, antiquity, war, 04-bce, greece

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 conversant with the scholarly consensus, with which he is for the most part in step, though he occasionally offers alternative scenarios. Much of the book is simply riveting. Like when the Spartan general Brasidas retakes Amphipolis, or the naval battle fought late in the war for control of the Hellespont. Woven throughout is the longer story of the Athenian turncoat, Alcibiades. Professor Kagan preceded this one-volume history with a four-volume history of the war that took him around 20 years to write. That 4-volume series is a much more detailed consideration of political motives and military strategy. But with this single volume, Kagan was able to produce a fast-moving tale, full of incident and colorful description. I am not a great reader of military histories; most, in my experience, are a boring slog. But because of Kagan's previous in-depth consideration of the same events, and the need to get the story told in a mere 485 pages, the result is a taut, compressed narrative that moves briskly and bears the reader delightedly along.
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