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

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  7,109 ratings  ·  481 reviews
In 480 B.C., Xerxes, the King of Persia, led an invasion of mainland Greece. Its success should have been a formality. For seventy years, victory—rapid, spectacular victory—had seemed the birthright of the Persian Empire. In the space of a single generation, they had swept across the Near East, shattering ancient kingdoms, storming famous cities, putting together an empire ...more
Hardcover, 418 pages
Published May 2nd 2006 by DoubleDay (first published September 1st 2005)
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Moray Not unless he's exceptionally bright. It's quite long, and there a lot of names to remember.

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 ·  7,109 ratings  ·  481 reviews

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I am going to give this book a rating that is the result of an average between two different ingredients:
- the fluent and compelling writing style, the exciting, vibrant and riveting historical narrative, the moments of epic poetry reminiscent of the best Homeric tradition, the startling immediacy with which the most stirring episodes of the confrontation between the Persian behemoth and the Greek city-states are brought to life by the author, they all unequivocally deserve, in my opinion, a 4-
Aug 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a dramatizing of the Greco-Persian Wars, not the history of the Persian Empire. The Persian Empire was founded by Cyrus the Great in the sixth century B. C. and was a massive Empire even by todays viewpoint. He ruled the Middle East, Central Asia, Africa and well beyond the Danube River in Europe. Holland provides a brief history of the Persian Empire and also of Sparta and Athens. This brief history allows someone unfamiliar with this timeframe to understand the events under discussion. ...more
There are many versions told of the great wars between the small Greek city states and the mighty Persian empire.

This book is one of the best.

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The Persian empire was ruled always and only by one man, who word was law (his law).

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The separate Greek city states were always experimenting with different forms of government and at one point came up with the idea of democracy. ("Everyone has a vote unless you were a woman, child, slave, foreigner, or a person we didn't like" accordin
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
Kristy K
Apr 02, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018, history
Persian Fire looks at much more than just the rise of the Persian empire. It focuses heavily on the Greeks as well and while Holland explains his reasoning for this and it made sense, I do wish more time could have been spent examining the Persians. This feels more like a historical look at the Persian Wars through the eyes of the Greeks and I was hoping for a more detailed account of the Persians. However it was still well-written and informative.
I started the ‘Persian fire’ only as a temporary substitute to the remaining parts of the trilogy about Alexander the Great that were slow to arrive in the post. I took a skip and a jump from historical fiction to popular history and a few hundred years back in time to give me some background to the world of Alexander, and instead found myself completely immersed in a much larger scope.

The conflict between the Persians and the Greeks in the fifth century BC, was from a European point of view, on
Mar 31, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, ancient
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.
Arun Divakar
Jan 11, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sometimes at the most drowsy of moments spent on musing about history, I see the whole picture as a rise and fall of global powers. A number of races, faiths and faces have all struggled for domination over the planet and when looked at from the longer term, every single one of them have failed. Knowing that it is futile, why do men and women struggle for this momentary blaze of glory ? Swords, spears, shields, horses, elephants, men, muskets, bayonets and rifles…no matter what the weapons, the ...more
Ali Khan
Dec 08, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
Jul 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sean DeLauder
Aug 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: holland, history
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
May 01, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2020, spk
Thoroughly disappointing. Based on the title and cover, I hoped that the author would give the Persians a fair shake, and it started well. Sadly, it quickly fell into the old pro-Greek narratives. I would highly recommend reading Warp Drives’ review of this book. He has a terrific overview of why the Persian empire deserves more credit than it gets.

The Persians had a proper multi-cultural empire where dozens of languages and people were united under one banner. The Greeks were a couple of city-
Jan 31, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history
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
Charlie Hasler
Apr 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Captivating from start to finish

I found this a fascinating historical read. The authors style of writing is so fluid it holds the readers focus throughout.

I think any historical book that makes the reader think to themselves post reading, I want to learn more about that period, is a triumph.

A worthy 5 stars.
Oct 17, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, kindle
The story of Persia vs the Greeks is one that has told many times over the centuries. Part of this is because we have some very good Greek sources about the conflict, so that we know more about these wars than nearly anything else before it (other parts are the high drama, and Ancient Greece's place in the foundation of Western thought).

Tom Holland's Persian Fire tries, and largely succeeds in expanding the Persian point of view. He starts out with the rise of Persia, and how it took over from M
Stoyan Stoyanov
Dec 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
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
Jan 04, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: GeeVee
Recommended to Bettie by: Susanna, then gifted by mimal
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
James Foster
Nov 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Persian Wars in ancient Greece are, arguably, one of the main reasons we still have Democracy. The ancient Greeks were a tribal people, with severe wealth and power inequality. It was far more natural for them to fight over which rich family would rule than to ask whether any of them should do so at all.

But the Persian empire was a world power in every sense. Its hegemony was such that there was no concievable way for a handful of squabbling tribes in the “uncivilized” frontier to even begi
Sep 07, 2020 rated it it was ok
This book was a bit like fast food, specifically Chick-fil-A:
It was reasonably enjoyable but a poor approximation of what it was supposed to be, is quite bad for you, leaves you feeling faintly sick after finishing it, tells lies about sodomy, and has a healthy serving of bigotry with it.

A bit of a laboured metaphor sure. I thought that the writing about battles was very compelling, but beyond that it wasn't a particularly thought-provoking read. Holland did the new translation of Herodotus's
Elliott Bignell
Apr 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 22, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2011
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
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
Aug 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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!
May 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I know what happened in the 5th century BC now
Jul 22, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history-read
Tom Holland told the story as presented by ancient sources in an engaging in interesting way. His coverage of ancient Greek and especially Persian history was informative but obviously limited based on the lack of primary sources for each topic.
As time progresses in the book, issues continue to mount as the entirety of the Greco-Persian war is covered using essentially just Greek sources as truth. The author is nearly never critical of a source. Issues of who wrote the source, when, their motiva
Joe Flynn
Sep 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Really good narrative history of a famous if murky part of history.

Murky in the sense of few sources, and dense myth making by successive generations right up to today.

There is a great introduction that teases the trope of indulgent imperial East an plucky democratic West, emphasising the importance of the war, then turning it around and setting the stage for a deeper analysis.

The Persians were no barbarians (though brutal at times), and the ideal of democracy both grew out of a snake pit and w
Aug 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
I'm actually annoyed at how much fun I had reading this. I vowed never to become interested in ancient history, particularly Ancient Greece, because the people who usually hang out in that corner are either unbearably pretentious or infuriatingly condescending, often a delightful combination of the two. I also have met both Tom Holland and his brother, and both of them are complete arse wipes - so yes, not going into this with much confidence.

Alas, Tommy boy can spin a great yarn. I genuinely f
Edmund Marlowe
Nov 13, 2016 rated it it was ok
Dubious facts and modern assumptions about ancient heroes

This history of the Greco-Persian wars of the 5th-century BC is fundamentally misconceived, as becomes clear in its introduction, where the author reassures the reader of the topical relevance of his story by purportedly tracing back to it the present conflict between the U.S. and Islamic fundamentalists. Herodotus, easily the most important source of our knowledge, is alleged to have been drawn to his tale through wondering why “the peopl
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Tom Holland is an English historian and 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

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