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The War That Killed Achilles: The True Story of Homer's Iliad and the Trojan War
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The War That Killed Achilles: The True Story of Homer's Iliad and the Trojan War

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  1,073 Ratings  ·  177 Reviews
The dramatic events of the Trojan War are legend—but Homer’s epic poem, Iliad, is devoted entirely to a few mundane weeks at the end of a debilitating, waning ten-year campaign. The story’s focus is not on drama but on a bitter truth: both armies want nothing more than to stop fighting and go home. Achilles—the electrifying hero who is Homer’s brilliant creation—quarrels w ...more
Audio CD, 0 pages
Published October 15th 2009 by Brilliance Audio (first published January 1st 2009)
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Jul 25, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
“Everything is more beautiful because we are doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again.”
― Homer, The Iliad


I KNOW that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate
Those that I guard I do not love;

― W.B. Yeats, An Irish Airman foresees his Death

This was a nice look into the details of war using Homer's epic as a glass to explore. It is one of those books that is difficult to shelve. It isn't a history of the Trojan
Feb 11, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Terence by: London Review advert
There is a section in Mark Edmundson’s Why Read? where the author discusses the difference between “literature” – those works of prose and verse that are read and discussed for generations – and what isn’t – those works that may be well written and engaging but don’t have the power or impact that survives the ages. Two of the authors he chooses to illustrate this are Homer and Stephen King. The distinction, Edmundson writes, is that Homer (and “literature” in general) challenges the reader. He m ...more
Daniel Chaikin
This was work. It was informative and left me with lots of stuff I could follow up on if I wanted to, but I had to force my way through. The best chapter was Alexander's translation of the death of Hektor - which just goes to show I probably don't need to read about Homer just now, and instead just read Homer - I'm starting on Friday.
So I have a somewhat guilty secret. I sorta, kinda, like the movie Troy, at least up to the part where Hector gets killed. I know it has its problems, least of all Orlando Bloom as Paris (really, him?), but I still enjoy it.

I've always had a thing for the Trojan War. The first "grown up" program I was allowed to watch was Michael Wood's In Search of the Trojan War. I couldn't stay up to watch it, but I was allowed to watch the next day (god bless the VCR, may it rest in peace). I always tended t
James Murphy
The subtitle's claim as the "true story of Homer's Iliad and the Trojan War" is misleading. There isn't much history or fact here.

Alexander writes that she intended to focus on the Iliad's depiction of war. Her chapters carry titles of military reference--"Terms of Engagement", "Body Count"--leading me to think she tried to link that raid on the Anatolian coast to modern warfare, as if it could be found similar to Russia's incursion into Ukraine, to cite an example. It's just one of the awkwardn
This is an excellent book to read in conjunction with your latest rereading of Homer's Iliad, which is just what I have recently done. Caroline Alexander manages to emphasize the relevance of the Iliad for today by exploring references to other literature and deepening the meanings found within the Iliad by the reader. While Homer's epic stands alone for the serious reader, the addition of these resources widens the breadth of possibilities of understanding for the reader and, in my case, assist ...more
Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.)
Caroline Alexander says in her Preface to The War That Killed Achilles that "this book is about what the Iliad is about; this book is about what the Iliad says of war."

I loved this book! It is extraordinarily well-written, and to the point at 225 pages in length (plus another nearly 50 pages of end-notes). While scholarly, it reads very well. Alexander takes us through the Trojan War's cast of characters in chapters that cover topics like "Chain of Command", the "Terms of Engagement", "In God We
Oct 21, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
It's no secret that the Iliad is important to me; in what was once referred to as "the most pretentious tramp stamp ever," I've got the first three words (menin aeide thea, the beginnings of the invocation of the Muse) tattooed at the base of my spine. It's a fitting place for these founding words of Western poetry, at the root of the spinal cord, the walled-in fortress of the nervous system (and, to switch traditions, the location of the kundalini chakra). In many ways, the Iliad is Western cul ...more
Feb 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: women-writers
Excellent in-depth interpretation with references to recent events and referrals to recent history. I had not thought of the rationale why the other Argives' kings would firmly back Agammemnon for ten years, but C. Alexander presents a Greek rationale that all were at one time suitors of Helen, and I can agree with that conjecture. Hektor is all the more my favorite mortal in this epic as Alexander paints his portrait of a man with a family.
Bill P.
Dec 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed Alexander's Bounty book and picking up her analysis of the Illiad was a no brainer. I give high marks to her treatment and interpretation of the Illiad as well. The blurbs on the book jacket from other authors and generals were a bit of an exaggeration, but the background and interpretation of this most classic tale was well worth the investment of time and money. And unlike Hollywood, she didnt change the endings.
Nov 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
Having only vaguely encountered The Iliad before, I enjoyed listening to this book very much. A good mix of bits of archeology, lots of textual analysis, and a smattering of commentary on current events. Probably there are many better scholarly works on the subject, but this was good enough for the layperson and also engaging. Michael Page does a pretty good job as the reader.
Interesting the difference a couple of years makes.

I tried reading this in 2012 and couldn't get into it. Read it again over the last weekend and found it quite absorbing.

The books is basically a commentary on The Iliad, with a number of odd little historical facts to whet the appetite.

Specialist reading though. You do need to be familiar with the source work to get anything out of it.
Barksdale Penick
Jul 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I took a class in 10th grade that did nothing for a term but read the Iliad, and while I have a few distinct memories of insights and observations from the highly enthusiastic teacher, after reading this book it is apparent how little I appreciated of the essential dramatic structure of the epic. This retelling of the tale reminded me of an abridged version of Gibbons Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which excised long sections not germane to the overall flow. The War of Achilles also menti ...more
Graham Starfelt
Jan 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
This is the best piece of classical scholarship I've read in ages. It is extremely readable, and Caroline Alexander's analysis is both provocative and deeply resonant. Reading Alexander's deconstruction of The Illiad reminds me why I first loved that story as a child. All the critiques and analyses I've read of Homer's epic over the years seemed to me to be directed at an entirely different story than that with which I was familiar. THE WAR THAT KILLED ACHILLES is the first book I've read that i ...more
Aug 27, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really liked this - it was slightly different than I expected, though. The subtitle, "The True Story of Homer's Iliad and the Trojan War," made me think that this would be a factual, historical breakdown of what happened and what didn't, but it was actually a far more literary analysis of The Iliad, and how, even as one of the world's emblematic epic poems, it is completely different from the epics of its day. It brought a lot of things to my attention that I hadn't thought about, and I really ...more
Nov 27, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A marvellous book that turns the received wisdom about The Illiad on its head, providing an astute and fascinating look into and about the epic, the history, and the characters as they have come down the ages to us. (Additional bonus: the author used the Richmond Lattimore translation, which I love.) If you like the Classics or even have any vague interest in The Illiad, the Trojan War, or literary analysis, read this book!
Margaret Sankey
Have we reached such a cultural nadir that it is "groundbreaking" to hammer (with excessive quotations from an old translation and recaps for the attention deficit) that the Iliad is about a war, and wars are timeless and sad. Really?
Adam  McPhee
Jan 31, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great introduction to the Iliad.
Mar 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I suspect I would have gotten much more out of The War That Killed Achilles if I'd read Homer's The Iliad. As it is, I've seen the movie Troy, whose main contribution to the world may have been the joke it inspired about Achilles and Patroklus (in conclusion: cousins"), know a couple of quotes, and have vague memories of studying the Trojan War as a historical event at school. The War That Killed Achilles, however, is more focused on The Iliad itself, about what messages Homer was trying to comm ...more
May 12, 2010 rated it liked it
I picked up this book for more perspective on The Illiad and The Odyssey after re-reading part of The Odyssey. It was unsatisfying in shedding more light on the history and writing. Indeed, a travel book titled "No Man's Lands" was more helpful.

Though Alexander wrote this book from a number of lectures, it is oddly unfocused.

Indeed, the focus of The Illiad and this book are on Achilles and of prophecies that the hero could remain comfortably at home -- or go to war and his death but have his li
Jeffery Moulton
Jan 03, 2011 rated it it was ok
I have to admit I was pretty disappointed with this book. I was expecting more analysis of war itself through the lens of the Illiad rather than a recounting of the Illiad with just a few paragraphs here and there about how it relates to modern warfare. This book had potential, especially given our current environment, to show the real costs of war as they are illustrated through Homer's epic, but it spent almost all its time recounting the story of Achilles than actually doing analysis. Having ...more
Katie Lawrence
Oct 06, 2012 rated it it was ok
This book didn't have a storyline or a plot. Instead there were passages of the Illiad and the author explained what parts of the story meant. It was interesting to hear alot more of the background of the story.
My reaction to the book was one of suprise. The book looked alot more interesting in the beginning than it did at the end. Near the end of the book there were a bunch of names and it really confused me. For example Achillles is also called Peleus' son. These names were interchangeable so
Oct 13, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 12, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Based on the interview I heard with the author, I expected this book to make more connections between war (in general) and the Iliad (in particular). There were some, but I expected that to be the meat of the book.

Also, I've not read the Iliad and only read the Odyssey in high school (a terrible translation that was not even in poetry form).

With those caveats, this book was very interesting. Alexander bring the book to a nice climax and does a good job contrasting the immortal gods with the very
Jan 01, 2011 rated it liked it
This is an excellent overall guide or interpretation of the Iliad. For that, 3-4 stars.

This is a *thin* exposition on "The War That Killed Achilles," and all that it means.
It's a fascinating idea to posit this poem as an anti-war epic, Achilles as a heroic deserter, and the general
similarities between war experiences recorded millenia ago and modern war experiences.

But most of the book is just a (very) helpful overall guide to the poem.

Well worth reading for that, but I was just disappointed tha
Anthony Sebastian

The outstanding scholarship of Caroline Alexander in creating The War That Killed Achilles gives verisimilitude to the book's subtitle's claim. Delightfully readable. The War That Killed Achilles: The True Story of Homer's Iliad and the Trojan War

An absolutely fantastic companion to the Iliad, with an incredibly detailed look at the background of elements of the story, Alexander's thesis that the Iliad is fundamentally skeptical of war, when not anti-war, and that many both ancient and modern have been missing the point is not necessarily original, but she defends it brilliantly. Worth reading for any Classicist to really make you re-examine what the Iliad means, and to remind you why it is *the* classic!
Aug 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book provided a very helpful and interesting look at The Iliad. It explained many of the background details that had confused me on my recent re-reading, and also stripped away the traditional view of the story, building a strong case for Achilles as the reluctant warrior. My son the libertarian would really appreciate this book!
Oct 25, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a terrific read. I loved how the author wove what we know about war and fighting now, based on interviews with soldiers, with Homer's description. Surprisingly accurate.

I also enjoyed her analysis of Homer's Illiad and how the characters were portrayed, what it meant and what we can take away from this epic poem
Feb 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: world, reviews, 2011
If you've always meant to read the Iliad but haven't gotten to it, this retelling, commentary, analysis is a great way to do it. Extensive quotation including the author's own translation of the death of Hector. A new way of looking at the war, the two armies, the heroes, the gods, the aftermath. Even if you reread the I. every year, it gives you new ways of thinking about this war and all wars.
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Caroline Alexander has written for The New Yorker, Granta, Condé Nast Traveler, Smithsonian, Outside, and National Geographic. She is the curator of "Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Expedition," an exhibition that opened at the American Museum of Natural History in March 1999. She lives on a farm in New Hampshire.
More about Caroline Alexander...
“The greatest war story ever told commemorates a war that established no boundaries, won no territory, and furthered no cause.” 1 likes
“Homer's epic does not tell of such seemingly essential events as the abduction of Helen, for example, nor of the mustering and sailing of the Greek fleet, the first hostilities of the war, the Trojan Horse, and the sacking and burning of Troy.
Instead, the 15,693 lines of Homer's Iliad describe the occurrences of a roughly two-week period in the tenth and final year of what had become a stalemated siege of Troy.”
More quotes…