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The Peloponnesian War

4.1  ·  Rating details ·  3,674 Ratings  ·  129 Reviews
For three decades in the fifth century B.C. the ancient world was torn apart by a conflict that was as dramatic, divisive, and destructive as the world wars of the twentieth century: the Peloponnesian War. Donald Kagan, one of the world’s most respected classical, political, and military historians, here presents a new account of this vicious war of Greek against Greek, At ...more
Paperback, 544 pages
Published April 27th 2004 by Penguin Books (first published 2003)
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Apr 09, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Interested laymen
This book is rightly considered an historical masterpiece, but a few flaws kept me from thoroughly enjoying it.

Kagan's scholarship is tremendous, as is his breadth of knowledge on the subject. His style is generally entertaining, with a very British style of dry humor that tend to make history books much more readable to a wide audience.

My main fault with the book is his ideological biases which are extremely transparent. For example, he is pro-democracy to the point of forgiving the assembly vo
Apr 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Ed Abbott
Jan 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I liked this book. No, I am not a history professional. I picked it up because i wanted to know more about what happened. I had skimmed reviews and seen the general approval of the book when it came out so i gave it a chance. I am glad I did. I read lots of programming books so i have - ( believe it or not, follow me here) low tolerance for boredom. A low tolerance because if the information is not useful why am I reading it? This book was great because it changed my mindset from "How is this us ...more
Regina Lindsey
The Peloponnesian War by Donald Kagan
4 Stars

Most countries and its citizens make two mistakes when contemplating war. Those are assumptions are 1) the war will unfold precisely in the way the proposed strategy dictates and 2) the war can be quickly won. That is true today and it was true in 431 BC. Approximately fifteen years into a tenuous thirty year peace treaty between Athens and Sparta, ,the hegemonic powers of Greece, war erupted. While Sparta is/was known for its prominence fighting, its
Jan 13, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A single volume history by the author of a multi-volume account of this epic conflict, The Peloponnesian War reads a little like a cliff notes version. It never quite comes to life, seems all summary, rather than a re-telling informed by the larger work. It is also long on military chronology and short on culture and revealing political context. Still one is struck by how Athenian leaders were held accountable for results, facing exile, fines, replacement, even execution. We are three plus years ...more
Jeremy Neal
Oct 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Quite the commitment, and this is the condensed version, so hats off to anyone who's read the four volume edition. It's a mighty work of erudition this, and I'd say that some background in the subject will help. It's not easy to get into and Kagan doesn't write with the accessibility and warmth and actual liveliness (aliveness?) that Tom Holland managed so well in Persian Fire (albeit this is a slightly different epoch), so it takes some getting used to, but before long I was hooked into the nar ...more
Aug 28, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Athens-having led the Greek world in victory against the Persian empire and flush with 50 years of empire building, projecting their power across the region via their superior naval strength, democracy and commerce, as the leader of the Delian league, looks to once and for all neutralize the Spartan threat and establish themselves as the unrivaled Greek masters.

Sparta-strong, legendary and unrivaled land power, oligarchic and always fearful of helotic revolt, leaders of the fractious Peloponnesi
Chin Joo
Apr 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This book should be called The History of Athens During the Peloponnesian War for while it is generally agreed that this war was fought between two huge blocs lead by Athens and Sparta, it has a very thorough description of the history of Athens during the period and much less about Sparta. Perhaps the history of Sparta is much less recorded, but in the end the Spartans were made to look like a menace around Athens, or more aptly a bunch of goons who could do nothing right, except getting lucky ...more
Lauge Schøler
Jan 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
War is a very messy business. That is the main lesson of this book. It's cruel, morals deteriorate in no time, it's fueled by egos and money and vague political ideologies and it is surprisingly random and subject to the whims of nature and pure luck.

The research for this is impeccable. Absolutely amazing how the author manages to bring to life events that happened 2.400 years ago. One gets a thorough and caleidoscopic insigt into the myriad af variables that shaped ancient warfare.
Jeff Clay
May 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
In 1969 Donald Kagan published the first volume of what was to become his tetralogy entitled "A New History of the Peloponnesian War." After some 1300 pages and the publication of the final volume in 1987 you would think that Mr. Kagan would be quite finished with that particular war. Especially since there were and still remain the highest accolades for his Peloponnesian opus magnus in scholarly, historical and literary circles. Nonetheless, Kagan embarked upon a re-write of his four volumes fo ...more
Justin Tapp
Mar 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I should have read The Peloponnesian War before I read Xenophon's Anabasis. Xenophon's work takes place shortly after the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.) and that event sets the context of the relationship between the Athenian Greeks and the Spartans. One can see generals like Demosthenes and Lysander as influencing how Xenophon would have led, as well as learn what was expected of Athenian commanders both on the battlefield and in the realm of politics.

Donald Kagan is apparently the world's fo
May 12, 2017 added it
Shelves: nonfiction
Where I’m staying this week had Donald Kagan’s The Peloponnesian War on a shelf. Curious, I checked it out and got swept up immediately. Democratic Athens vs. oligarchic, militaristic Sparta in fifth century B.C. A war that lasted nearly thirty years, Greeks fighting Greeks. Virtually every major aspect of the conflict resonates in a contemporary context as well, whether it is the threats democratic societies face from factionalism and tribalistic mentalities, the damage that can be done by char ...more
Gumble's Yard
Apr 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2008
Condensed version of a multi-volume academic study into the war between Sparta and Athens in the 5th century 400BC, the book is mainly based around a famous historic account of the war by a contemporary of the events (often regarded as the first real history book) but at many times uses other sources to challenge the biases in that account. Due to the original detail this account is also very detailed – often describing what were no more than minor skirmishes with a handful of dead on each side ...more
Too dry for my taste, I'm afraid.
Mar 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A lot could be learned from this book, among them a full picture of the 5th century political and military struggles among the ancient Greeks, which is highly valuable because there is so few accounts left or ever existed for other ancient civilizations, and this author weren't shy from giving speculations and interpretations, made the book highly readable, informative and insightful. I especially like his analysis of the political structure and sentiments of the citizens of Athens, especially t ...more
Gregg Wingo
May 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Professor Kagan's history-lite books are great reads for those interested in Greek studies and not willing to assault the translated Classical works or incapable of reading Ancient Greek. "The Peloponnesian War" is less a work of historical analysis than an aggregation of information concerning the total duration of the war from all sources not just Thucydides. This is a condensed version of his scholarly four-volume “A New History of the Peloponnesian War”: “The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian Wa ...more
Jun 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
I have long wanted to read Thucydides but decided to read Kagan's work on the subject first in order to familarize myself with the historical terrain. For this purpose, the book is well suited since it both sums up some of the period covered by Thucydides and includes events that occurred after his death (before the end of the war). It also provides enough of the social, philosophical, and literary background to whet one's appetite to read more. Many of the most famous figures from Greek history ...more
Nov 14, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A thorough, well-researched history of the Peloponnesian war, as the unimaginative and rather boring title suggests. Kagan does a great job describing the background to the war, the key players and all the related issues. His analysis is usually top-notch and thorough, although he sometimes seems to lose track; for example going on and on about how Pericles was irrational in entering the war on the basis of honor instead of reason.

Still, the narrative is solid and the maps are pretty good and in
Peter Mcloughlin
Donald Kagan is a historian in disagreement with the first historian of the Peloponnesian war Thucydides. Thucydides believed Pericles defensive posture was wise and the Athenians would have won had they stuck to it and blames the Sicilian campaign as the disaster brought on by an offensive posture. Kagan thinks Pericles defensive war did not have the deterrent power to make the Spartans sue for peace. And while Sicily was a disaster it in itself did not spell the end for Athens but Persia ente ...more
Oct 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
An excellent examination of the grand struggle between the two very different Superpowers and traditions of the ancient Greek world. The author does an excellent job of describing the competing Athenian and Spartan factions, their allies, strategies and battles as well as the themes which have been repeated in many of the wars since. The book is long, but very readable. Highly recommended.
Fotis Linardos
Sep 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Φανταστικό βιβλίο. Περιγράφει αναλυτικά αλλά χωρίς να κουράζει όλη την ιστορία του Πελοποννησιακού πολέμου. Είναι ανατριχιαστικό το πόσα πράγματα παραμένουν ίδια στις μέρες μας σε ότι αφορά την πολιτική...
Ernest Spoon
Aug 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
If there is anything to learn from Donald Kagan's one-volume condensation of his scholarly four-volume treatment of the Peloponnesian War is, it is harder to end a war than to start it.

The above over simplifies the 27 years series of wars, peace and cold wars that ended in Athens' defeat, Sparta's hegemony and the Persian Empire taking back much of what it lost in the wars of 479-80 BCE. It also illustrates the resilience of a democratic people to rise up after a series of debilitating setbacks
Nov 05, 2017 rated it liked it
This door-stopping tome is billed as "a readable narrative in a single volume to be read by the general reader for pleasure," and that description makes me wonder what his four-volume complete history must have read like. There is an astonishing amount of detail offered not only about the actions of the historical protagonists, but also their personalities and mind sets, especially considering the relative paucity of sources. The book is, in that sense, a historical marvel. In truth, I'm not sur ...more
Aug 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dr. Kagan has written an excellent narrative of this ancient conflict. It is always difficult to bring to life something from so long ago in human history and Kagan has done it. He relates what happened, and as well as possible why it happened. He also gets into the ancient reasoning behind the actions of the Spartans and the Athenians and their allies. I found it well written, I was able to follow along and I have a much better understanding of things than I did 40+ years ago when I studied Thu ...more
cool breeze
Feb 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The best of the "popular histories" (written for the general public, not scholars) I have read. Slightly better than Amity Shlaes excellent The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression and considerably better than Barbara Tuchman's prize-winning books, this reads like a gripping epic novel. This should be a great pleasure to read for anyone who has the slightest interest in the period.
Eric Thelen
Feb 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
This book has been sitting on my shelf for years and I'm so glad I finally read it. Kagan does an amazing job of covering almost 30 years of Greek warfare in a way that is both digestible and readable. I only wish Kagan had helped with the pronunciations of the names and places in the book. I had to Google most of the main historical figures as I was reading. Look up how to pronounce Alcibiades or Thucydides and you'll know what I'm talking about.
Nov 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A well-written and detailed history of the war, from 431-404 BCE. Includes background from the Persian Wars and the rise of the Athenian Empire. It becomes a bit of a slog at times due to all the names of people and places that it must necessarily have, but the maps and analysis are very helpful. It belongs on your shelf next to Thucydides.
Kevin Eckart
Sep 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
A great read about a subject that parallels many of the same issues we have today regarding foreign policy.
Kagan wrote a general history of the Peloponnesian War that engulfed the Greek world in the fifth century B.C. This conflict drawn out over three decades pitted the land-power of Sparta against the sea-power of Athens.

Why I started this book: I just finished History of the Peloponnesian War written by Thucydides and as I am not a fifth century Greek, I needed more background information and context.

Why I finished it: Kagan did an excellent job explaining the who, what, where, why and consequenc
Milton Soong
Jan 26, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, ancient
This is suppose to the be definitive account of the war by a modern author (It's hard to compete with Thucydides). The version I listened to (Audio book from Audible) is a condensed version of his multi-volume academic work. This one is targeting the more general reader.

The condensation effort isn't entirely successful. Often times the work has a "collection of facts" quality to it (reminded me of the worst aspect of high school history textbook). The reader is constantly bombarded with list of
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Professor Kagan, who received his PhD from Ohio State University in 1958, has written The Great Dialogue: A History of Greek Political Thought from Homer to Polybius (1965 and 1986); The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War (1969); The Archidamian War (1974); The Peace of Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition (1981); The Fall of the Athenian Empire (1987); Pericles and the Birth of the Athenian Empire ( ...more
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