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The Peloponnesian War

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  4,289 ratings  ·  168 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, ...more
Paperback, 511 pages
Published April 27th 2004 by Penguin Books (first published 2003)
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Average rating 4.12  · 
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Daniel
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
...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 ...more
William2
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
Stephanie
May 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Well, I have definitely learned why it’s so important to separate the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government
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
...more
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
Rick
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
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.
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 ...more
Jud Barry
Nov 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
An illuminating account of the 27-year-long struggle for power between Sparta, the militarized society whose land-based army could ravage the enemy countryside at will, and fortified Athens, protected and fed by the might of a navy-maintained empire covering the islands and littoral of the Aegean. That Athens was able to keep the war going as long as it did is testimony to the wealth produced by its empire--neither continuous Spartan destruction of its countryside, nor a bout of plague early on, ...more
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 ...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
...more
Bookish
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 ...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
Laura-Lee Rahn
Jan 26, 2020 marked it as to-read
FYI Right now there are only volumes 1&2 of this available at Kindle of what will be 4 volumes eventually. But The Peloponnesian War by Thucydides is available at Kindle for FREE if you want to get started?
LLR
Campbell
Too dry for my taste, I'm afraid.
Alcibiades
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 ...more
Hannah
Dec 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
A very enjoyable read that paces itself perfectly. But the author's mild pro-democratic biases are evident.
Ian Racey
Feb 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
It's impossible to overstate how dramatic a topic the Peloponnesian War is. Thirty years of war in a time when forty years old was an old age to live to; a war that would have seemed to any ancient Greek to have consumed the entire world from end to end, with armies from Athens invading Sicily and Sicilian fleets of war fighting battles in the Bosporus and Dardenelles; entire states destroyed, with the whole adult male population murdered and the women and children sold into slavery, so that ...more
Keenan Bullington
Jan 26, 2020 rated it it was ok
Kagan's far too appreciative of Athenian democracy in this work. So much so that he forgives many of their faults and forgetting to praise Spartan society. This subject is great and truthfully a great read. I wanted to rate this a 4 with my quibbles being generally echoed in the top reviews. The ratting being as high as it is however made me think the rating for this work needs to be knocked down a few pegs, especially since the author's values determine too much of how it reads.
Janna G. Noelle
Jan 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The Peloponnesian War is a 491-page account of the ancient conflict between Athens and Sparta and their allies during the 5th century B.C. by Yale historian and classicist Donald Kagan. Although billed as a history for general readers, the book is a comprehensive account, spanning the 27 years of the war as well as a post-war epilogue discussing its impacts in both short and long term. The book cites ancient philosophers, playwrights, and historians, most notably Thucydides, whose own History of ...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 ...more
Rick
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
Sam
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
...more
Jerome
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
...more
Peter (Pete) 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 ...more
Alexei
Jul 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful book - for those who care about the subject. The Peloponnesian War was one of the great tragedies of history, yet at the same time a great adventure story. The author is very good in unraveling some of the riddles one is left with after reading Thucydides. The style in neutral and clear, but one of Kagan's obvious aims is to absolve Athenian democracy from the improvidence and errors usually ascribed to it. For the most part he is successful - except, in my opinion in the end when ...more
Dergrossest
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.
Heinz Reinhardt
Jul 27, 2019 rated it liked it
Not much that my review can add to what has already been said, so I will say only a little on this work.
Most people love this book, and I wanted to. And I adore ancient history, however this book I found to be a chore to get through. I just didn't find it as engaging as so many others did, which puts me in the minority.
Partly this is the clear and obvious bias that Kagan has for Athens.
As another reviewer pointed out, Spartan successes were always accidental, according to Kagan, and Athens
...more
Lewis Kelly
Nov 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Finally read it after buying it in (I think?) Winnipeg in my undergraduate days. Glad I did! This was an interesting and fast-moving account of a major event in classical history that I knew nothing about. I found it fascinating, horrifying, exciting and sobering in that way that only history can do for me. Strongly reinforced my good fortune at never living through a war.

Near the end of the book Kagan writes of the war that “the thin tissue of civilization that allows human beings to live
...more
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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