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

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  5,532 Ratings  ·  364 Reviews
In the fifth century B.C., a global superpower was determined to bring truth and order to what it regarded as two terrorist states. The superpower was Persia, incomparably rich in ambition, gold, and men. The terrorist states were Athens and Sparta, eccentric cities in a poor and mountainous backwater: Greece. The story of how their citizens took on the Great King of Persi ...more
Paperback, 464 pages
Published June 12th 2007 by Anchor (first published 2005)
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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-
Jun 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 29, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jean Poulos
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
Jun 04, 2007 rated it it was ok
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
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.
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 31, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sean DeLauder
Aug 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, holland
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
Stoyan Stoyanov
Dec 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Mar 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 06, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I recently read The Classical World by Robin Lane Fox, which makes only a passing mention of the Battle at Thermopylae, Battle of Salamis and the invasion of Greece by Xerxes, King of Persia. So I decided to fill in the gap with Persian Fire by Tom Holland.

The author provides a well written narrative of the rise of the Persian Empire, the political experimenting/squabbling of the Greek city-states (such as Sparta and Athens) and the eventual clash of Persia and Greece. Holland has the ability to
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.
Feb 06, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Comprehensive look at the battles between the Greeks and the Persian Empire: Thermopylae, Salamis and Plataea. Not so much comprehensive as to the battles themselves but more about what brought these two forces into conflict. So you get a lot of backstory which is good.
Slightly less effective was the author's attempt to contemporize things by referring to the Greek city-states as "rouge terrorist nations." Not that I don't think such a comparison is wrong I felt the author didn't see it through
Mar 31, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ancient, history
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.
May 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I know what happened in the 5th century BC now
Jason Wedepohl
Dec 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's fantastic. A romantic account of the rise of Persia and Greece, weaving historical source with evocative imagery. Helpful maps included.
Now for the spice. WarpDrive's review, sadly the most liked, is well deserving of a rebuttal. It is inaccurate verging on falsehood, mainly because it implies Holland presents Persia as unsophisticated, and makes points about Persian sophistication that are mostly made by Holland himself. WarpDrive also accuses Holland of making claims that he doesn't make
Adam Balshan
3.5 stars [History]
Holland writes a compelling lead-in to the Greek and Persian wars in the early 5th century B.C. A story that a hundred generations in the West knew by heart, now largely forgotten.

Writing: 3.5 stars.
It would have been a rarer 4-star rating for its prose alone; it was downgraded due to occasional vulgarity and occasional loss of flow.

Use: 3.5 stars.
Definitely worth a re-read, and could be used as an ad hoc textbook at the secondary level at least. It does not have the feel of
Peter Macinnis
A superb piece of work. The location is the Persian Empire, and its attempt to extend its borders to the west, but it begins showing us where the Greeks and the Persians came from, how they thought, how they operated. There is necessarily a certain amount of assumption involved, but this impressively footnoted work shows us what was assumed and why the assumptions make good sense. This is a story-teller's story of events that were happening 2500 years ago, but which founded attitudes that fester ...more
Elliott Bignell
Apr 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Stephen Dearden
I couldn't finish this one. It's an interesting read on a THICK slab of history. I feel like this topic would have been better presented as a lecture series complete with maps, pictures, and reviews. As an audiobook, I was lost before I was an hour in. So many people, so many places, so many gods, so many battles. The rich Persian history isn't conducive for an audiobook.
Jul 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Holland doesn't really answer the question he poses in the introduction. 'Why do they hate us?' Yes this was a question my friends and I posed on the morning of 10 September 2001 sitting around a table drinking bad coffee, trying to take in the news we had all woken up too in the morning of two planes flying into the twin towers in New York. 'Why did the Middle East hate us? What had we done to encourage such an extreme and horrifying reaction? Was the never ending coverage going to push back th ...more
Apr 12, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: i-own-it
Probably one of the first pieces of non-fiction I have read voluntarily in quite some time...and I actually finished it! Pretty good- it seems to give a pretty balance view of the Persians and the Greeks, pointing out the strengths of each, as well as the stupidities and follies of each. It covers the rise of the Persian Empire under Cyrus through the Persian Wars with Greece (under Darius and then Xerxes), and ends with the beginning of the Peloponnesian Wars in 431 B.C. It then gives a quick r ...more
Dec 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Tom Holland scored some major points with Rubicon, a terrific, narrative account of the fall of the Roman Republic. His clear prose, entertaining characterization and solid research and diverse use of sources can be apppreciated by all levels of readers. Holland may not have improved between his two books, but he certainly hasn't lost a step either. In Persian Fire, he recounts the rise of the Persian Empire and the revolutionary changes in Greek life, focusing on the late Archaic age in Sparta ...more
Mar 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ancient-history
I'll confess, I was first prompted into reading this by seeing the film 300 a few years, and I'm so glad I did. It's just as good a read the second time around.

It's absolutely wonderfully written, really engaging and gripping, and Holland really makes the history come alive. I never really knew much about the period other than Thermopylae, but this has made me so interested in the Persian Empire, the beginnings of Greek democracy, and the great battles, Marathon, Thermopylae, Salamis and Plataea
Neil Pearson
Despite the title, the majority of the book is about the Greeks (which the author suggests is largely due to the amount of information available). Luckily, my knowledge of ancient Greece was clearly not so in-depth and I enjoyed the accounts of Athens and Sparta. When the book gets into the Persian invasion of Greece things become interesting and I appreciated that there was a lot more than 3 key battles occurring in this period. I wasn't aware of how long the war went on and just how close Pers ...more
Sep 07, 2009 rated it liked it
This is a narration of the events of the war between Persia and Greece around 485 BC. It begins with portraits of Persia, Sparta and Athens before discussing the progress of the war and the decisive battles of Marathon, Thermopylae, Artemisium, Salamis and Plataea. What is good about the book, in my view, is that the author has taken the historical evidence and come up with his own interpretation of what these cultures were really like. This is good because it, like a historical movie, gives the ...more
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An acclaimed British 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, Cambridge, and af
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