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Search tags: Alexander-the-Great
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review 2018-08-13 16:09
The shoulders of giants, the exaggeration of inheritors
Before and After Alexander: The Legend and Legacy of Alexander the Great - Richard A. Billows

In this book, the classical scholar Richard Billows offers something different from the histories of the Alexander-centric historians who have preceded him. Rather than concentrating on Alexander, Billows expands his focus to  encompass the pre-Alexander history of his homeland of Macedonia and the fate of his empire that followed. Though these subjects have been addressed by others, by bringing them together into a single book, Billows assesses Alexander's achievements from a different perspective and the result is quite different from what might expect from previous books on the Macedonian conqueror.

 

The greatest consequence of Billows's approach is the highlighting of the achievements of Alexander's father, Philip. A great conqueror in his own right, while his reign has been overshadowed by his son, Billows makes clear how much of Alexander's success were due to his father's accomplishments. It was with Philip's army and Philip's commanders that Alexander waged his campaigns, which often used tactics that predated Alexander to win in battle. Yet Billows also notes that Philip himself was hardly an innovator, as he drew upon the experiences of decades of Greek wars in building his army into the Asian-conquering force of legend. This army was also the product of a region ripe for success, for as Billows details, its climate and geography gave it several natural advantages over the more tenuously-existing Green city states to the south.

 

From this perspective, Alexander's achievements were less as a creator than as an exploiter. This Billows underscores by emphasizing the unsustainable nature of his empire. As their abandonment so soon after Alexander's death makes clear, the Indian and Afghan territories comprising the easternmost edge of his conquests were simply too far off to be controlled from his resource base in Macedonia. While his plans for campaigns in North Africa and southern Europe may have been more realistic, they demonstrate that the essence of Alexander's achievements was conquest rather than construction. In this respect, his successors the diadochi deserve more credit for developing his legacy than Alexander himself merits, yet they too are often given only passing mention in most Alexander-centric considerations of the period.

 

All of this Billows lays out in an accessibly fluid text that makes for easy reading. He pulls no punches in his assessment of the "great" conqueror, and in doing so offers a valuable corrective to the overlarge reputation Alexander enjoys today. This is a book that anybody interested in a measured assessment of the legendary figure, one that details just how much of it rested on the shoulders of his predecessors and depended on the achievements of his successors.

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review 2018-07-11 16:05
My one-hundred and eleventh podcast is up!
The Treasures of Alexander the Great: How One Man's Wealth Shaped the World - Frank L. Holt

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it, I interview Frank L. Holt about his examination of how Alexander the Great financed his many conquests and what he did with the loot he seized. Enjoy!

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review 2016-06-27 17:06
Go see the show
The Greeks: Agamemnon to Alexander the Great (Souvenir Catalogue series, 10 ISSN 2291-6385) - Terence Clark

This is the small companion book to the exhibit of the same name. There is a larger, heavier, and costlier book. I saw the exhibit in Washington, DC at the National Geographic Museum.

This small companion book is a good remembrance of the show. You will not learn really anything more than the wonderful show tells you, but it does have lovely pictures. The show itself is worth going to, and includes some items that have never left Greece until the show. It does blend a bit of Hollywood in - for instance the 300 section is referring the movie, yet then the history is put front and center.

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review 2016-05-09 19:48
Holy Indecision, Batman!
Alexander the Great - The Macedonian Who Conquered the World - Sean Patrick

This book could not determine whether it was  a self help book or a biography. This made it confusing and absolutely unpalatable.

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review 2015-09-26 21:10
Colossus by Colin Falconer
Colossus: A Novel - Colin Falconer

This is an alternate history that features Alexander the Great. The main heroes of the story are Gajendra and Mara. Gajendra rises swiftly in Alexander’s army, going from an elephant boy to general of the elephant forces. Gajendra’s personal elephant is Colossus who is the largest bull elephant in the army. Mara starts off as a grieving window who has lost her children as well and becomes an elephant boy herself (hiding her gender). Colossus is an important force in the army but also an important side character in this story, often being the reminder of more gentle things for both Mara and Gajendra.

I have long been fascinated by Alexander the Great, having read several fiction and nonfiction works about him. So when I saw this alternate history featuring him I had to give it a read. I was not disappointed. In fact, if you didn’t know much about Alexander, you could read this book and believe every bit of it; the story so masterfully intertwines fiction and facts.

Gajendra is a very interesting character. His Uncle Ravi took him in when he was a small boy and taught him the secret language of elephants. Right from the start of the story, Gajendra has mighty aspirations. He fell in love, or lust, the instant he spotted a certain noble woman, Zahara. Since then, he knows he must rise high in the army if there is to be any chance of winning her. But he knows he must treat the elephants well, not just because he cares for them as deeply as his uncle does, but because he knows they are the key to his success. As Gajendra rises in the ranks, he comes to the attention of Alexander himself. Throughout the tale, these two share some very intense conversations. Indeed, just remembering a few specific ones makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

Now Ravi and Gajendra march together in Alexander’s army and they march upon Carthage. Many of Alexander’s foes have never faced elephants in battle and their mere presence unnerves both soldiers and horses. Of course, they take a lot of care when the army isn’t battling anyone and a disgruntled elephant can do quite a bit of damage to Alexander’s army as well. Indeed, I feel I learned some important things about elephants in reading this book. They were definitely an integral part of the plot and not just scenery.

It took longer for me to like Mara. We meet her at the depth of her grief, having lost all her family except her father, a general of Carthage. When the city is attacked by Alexander’s army, her father orders the loyal family servant to protect her at all costs. Lucky for both of them, Gajendra is the one to find them in the aftermath of the attack and take them in as the lowest of elephant boys, mucking dung and fetching water. Eventually Mara’s grief crystallizes and she puts it to good use. Colossus is key in her return to life. By the end of the book, I was very glad I had made the journey with Mara as I came to admire her efforts.

There are very few female characters in this book. Zahara is essentially a love interest and has very few lines. There are perhaps 2 priestesses mentioned and I seem to recall one of them having a few lines. Mara has the greatest presence in the book for the ladies. She is written well and has full depth of character as well as a character arc. My one little quibble is that I would have liked a few more female characters that had a bit of depth.

I received this book free of charge from the publisher (via Audiobook Jukebox) in exchange for an honest review.

The Narration: Neil Shah did a great job. His voice for Alexander was excellent and I can imagine it was a bit difficult to maintain. Alexander’s voice is described in the text as having a kind of high pitched grating to it. Shah did a great job of getting this across to the listener while also keeping Alexander’s voice commanding and intense. His voice for Gajendra was also excellent having a light Indian accent. His female character voices were believable. 

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