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review 2019-07-04 00:02
The History of the Peloponnesian War
The History of the Peloponnesian War - Donald Lateiner,David Lateiner,Richard Crawley,Thucydides

Two political-economic systems compete for influence and dominance after the greatest war that has ever happened, but peace could not last.  The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides covers the first twenty years of the war between Athens and Sparta before it’s abrupt ending, but throughout his text the motives of the participants and the analysis of unintended consequences shows give the war it’s full context.

 

The first book—created by later editors not Thucydides—of the work focuses on early Greek history, political commentary, and seeks to explain how the war was caused and why it happened when it did.  Over the course of Books 2 through 8, Thucydides covered not only the military action of the war but also the numerous political machinations that both sides encouraged in each other’s allied cities or in neutrals to bring them to their side.  The war is presented in a chronological manner for nearly the entire work with only two or three diversions in either historical context or to record what happened elsewhere during the Sicilian Expedition that took up Books 6 & 7.  The sudden ending of the text reveals that Thucydides was working hard on the work right up until he died, years after the conflict had ended.

 

The military narrative is top notch throughout the book which is not a surprise given Thucydides’ time as an Athenian general before his exile.  Even though he was an Athenian, Thucydides was positively and negatively critical of both Athens and Sparta especially when it came to demagogues in Athenian democracy and severe conservatism that permeated Spartan society in all its facets.  Though Thucydides’ created the prebattle and political speeches he relates, is straightforwardness about why he did it does not take away from the work.  If there is one negative for the work is that Thucydides is somewhat dry which can make you not feel the urge to pick up the book if you’ve been forced to set it down even though you’ve been enjoying the flow of history it describes.

 

The History of the Peloponnesian War though unfinished due to Thucydides death was both a continuation of the historic genre that Herodotus began but also a pioneering work as it recorded history as it happened while also using sources that Thucydides was able to interview.  If you enjoy reading history and haven’t read this classic in military history, then you need to.

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review 2019-02-16 23:14
The Histories (Herodotus)
The Histories - G.C. Macaulay,G.C. Macauley,Donald Lateiner,David Lateiner,Herodotus

A generation had no living memory of the greatest danger that the Greeks had ever lived through, but one man decided to change all that and gift posterity with a new genre.  The Histories written by Herodotus details 80 crucial years from the rise of the Persian Empire to the defeat the remnants of Xerxes expedition and the events that led to the latter.

 

Using knowledge gleamed from extensive travel across the ancient world Herodotus begins his historical narrative by giving the ‘legendary’ encounters between the peoples of Europe and Asia before delving into the more ‘historical’ events that lead to Xerxes’ grand expedition.  Herodotus details the history of the kingdom of Lydia that was the first to conquer populations of Greeks, those in western Anatolia, and how its great king Croesus lost his war to Cyrus the Great thus placing those same Greeks under the rule of Persia.  The history of the Medes and their conquest by the Persians is related then the subsequent history of the Persian Empire until the Ionian revolt which led to the intervention of Athens and setting the stage for Darius expedition to Marathon.  Intertwined with the rise of Persia was Herodotus relating the events within various Greek city-states, in particular Athens and Sparta, that contributed to the reasons for first Darius’ expedition and then to Xerxes’.  Eventually his narrative would go back and forth between the two contending sides throughout the latter conflict as events unfolded throughout 480-479 BC.

 

The sheer volume of material that Herodotus provides is impressive and daunting for a reader to consider.  Not only does he cover the political and military events, but numerous past historical and general culture aspects as well as lot of biographies and antidotal digressions that add color to the overall piece.  Given that this was the first history ever written it’s hard to really criticize Herodotus—though Thucydides apparently had no problem later—but some digressions I wish Herodotus had left out or not heard at all.

 

The Histories by Herodotus is one of classic historical works that needs to be read by anyone who enjoys reading history.  Whether or not you love the style of writing or even the topic, this book is important because it literally is the first history book.

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review 2017-12-31 22:57
Western Civilization to 1500
Western Civilization to 1500 (College Outline) - Walther Kirchner

The story of Western Civilization centers in Europe but begins over 8000 years ago in Mesopotamia and Egypt and seems like a daunting task to cover in less than 300 pages even if one only goes to the end of the Middle Ages.  Western Civilization to 1500 by Walther Kirchner is a survey of the rise of society from ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt through the Greeks and Romans, the Middle Ages, and the beginning of the European Renaissance.

 

Kirchner spends less than 30 pages covering the Fertile Crescent and Egypt through 3500 years of historical development before beginning over 110 pages on Greco-Roman history and the last 130 pages are focused on the Middle Ages and early Renaissance.  This division clearly denotes Kirchner’s focus on Europe in this Western Civilization survey, though one cannot fault him for this as even now knowledge of the first three and half millennia of the historical record is nothing compared to the Greco-Roman sources, yet Kirchner never even mentioned the Bronze Age collapse and possible reasons for its occurrence.  The highlight of the survey is a detailed historical events of Greece and Roman, especially the decline of the Republic which was only given broad strokes in my own Western Civ and World History classes in high school and college.  Yet, Kirchner’s wording seems to hint that he leaned towards the Marxist theory of history, but other wording seemed to contradict it.  Because this was a study aid for college students in the early 1960s, this competing terminology is a bit jarring though understandable.  While the overall survey is fantastic, Kirchner errors in some basic facts (calling Harold Godwinson a Dane instead of an Anglo-Saxon, using the term British during the Hundred Year’s War, etc.) in well-known eras for general history readers making one question some of the details in eras the reader doesn’t know much about.  And Kirchner’s disparaging of “Oriental” culture through not only the word Oriental but also the use of “effeminate” gives a rather dated view of the book.

 

This small volume is meant to be a study aid for students and a quick reference for general readers, to which it succeeds.  Even while Kirchner’s terminology in historical theory and deriding of non-European cultures shows the age of the book, the overall information makes this a good reference read for any well-read general history reader.

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review 2017-03-30 00:40
Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea (Hinges of History #4)
Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter - Thomas Cahill

The foundations of what we call Western culture today seemingly sprung from one place, Greece, yet that is not the entire truth.  Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, the fourth volume of Thomas Cahill’s Hinges of History, examines and explains the structure of Greek society and ideas as well as the reasons why it has permeated so much of what we know of Western culture.  But Cahill’s answer to why the Greeks matter is two-fold.

 

Over the course of 264 pages of text, Cahill looks at all the features of Greek culture that made them so different from other ancient cultures.  Through the study of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Cahill examined the Greek’s view of war and honor in their grand war epic then how the same man expressed how the Greek’s expressed their feelings.  The contradiction of the Homeric works is part of a larger theme that Cahill explores in Greek poetry beyond Homer, politicians and playwrights, philosophers, and artists.  Throughout each chapter, Cahill examines what the Greeks did differently than anyone else as well as relate examples that many will know.  Yet Cahill reveals that as time went on the Greeks own culture started to swallow itself until stabilized by the Romans who were without the Greek imagination and then merged with newly developing Christian religion that used Greek words to explain its beliefs to a wider world; this synthesis of the Greco-Roman world and Judeo-Christian tradition is what created Western thought and society that we know today.

 

Cahill’s analysis and themes are for the general reader very through-provoking, but even for someone not well versed in overall Greek scholarship there seems to be something missing in this book.  Just in comparing previous and upcoming volumes of Cahill’s own series, this book seems really short for one covering one of the two big parts of Western Civilization.  Aside from the two chapters focused around the Homeric epics, all the other chapters seemed to be less than they could be not only in examples but also in giving connections in relevance for the reader today.

 

For the Western society in general, the Greeks are remembered for their myths, magnificent ruins, and democracy.  Thomas Cahill’s Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea does reveal that ancient Greece was more than that and why a culture millennia old matters to us today.  While not perfect, this book is at least a good read for the general reader which may be what Cahill is aiming for but for those more well read it feels lacking once finished.

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review 2017-03-26 12:11
A Story of a Man and his Barrel
Diogenes: An Anecdotal Biography of the World's Greatest Cynic - George Pavlu

When I was up at my parent's house I saw this book sitting in my Dad's workshop, so being somewhat intrigued I borrowed it. The thing is that I like the concept of the cynic, and I also liked the concept of Diogenes, who in some way is a homeless beggar, but he is also a philosopher. However, after reading a few pages of this book I also came to realise that despite him being a homeless beggar, he is also an exhibitionist. In a way he argues against the conventions of society, and the imprisoning nature of wealth and luxury, but he also lives and behaves as if he is an animal, which a part of me feels undermines that part of us by which we call ourselves human.

 

The thing with Diogenes is that, as I mentioned, he was a homeless beggar, but not by circumstance but rather by choice. Here is a painting of him sitting in his barrel:

 

http://nibiryukov.narod.ru/nb_pinacoteca/nb_pinacoteca_painting/nb_pinacoteca_waterhouse_diogenes.jpg

 

 

The interesting thing is the idea of him being a cynic. In my mind we have the optimist, who sees the glass half full, the pessimist who sees it as being half empty, and the cynic, who basically makes the statement that no matter how much water you drink you are only going to be thirsty again so you might as well just throw the water back into the river and simply remain thirsty. Okay, maybe that is a bit of an extreme, but in some ways taking the mind of a cynic is actually quite beneficial as it enables us to see through the fabrication that is society.

 

 

The interesting thing is that despite the fact that he was poor, and lived in a barrel, he was still a famous philosopher. I suspect that it had something to do not so much with the fact he was poor – there were lots of poor people in Athens – but rather that he was an exhibitionist. Also, he had some pretty harsh things to say about society, but despite the fact that he did say some pretty harsh things he still ended up building up a bit of a following. However, like a lot of people who build up a following, while what he says may sound good in principle, when it comes to putting things into practice then people will suddenly turn around and go back to doing what they were always doing.

 

 

In a sense there seems to be some similarities between Christ and Diogenes, in that both of them not only walked out of a comfortable life to become itinerant preachers, but they also have a lot to say about wealth, greed, and conforming with society. However Diogenes, unlike Christ, had a much more naturalistic approach. In a sense Diogenes saw us as little more than sophisticated animals, and the fact that despite our perceived civilisation we still basically behaved like animals, we might as well cast off our trappings of civilisation and simply become animals.

 

 

This book contains a series of anecdotes, that is sayings that have come down to us about Diogenes. The thing is that while Diogenes did actually write some stuff, we don't have anything remaining, so all we have are these anecdotes, sayings that are attributed to Diogenes, but not necessarily having any real truth about them. In fact all that we seem to have is a story about this guy that lived in a barrel in Athens, that eschewed wealth and comfort, and simply went around challenging people and their lifestyles. For instance it is said that he walked into a rich man's house, and because you couldn't spit on any surface in the house, he chose instead to spit into the face of the rich man.

 

 

These itinerant beggars are actually quite fascinating because we don't seem to actually have people like that these days. Okay, we might just do, with people who seem to drift from house to house, taking food and looking for a place to sleep, and then moving onto the next house and the next house, without actually paying their way. I remember a time when I was young that this Vietnam Vet appeared at our door looking for somebody who was no longer living there, stayed with us for a couple of days making all these promises, heading off with one of our friends, and then disappearing. My friends all referred to him as a conman, but he never took anything from us – he simply spent a couple of nights at our house and then moved onto the next one.

 

 

However I wander through the city and see all these homeless people sitting on the street with signs asking for money, yet none of them seems to stand on the corner sprouting philosophy. You do get people doing that, normally waving an issue of Red Flag (which is a communist newsletter) around, but they all look reasonably well groomed, and they are definitely not dressed like a beggar. Mind you, while we all talk about how Diogenes eschewed a wealthy lifestyle, and money and possessions, we still notice that he begs, and even asks for money off of his pupils. This makes me wonder if he actually has fully done away with money, or possessions. The fact that he owns clothes, and even owns a barrel, goes to show that he does have some possessions.

 

Anyway, I will finish off with another picture, and this time one of him speaking to Alexander the Great. It was said (as is the case with everything about Diogenes' life) that when Alexander asked who his king was, Diogenes says that he had no king because he was a citizen of the world, that is cosmopolitan. As such, Alexander realised that it was not enough to simply conquer Greece, but that he had to conquer the world, which is what he did. The other thing was that it was suggested that Alexander either takes everything, and thus becomes king, or takes nothing, and thus becomes Diogenes. In the end it would have been better that there were two Diogenes than two Alexanders, because to have two Alexanders would have not only been insufferable, but would have split the world asunder.

 

http://www.rebresearch.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/alexander-and-diogenes.jpg

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1950948381
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