Book Review: The Pelopennisian War by Donald Kagan

I recently visited Scotland for a vacation. it is a beautiful country with lots of friendly people and tasty scotch. All of that deserves sits own post. While in Glasgow, I found myself in a bookstore in a back alley near the university, looking for more to add to my already 70 book back logged reading list. I moved in and out the huge piles of books, long shopkeeper having long abandoned using the full shelves and had resorted to stacking books in  four foot piles on the floor. A gigantic fat tabby cat lumbered around trying to trip customers. Perusing the Greek section, I found Donald Kagan’s The Peloponesian War. I’ve been meaning to learn more about this important chapter in western history, lucked was lucky, as iIsis very readable, and even exciting in parts.

I can’t detail all of the battles and generals, but I can give you the briefest of introductions. The ancient Greeks were not unified under one leadership. Although they all shared a common language, religion, and culture, the Greek city states (called polises) were constantly at odds with another. The Peloponessian war was a thirty year war between Sparta and her allies against the Athenian empire. Sparta was militaristic and proto fascist, while democratic Athens thought of itself as more enlightened in arts, philosophy, and politics. Conflict was intermittent between cities, but eventually it broke into the thrirty year Pelopennisian War, characterized by its length, innovations in diplomacy, and the departure from the traditions of honor that had previously governed Greek warfare.

Learning about this war is important for anyone who wants to understand current events. You will recognize many of the same motivations at play as the Greeks battle each other:revenge, pride, hate, greed, or simple self preservation. The war takes place from 430 to 400 BC, just 30 years after the Greeks unified to halt the Persian invasion, the first battle at Thermoplyae being famous for the last stand of the 300 Spartans. Study the maps carefully, as many obscure cities are involved. Anyways, I encourage everyone to learn some of the fascinating history, and I recommend Donald Kagan’s book “The Pelopenissian War.”

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