Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Persian Fire by Tom Holland

On the whole, quite a corker of a book. Dotted with humour, highly informative and excellently laid out.

The first third of the book is probably the best, giving the background information on Persia, Athens and Sparta. The Persian stuff is especially fascinating (probably because I didn't know any of it), tracing the rise of Persia with the overthrow of Astyages by Cyrus. The Persian Empire is every bit as interesting as the Greek world, but unfortunately the lack of evidence makes for a much shorter tale.

If you know the sources behind the Persian Wars (predominantly Herodotus) you can see how Holland has taken an approach of refreshing clarity, presenting always what he believes happened, rarely saying he is unsure. Which I take issue with. I think Holland is far too confidant in his version of events, and it is a shame he cuts out the sources, barely mentioning even the father of history himself. He does not explain the context of the evidence or the difficulties of interpretation, which is the books only really serious weakness.

What you do get, however, is very good. A perfect introduction to the period, and I could easily tell you why Holland is...POPULAR. 6.8/10.