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Bookmarks Issue: 
14-Jan-Feb-2005
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The Naval Encounter that Saved Greece—and Western Civilization

A-BattleSalamisWhile it may be difficult to imagine how a battle fought in 480 B.C. could have played so pivotal a role in shaping the modern world, Strauss ably connects the dots. Themistocles of Sparta commanded a divided naval fleet. Saddled with skittish allies, dwindling food supplies, and a vastly outnumbered flotilla, he had to defend against the invading Persian Armada, led by Xerxes and including Artemisia, history’s first female admiral. The answer: a brilliant deception. After luring the Persians into a trap that left them exhausted and dispirited, Themistocles ordered a fierce attack. The victory saved the first democracy in history, gave birth to the Athenian Empire, and cleared the way for Athenian arts, law, and philosophy to flourish.
Simon and Schuster. 294 pages. $25. ISBN: 0743244508

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"Strauss does not just detail the grand strategies and bold tactics as two civilizations clashed in the narrow waters of a mile-wide strait. What captures the reader’s imagination is how vividly Strauss brings forward the events of 2,500 years ago, breathing life into the men—and one warrior queen—involved in them." Michael Kenney

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Salamis was no easy victory, and this account of it by a history professor who is an expert on naval warfare with a gift for vivid narrative brings it, in all its suspense, its complications, its surprises and its cast of extraordinary characters, to fervent and turbulent life." Bernard Knox

Philadelphia Inquirer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Strauss certainly knows his stuff … [and] supplements his generally smooth writing style with good maps, an easily understood timetable, a fine bibliographic essay, and notes that clearly explain the types of vessels used in the battle for the neophyte and naval historian alike. … While well-written, [his] work at times could have used better organization." Brother Edward Sheehy

Seattle Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"A rower himself, Strauss brings good authority to his discussion of tactics and triremes, vessels that were ‘state-of-the-art naval technology.’ His writing is accessible and geared for a general audience but prone to digressions and to repetitions." Irene Wanner

Critical Summary

Leading historians, respected educators, and fellow authors agree: Strauss’s account of this epic battle is a superbly told, historically accurate narrative of one of the most intriguing and dramatic showdowns in naval history. The author, a professor of history and classics at Cornell University, draws on recent work in archaeology, meteorology, and forensic science as well as his own rowing experience to enrich readers’ understanding of naval history and ancient culture. A few reviewers found fault with some rough transitions and occasional wordiness, however. Still, they generally lauded Strauss’s natural storytelling abilities that enable him to present a complex tale of deception, desperation, and warfare in a well-paced, erudite, and appealing manner.

Also by the Author

Rowing Against the Current On Learning to Scull at Forty (1999): As his mid-life crisis peaks, Strauss discovers rowing. A mixture of history, instruction, and inspiration.