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How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War

A-AWarLikeNoOtherThe Greek philosopher Heraclitus believed that "war is the father of us all." With the Peloponnesian War, which began in 431 BC, the Greeks bequeathed a profound martial legacy to western culture. Nearly 30 years in the fighting, the war ended with democratic Athens succumbing to oligarchic Sparta. But the story of the battle is as complex as its long duration suggests; it is a tale comprised of military innovations, lapsed traditions, surging patriotism, and myopic leadership. Though Thucydides wrote the definitive account of the war, Hanson brings the conflict alive for modern readers and also provides the context by which civilization might benefit from the war’s hard-learned lessons.
Random House. 416 pages. $29.95. ISBN 1400060958

Daily Telegraph (UK) 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Most histories of the Peloponnesian War tend towards the bloodless—but not Hanson’s. Rather, it is a work of great compassion and human sympathy, with none of the stern insistence on the timeless demands of machtpolitik that Thucydides tends to inspire among his devotees. Horrors stalk its pages." Tom Holland

Washington Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"A War Like No Other is the companion material to Thucydides, a first-rate lecture that mesmerizes a reader, even as the names—Sphacteria, Mantinea, Aegospotami—are as strange to us as the men who died there. Besides, the Peloponnesian War is simply as good a yarn as any Shakespearean tragedy, which is often missed in the complexity of Thucydides’ account." Blake D. Dvorak

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The ‘war like no other,’ as Thucydides called it, continues to fascinate because it always seems pertinent, and never more so than in Victor Davis Hanson’s highly original, strikingly contemporary retelling of the superpower confrontation he calls ‘a colossal absurdity.’ … Chapters like ‘Armor,’ ‘Horses,’ and ‘Ships’ recount important engagements but also serve as an opportunity to look closely at how the Athenians and Spartans waged war." William Grimes

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"This study demonstrates the care of an avid, meticulous scholar whose learning can be worn lightly because it’s so assured. He has also become a formidable journalist in recent years, which has prompted him to produce prose that is starkly appealing, direct and accessible to the common, curious reader." Tracy Lee Simmons

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Hanson sees the United States as sharing Athenian hubris and inviting nemesis by trying to export democracy to countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. The fact that Hanson himself supports American policy gives his book an ironic twist." Paul Johnson

Critical Summary

Victor Davis Hanson, military historian turned Op-Ed rabble-rouser, holds firm to his belief that there are important lessons to be learned from the past. He has written extensively on the subject (The Western Way of War; Carnage and Culture; Between War and Peace). As a "modern Machiavelli" (Daily Telegraph), he has bent the ears of policy makers all the way up to the West Wing. Critics are impressed by Hanson’s ability to bring all the machinations of the Greeks alive in his thematic chapters. They are equally intrigued by his cogent theory that finds similar strains of pride, militarism, and democratic evangelicalism in both the Athenians and Americans.

Further Reading

The History of the Peloponnesian War | Thucydides (fifth century BC): This work is one of the first efforts to record history accurately: Thucydides used written documents and firsthand accounts from participants to attempt an objective look at the war.