Read The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides Tom Holland Online


Written four hundred years before the birth of Christ, this detailed contemporary account of the long life-and-death struggle between Athens and Sparta stands an excellent chance of fulfilling its author's ambitious claim. Thucydides himself (c.460-400 BC) was an Athenian and achieved the rank of general in the earlier stages of the war. He applied thereafter a passion forWritten four hundred years before the birth of Christ, this detailed contemporary account of the long life-and-death struggle between Athens and Sparta stands an excellent chance of fulfilling its author's ambitious claim. Thucydides himself (c.460-400 BC) was an Athenian and achieved the rank of general in the earlier stages of the war. He applied thereafter a passion for accuracy and a contempt for myth and romance in compiling this factual record of a disastrous conflict....

Title : The History of the Peloponnesian War
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ISBN : 25421399
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Number of Pages : 591 Pages
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The History of the Peloponnesian War Reviews

  • Jan-Maat
    2019-05-03 00:43

    Towards the end of this book I had a flashback of watching an episode of Mastermind in the 80s, the contestant had chosen the Spartan military as their specialist subject was asked being asked by Magnus Magnusson, the Icelandic Viking who swooped down from the north to Britain as a child to become a TV quiz host, why the Spartans had stopped their campaign on one particular occasion and gone home. The correct answer was that this was in response to an earthquake. Judging by Thucydides' history that could have been a lucky guess. The best way to maintain a reputation as fierce-some warriors is not to fight, but to be frightening, and the Spartans seem to have displayed a rare skill in finding reasons in the shape of a sacrificed animal's liver or a passing earthquake or a religious festival for either staying home or returning there.I found Thucydides difficult to start (view spoiler)[the translation might have been an issue (hide spoiler)] but increasingly intriguing. His history is a book that can be reread, studied, attention paid to each word as much because of what he doesn't say and how he says what he does.It is an ambitious book in several ways. Thucydides was writing after Herodotus and his epic on the Persian war but opens by telling us that this war was "more worthy of of relation than any that had preceded it...the greatest movement yet known in history" (p1). Secondly Thucydides makes great claims for his precision and accuracy implicitly a dig here at Herodotus and his giant gold gathering ants or the baby Cyrus lowered in a basket into a river to be brought up by step parents (but you've heard that story before). Both claims are dubious, the first has become a common place, people invariably want to claim that the story they want to tell is about the biggest, most impressive, amazing, far-reaching, and influential story ever in the history of history and they can't all be right,the other requires the reader's trust in Thucydides. He has decided what to trust as reliable information and what to include in his history. While he mentions a couple of times comparing accounts he never gives any clue as to whose accounts he is comparing or indeed when. The composition of the book is unclear, some parts seem more complete than others. Parts of the book were presumably being written or revised decades after the events and since he doesn't reveal his sources there are untold layers of interpretation between the pages. While with Herodotus I had more of a feeling that I knew where I was in terms of what source materials were going into the finished work (view spoiler)[ and the giant gold gathering ants are fun(hide spoiler)]. Thucydides does have some clear biases. He is fan of Pericles, he can live with Athenian democracy but doesn't seem to be enthusiastic about it, he doesn't like Cleon and while he lived among the Peloponnesians after his exile seems to find the Athenians a superior bunch in terms of their élan.Remarkably given his stress on accuracy and reliability he tells us that he makes up the speeches that he has people say (view spoiler)[With reference to the speeches in this history, some were delivered before the war began, others while it was going on; some I heard myself, others I got from various quarters; it was in all cases difficult to carry them word for word in one's memory, so my habit has been to make the speakers say what was in my opinion demanded of them by the various occasions, of course adhering as closely as possible to the general sense of what they really said (p.11)(hide spoiler)]. About mid way through I wondered if the speeches were a key, it was unhelpful to think of this a history, better to frame it in my imagination as a drama. In which case this is a tale about hubris. The pride of Athens that came before its fall.Thucydides tells a very familiar story of Machtpolitik. Athens through fighting off the Persians obtains an Empire. Sparta comes to fear Athenian power and is motivated by that to fight Athens. Pericles has a wise policy of avoiding battle but this is undone, first by his death but then by the ambition of reckless, feckless and self serving politicians (view spoiler)[ as I said two thousand plus years later virtually everything in Thucydides is deeply familiar (hide spoiler)](view spoiler)[ in Thucydidies' world there was in Pericles one of a unique type: thoughtful, farseeing and good looking in a helmet(hide spoiler)]. At the same time in speeches a reoccurring criticism of Athens is its arrogance. Given the opportunity, the subject parts of its empire will break away. Athens can compel the rebels to obedience, but only for as long as its politicians are able to respect the foundations of Athenian power. Some have read this as Thucydides believing that might is right and that a state should use power directly in pursuit of its own ends, simply taking what it wants. I'm not so sure, in the context of the history that isn't an approach that works out well for Athens (view spoiler)[ they lose the war(hide spoiler)]. Nor is Thucydides direct, the political attitudes are expressed in speeches (made up to reflect what he felt was demanded of the speaker at the time) and are typically paired - one person arguing for a position, the other arguing against it. This is a cleaned up, parred down, staged account of a decision making process played out in the theatre of public assemblies that runs counter to what he describes happening in book eight where we have political clubs (view spoiler)[in Crawley's expression, which sound a bit too Jacobin to my ears, I can imagine that Thucydides was referring to something quite different(hide spoiler)], rumour and discussion between small groups of people going on in the aftermath of Athenian defeat in Sicily and the seizure of power by a Junta in Athens itself.This is intriguing, there is a sense of purpose beyond a historical inquiry into the twenty-sevenish year war between Sparta, Athens, and their allies that is never quite spelled out but hangs elusive over the whole work. The influence is clear in Livy's The War with Hannibal there is the same assertion of the epic and unique scope of the conflict (view spoiler)[every war in recorded history now has to be bigger and even more important than the preceding on down to the Cod War which was the mightiest struggle of all time, waiting only for the emergence of its chronicler (hide spoiler)], the same use of paired speeches to stage a policy debate, the same use of a cart to block a gate to allow one side to gain entry to an enemy town - which made me wonder if Livy (or his sources) were reusing Thucydides or if Hannibal & co were themselves keen readers and took their tactical ideas from history or if some plans are just so basic that they are unwittingly repeated. Perhaps this is why the long siege of Syracuse gets so much attention in Livy - here victorious Rome clearly surpassed Athens.This was a very intimate conflict, when Athens lost in the region of five thousand of its citizens killed or captured in Sicily, this was about one in eight of its entire citizen population (view spoiler)[which is to say adult men born to Athenian parents (hide spoiler)]. It was fought at close quarters, the bitter rivalry between Thebes and Potidaea is between a town and a village a couple of miles apart but will eventually end in the execution of every man left to defend Potidaea after a lengthy siege (view spoiler)[ most of the population were evacuated taking refuge in Athens leaving a contingent of men to fight and a force of women to bake their bread. Eventually they surrender to the Spartans agreeing to be judged by them, the Spartans ask each man one question: "what service did you render Sparta during the siege" naturally given their answers each man is then put to death(hide spoiler)]. I was then a little taken aback by Thucydides treatment of the Corcyrean Revolution. For him this outbreak of inter-communal violence seemed particularly horrific yet from an outsiders perspective it just seemed to be the application of a similar degree of violence within a community as they were prepared to visit upon a neighbouring community: kill the men and sell the women and children into slavery - this was the time when Euripides' Trojan Women was first performed, the resonance must have been inescapable (view spoiler)[ he also writes that "Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them" (p170), while a general 'the world is going to hell in a hand basket' meditation it is also an observation that remains contemporary, as does much of his description of how the great powers move among smaller states and decision making is open to manipulation but also to the logic of events(hide spoiler)](view spoiler)[ during the war Aristophanes' play in which the women of Athens go on strike, refusing to have sex with their husbands until they do the sensible thing and make peace with the Spartans, was performed. Aristophanes proposes an act of solidarity to achieve political ends but often what we see in Thucydides is political atomisation, most intensely in book eight. People are isolated, alone with their feelings, fearful, but unable to find reassurance except through violence - or maybe I'm reading this too much in the spirit of Hobbes (hide spoiler)]Fear plays its part in the revolution in Corcyra too. Those who have power fear those who are excluded from it (view spoiler)[not only class struggle but apparently also generational struggle as here fathers fought sons, mothers and daughters at least were left out of it at first(hide spoiler)], masters fear their slaves, Sparta fears Athens. Yet this isn't entirely convincing. It doesn't make a lot of sense that Sparta's conduct of the war until the first truce is so limited and so doesn't seem particularly fear driven - invading Attica each summer (providing the omens were favourable and there were no earthquakes or festivals). This is another level at which Thucydides is intriguing, fear can be the general psychology background of a society yet the practical application of policy is capable of a range of nuance. One of the Spartan kings (they had two at any one time) Agis seems to be the key figure here. Through the speeches we get an illusion of being close to the mind of a character, yet the information that Thucydides does share with us holds us at arms length too, and much is obscure. Is there enough in Thucydides' description to imagine a power struggle between the king and the ephor - the senior magistrate who speaks in favour of immediate war with Athens, that is realised in Agis' conduct of the war? Is the debate expressed to show how politicians manoeuvre with human emotion to win personal advantage?Then again Thucydides is writing from hindsight. In his remarks on Pericles and poor decisions made after his death he refers to the eventual ending of the war (pp107-109), while at the time his fellow citizens did not enjoy quite the same advantage of perspective. My feeling was that Thucydides came close to blaming the citizens for being capable of being manipulated by others, but perhaps I was reading too much into him. If you are tempted to dip your toes in and test the waters of Thucydides I'd suggest starting with the Sicilian expedition. It comes relatively late in the war but is a good narrative block with swings of fortune and the sad picture of Nicias, the commander of the Athenians on the verge of battle with the Syracusians, appalled by the position of affairs, realising the greatness and the nearness of the danger...and thinking, as men are apt to think in great crises, that when all has been done they have still something to do, and when all has been said that they have not yet said enough, again called on the captains one by one, addressing each by his father's name and by his own... (p399)Also of interest two new books on Thucydides' history: spoiler)[ I was also struck by how Alcibiades but also before him Themistocles after exile from Athens gave advice to the enemies of Athens in total contrast to the kind of patriotism expressed in the Roman story of Coriolanus who turned against Rome until his mother told him off, but then I suppose the desire to avoid the behaviour of an Alcibiades might well be precisely why the Romans had the story of Coriolanus (hide spoiler)](view spoiler)[perhaps my memory serves me wrong but this seems to be a history in which women are silent appearing only to bake bread or be sold into slavery. The interesting thing about this is how this means that the family relationships between political figures (not to mention the brazen heterosexuality of Pericles) completely fall by the wayside. This includes Thucydides' own family background, which if as speculated did include a relationship with Thracian royalty would explain his own role in events better than his silence. It is another point of contrast with Herodotus in which the Queen of the Massagetae gets to have the last word with Cyrus the great (view spoiler)[ although admittedly she does have to have him decapitated first (hide spoiler)]. (hide spoiler)]The Edition and the TranslationI bought while I was still at school. Then I'd stop off on the way home and root about boar like in a second hand book shop and exchanged an entire one and a half UK pounds for this small, old, Everyman pocket sized edition. True to my on going austerity reading project (view spoiler)[ as inspired by the book Howards End Is on the Landing A Year of Reading from Home which true to my project I haven't read(hide spoiler)] I decided to finally read it all the way through.The edition uses the 1876 Richard Crawley translation (view spoiler)[ I assume that since then new manuscripts and fragments of manuscripts may well have been found in Egypt so more recent translations may be based on better editions of the text (hide spoiler)], perhaps stylish in its day but some of the word choice introduces its own distance between the original and the contemporary reader for instance his use of the term capital (ie in terms of finance rather than centre of government), heavy infantry for hoplite (which I was ok with until I remembered my paternal Grandfather served in a light infantry regiment), with 'first rate' and 'cruiser' used to describe the ships. The more you are familiar with the mid Victorian British military the clearer you'll find Crawley's account of the Peloponnesian war. The problem for me was that this introduces doubt as to what else is obscured through his word choice and AC's recommendation in a comment on one of my status updates is to go for the Rex Warner translation available in Penguin if, gentle reader, you are tempted to give Thucydides a go in English.

  • Alcyone
    2019-05-04 22:46

    Favorite quote:"The absence of romance in my history will, I fear, detract somewhat from its interest, but if it is judged worthy by those inquirers who desire an exact knowledge of the past as an aid to the understanding of the future, which in the course of human things must resemble if it does not reflect it, I shall be content.In fine I have written my work not as an essay with which to win the applause of the moment but as a possession for all time." -Thucydides

  • Chris
    2019-05-13 03:42

    I first read Thucydides in college, using Rex Warner's translation in the Penguin edition. As a frosh with little background in ancient history and political science, I didn't have the proper perspective to realize Th.'s critical place in western historiography and political thought. As a junior, I re-read Th., this time in a course on ancient historians. At that point, having had modest exposure to Hobbes, Machiavelli, Burke, Clausewitz and the like, I was better equipped to appreciate Th.'s method--particularly his analyses in the vein of what we'd call "realism" today. Last year I tackled Th. again, this time in Strassler's amazing Landmark edition, and I am grateful that it was available for my third go at probably the most difficult classical author I've run into. I won't go into details on Th. himself--I'm not a historian and anything I say expounding on how great he was, etc. will of course come off as amateurish and pointless. I will go into how much I admire the product of Strassler's labor of love (he's an unaffiliated scholar) in producing the Landmark edition. First of all, the translation is refreshingly readable and doesn't have the relative stuffiness of an early 20th-century Oxbridge rendering (which, er, I actually rather enjoy every now and then :-)). Second, the marginal timelines, the extensive but not suffocating footnotes, and maps (all carefully placed next to the relevant narrative) make it unnecessary for the reader to flip pages and lose the flow of the story. Furthermore, its appendices are a treasure trove of ancillary information: there is background information on the Athenian polis and imperial administration and the corresponding systems on the Peloponnesian side; discussions of the more technical aspects of ancient warfare; and pages on other topics such as the currency, religion and ethnic groups of the Greeks, each written by a specialist.In summary, I have nothing but good things to say about this edition--I only wish I'd been able to use it as an undergraduate. I also note that Strassler has just come out with a similar edition of Herodotus. Can't wait to check that one out...

  • Michael
    2019-05-02 02:41

    If you ever wanted to tackle Thucydides, this is the way to do it. It's beautifully laid out, with helpful maps and other material. The reading experience is profoundly moving, not really for the style but for the sheer weight of human folly on display. This should be required reading for politicians of all stripes.

  • Cleo
    2019-05-06 21:51

    Probably 4.5 stars due to Thucydides dry narrative but an awesome read. Political stupidity has not changed.

  • Jim
    2019-04-28 03:54

    What I love about the best ancient Greek literature is how startlingly modern it could be. This is particularly true of Euripides (whom I regard as a 21st century dramatist) and The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides. The accounts of the Corcycran revolution, the so-called Melian Dialogue (in which Athens shows itself to be somewhat less enlightened than reputed), and the utter disaster of the Sicilian Expedition can just as easily be taking place now in remote parts of the world.The Peloponnesian War even had its own Neocon in Alcibiades. He was largely responsible for Athens undertaking the Sicilian Expedition, only to be called back by the Athenian leadership for sacrilege. Thereupon, he made his escape at Thurii, went over to the Spartans, where he gave them excellent advice in combating the Athenians. Then, when the Spartans began to suspect him, he went over to Tissaphernes, the Persian Governor of Asia Minor. (Later still, he returned to Athens.)I recommend the Rex Warner translation but urge readers to have a copy of The Landmark Thucydides at hand for its numerous and excellent maps, if not for its somewhat archaic translation by Richard Crawley.

  • Darwin8u
    2019-05-02 23:47

    If you are going to read Thucydides, the Landmark version is the best place to start. I read this after I became a fan of Strassler's The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories. For me, there is not much better than Thucydides' speeches. "The Funeral Oration of Pericles", "Diodotus to the Athenian Ecclesia", "Demosthenes to his troops at Pylos" & "Nicias before the last sea fight" are all some of the most interesting, moving and inspiring speeches and harangues EVER written. Thucydides' HOPW (Landmark edition) is filled with enough maps, appendices, marginal notes and summaries that Strassler well-girds the modern student of the Peloponnesian war for the challenge that is Thucydides. Strassler (and his team) has updated and improved the Crawley translation (which is a gem). This book is a must for students of the classics, politics, history and war. Hell, even if you are just interested in a good story, Thucydides tells a good one. This is an amazing and beautiful piece of history.

  • umberto
    2019-05-14 23:43

    3.5 starsFinally I could finish reading this book after many intervals of being content with what I knew, I didn’t claim I enjoyed all of eight-book Thucydides’s account. Compared to the other history classic of similar stature, Herodotus’s “The Histories” translated by Aubrey de Selincourt, I think, is more enjoyable and impressive regarding the world as viewed by the Greek historian in the fifth century B.C. Contrastively in a smaller scale, Thucydides has ambitiously depicted the twenty-seven year conflicts between Athens and Sparta with innumerable sieges, commanders, strategies and so on till we simply can’t help getting confused, praying when each book would ever end.The reason why I decided to read it is that many years ago I read some excerpts of Pericles’ funeral oration somewhere and longed to read it in full. Definitely one of the greatest orators in history, he has since impressed posterity to the extent that few can surpass him as we read from his 7.5-page oration (nos. 35-46). It’s a bit lengthy, I think, for those who would read him for the first time; therefore, the following three extracts should suffice in the meantime.First, his opening statement:Many of those who have spoken here in the past have praised the institution of this speech at the close of our ceremony. It seemed to them a mark of honour to our soldiers who have fallen in war that a speech should be made over them. I do not agree. These men have shown themselves valiant in action, and it would be enough, I think, for their glories to be proclaimed in action, as you have just seen it done at this funeral organized by the state. Our belief in the courage and manliness of so many should not be hazarded on the goodness or badness of one man’s speech. … (p. 144)Then, in praise of those fallen soldiers:This, then, is the kind of city for which these men, who could not bear the thought of losing her, nobly fought and nobly died. It is only natural that every one of us who survive them should be willing to undergo hardships in her service. And it was for this reason that I have spoken at such length about our city, because I wanted to make it clear that for us there is more at stake than there is for others who lack our advantages; also I wanted my words of praise for the dead to be set in the bright light of evidence. And now the most important of these words has been spoken. I have sung the praise of our city; but it was the courage and gallantry of these men, and of people like them, which made her splendid. … (p. 148)Finally, in conclusion:… I have now, as the law demanded, said what I had to say. For the time being our offerings to the dead have been made, and for the future their children will be supported at the public expense by the city, until they come of age. This is the crown and prize which she offers, both to the dead and to their children, for the ordeals which they have faced. Where the rewards of valour are the greatest, there you will find also the best and bravest spirits among the people. And now, when you have mourned for your dear ones, you must depart. (p. 151)In brief, I think reading this book should inform and inspire its readers on the futility in terms of atrocities of war, being those ancient, medieval, premodern or modern ones till we wonder if there is really peace to all humankind and when.

  • Bettie☯
    2019-04-28 03:43

    BABT 'My work is not a piece of writing designed to meet the taste of an immediate public, but was done to last for ever,' ThucydidesAncient Greek historian Thucydides' spellbinding first-hand account chronicles the devastating 27-year-long war between Athens and Sparta during the 5th century BC. It was a life-and-death struggle that reshaped the face of ancient Greece and pitted Athenian democracy against brutal Spartan militarism.Thucydides himself was an Athenian aristocrat and general who went on to record what he saw as the greatest war of all time, applying a passion for accuracy and a contempt for myth admired by historians today. Looking at why nations go to war, what makes a great leader, and whether might can be better than right, he became the father of modern Realpolitik. His influence fed into the works of Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbs and the politics of the Cold War and beyond.Thucydides' masterful account of the end of Greece's Golden Age, depicts an age of revolution, sea battles, military alliances, plague and massacre, but also great bravery and some of the greatest political orations of all time.Today: With Spartan distrust of the rising power of Athens, is war inevitable?Abridger: Tom Holland is an award-winning novelist and historian, specialising in the classical and medieval periods. He is the author of 'Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic', which was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize, as well as 'Persian Fire', 'Millennium: The End of the World and the Forging of Christendom', 'In the Shadow of the Sword', as well as several novels. His latest non-fiction book, 'Dynasty', chronicling the Roman Emperors, will be published in 2015.He has adapted Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides and Virgil for the BBC. His translation of Herodotus was published in 2013. In 2007, he was the winner of the Classical Association prize, awarded to 'the individual who has done most to promote the study of the language, literature and civilisation of Ancient Greece and Rome'."Reader: David HorovitchProducer: Justine Willett.Machiavellian long before that book, and even earlier, by ~200 years, than 孫子兵法: The Art of War.1. War Begins2. From Funerals to Plague3. Spartan Surrender at Pylos4. An Athenian Atrocity5. The Beginning of the End

  • Joaco
    2019-05-11 00:38

    This book is impossible to review but I still wanted to give my opinion on this as I try to do with every outstanding book I come across. I mean impossible because this book is the cornerstone for different disciplines, mainly History and International Relations. This is no surprise as Thucydides was intending to provide a historic account of the greatest war of his time, the war between Sparta and Athens while not focusing on any superstitious beliefs. Being the first historian, he set about trying to understand this great powers struggle over control of the Greek world paying no attention to prophecies (unless it impacted the actions of the actors, as it usually did with Sparta).Having framed the book on its actual importance, I am left with my impressions. I had assumed the book was going to be a boring account of ship and hoplite numbers per battle as well as one or two mentions to Greek commanders. Obviously, I had completely underestimated Thucydides' skills as well as the great job the translators have done since its time of publication (I guess we owe Hobbes the bulk of it back on the 17th century). The book does have that, but it is so much more.Thucydides was an important Athenian figure during this conflict. He was a general while one of the greatest Spartan commanders -Brasidas- was fighting in Thrace and he lived some time on Sparta as well after being exiled by the Athenians. This allowed him to provide insight on the conflict while not being completely one sided. Additionally, his involvement in the everyday struggle the leaders had, allowed him to provide a unique account on human nature of his time. The book immerses you in this conflict in a way that I thought impossible to do. You will hear the speeches of the Athenian politicians; you will feel the disgust Thucydides had when writing about the demagogue Cleon, as well as Cleon exploits of his fame and good fortune against the Spartans on Sphacteria; you will smell the sea, sweat, and tears of the Athenians fighting for their survival on Syracuse; all this embedded on a page turning narrative where diplomacy, treason, political maneuvers, and personal traits of different leaders shaped the world.This is an excellent book that anyone interested in the ancient Hellenic world must read.

  • Kenny
    2019-04-22 20:48

    I need more stars! Thucydides is the man. In 1947, George Marshall "doubt[ed] seriously whether a man can think with full wisdom and with deep convictions regarding certain of the basic issues today" without having read this book. The parallels between the Cold War and the Peloponnesian War as T. describes it are certainly striking. My two favorite sections of this book are the civil war in Corcyra, which T. describes as representative of many civil wars going on in the Aegean at the time--and which he would not be at all surprised to learn was a pretty good description also of many 20th century internecine conflicts; and the siege of Plataea.The sociological insight of the Corcyra section is breathtaking, as T. describes the values of a society crumbling as its citizens adapt to the demands of a war with no fronts, in which every friend might secretly be an enemy and anything is justified in the name of the faction's cause.The siege of Plataea is, in T.'s telling, by turns exciting, inspirational, terrifying, and heart-rending. Both sides show great ingenuity in their attempts to outwit each other; there is a great escape story; and it ends with the battle of political, religious, patriotic and ethical motives as the Spartans must decide how to deal with their prisoners.I could go on and on. The point is, read it! The "Landmark" edition with the maps and stuff is the best one.

  • Phoenix2
    2019-04-29 02:45

    The Peloponnesian War is something that historicly interests me the most from the ancient greek history, so this book was something that I've read with ease. In addition the writing is quite understandable and easy to follow.

  • Roy Lotz
    2019-05-11 23:34

    It has been said that Earthling civilization, so far, has created ten thousand wars, but only three intelligent commentaries on war—the commentaries of Thucydides, of Julius Caesar and of Winston Niles Rutherfoord.—Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of TitanSome years ago, I waded through the Barnes & Noble edition of Herodotus’ Histories. It was one of the most painful reading experiences of my life. I blame 95% of this on the translator (G.C. Macaulay), who broke new ground in dry, prolix, knotty prose. The final result was to make Herodotus’ narrative—already full to the brim with digressions and asides—into a tangled mess that gave me a never-ending headache.However, Donald Lateiner’s introduction to that edition was so good that I was left wanting to read more of him. So when I found out that the B & N edition of Thucydides’ famous history also featured an introduction by that scholar, I picked up a copy. But the memory of the pain wrought by Herodotus still burned. It took a few years before I could bring myself to give Greek history another go. But I’m glad I did.In many ways, Thucydides is the polar opposite of Herodotus. Whereas the latter is relaxed and easygoing, Thucydides is forceful and dogmatic. Herodotus is more than willing to report an entertaining anecdote, to indulge in an aside, or to report multiple occurrences of the same event. Thucydides, by contrast, is always on topic, never indulgent. From the first few sentences, one is aware that he is cutting down and refining his material with ruthless precision. Every fact that makes it to the page has been culled from an ocean of information; every sentence has been written and re-written dozens of times.The merits of Thucydides are twofold. The most obvious is that he virtually invented modern history—concentrating on political and military developments, and keeping scrupulously to verifiable facts. The other is his rhetorical prowess. From what I’ve been told, his Greek prose was cutting-edge. There is only the faintest echo of this quality in Crawley’s translation (which I still liked, by the way). Nevertheless, the History is at times as gripping as any good novel. The speeches (however closely they adhered to actual fact) are without exception masterpieces—both of drama and of political analysis. The battles, the intrigues, the plots, the strategies, the movements of men and ships—all come alive in Thucydides’ terse, muscular writing.The Greeks were truly remarkable. In mathematics, Euclid was the standard textbook for over two millennia; in philosophy, Plato and Aristotle still cast their long shadows over the present-day; in literature, there are few authors whose influence can compare with Homer, Sophocles, or Aristophanes. And now we must add Thucydides to their ranks of geniuses. The man managed to set the stage for an entire field of enquiry, and do so with a book that remains both readable and relevant after over two thousand years. If America suffers the same fate as Athens, I at least hope we leave behind half as many great books

  • Dani Rose
    2019-04-22 19:54

    Not quite as fun to read as Herodotus' eccentric Histories, but still an important primary source. I could get through it quite well with my limited knowledge of Greek history and the Peloponnesian War, but I would recommend brushing up for context. Also the Jowlett translation from 1881 (which can be found on Perseus online) is the clearest and easiest to follow.

  • Clif Hostetler
    2019-04-28 22:33

    Thucydides sounds surprisingly modern for a writer who lived 2,400 years ago. He provides a record of over 21 years in strict chronological order and describes the interests of the two sides with more objective fairness than can be expected today from modern journalists (especially the TV kind). He mentions in the middle of the book that he spent 20 years away from Athens in exile, so that may explain why he can describe the non-Athenian view with such poignancy."I lived through the whole of it, being of an age to comprehend events, and giving my attention to them in order to know the exact truth about them. It was also my fate to be an exile from my country for twenty years after my command at Amphipolis, and being present with both parties, and more especially with the Peloponnesians by reason of my exile, I had leisure to observe affairs more closely."This book deserves honor and respect due to its antiquity, and the fact it has survived all those years. It was written about 400 BCE and the oldest surviving manuscript dates from 900 CE. That is 1300 years over which the equivalent of a 700 paged book needed to be hand copied at approximately 100 year intervals in order for it to still be available today.In addition to his strict adherence to chronology, Thucydides also includes dozens of speeches assigned to the principal figures engaged in the war. These include addresses given to troops by their generals before battles and numerous political speeches, both by Athenian and Spartan leaders, as well as debates between various parties. Of the speeches, the most famous is the funeral oration of Pericles. Thucydides undoubtedly heard some of these speeches himself while for others he relied on eyewitness accounts. Some of the speeches are probably fabricated according to his expectations of, as he puts it, "what was called for in each situation." While the inclusion of long first-person speeches is somewhat alien to modern ears it makes sense within the context of ancient Greek oral culture.The gods play no active role in Thucydides' work--very different from Herodotus. Instead, Thucydides regards history as being caused by the choices and actions of human beings. When referencing myth he clearly so indicates:”The earliest inhabitants spoken of in any part of the country are the Cyclopes and Laestrygones; but I cannot tell of what race they were, or from where they came or to where they went, and must leave my readers to what the poets have said of them and to what may be generally known concerning them.”Thucydides correlates, in his description of the 426 BC Maliakos Gulf tsunami, for the first time in the history of natural science, quakes and waves in terms of cause and effect:“The cause, in my opinion, of this phenomenon must be sought in the earthquake. At the point where its shock has been the most violent the sea is driven back, and suddenly recoiling with redoubled force, causes the inundation. Without an earthquake I do not see how such an accident could happen.”Another interesting reference to natural phenomena is his description of the volcanic action of Mt. Etna:”In the first days of this spring, the stream of fire issued from Etna, as on former occasions, and destroyed some land of the Catanians, who live upon Mount Etna, which is the largest mountain in Sicily. Fifty years, it is said, had elapsed since the last eruption, there having been three in all since the Hellenes have inhabited Sicily.”Another interesting quotation I found contains a hint of Thucydides' skepticism of divination and soothsayers:"... they gave orders as secretly as possible for all to be prepared to sail out from the camp at a given signal. All was at last ready, and they were on the point of sailing away when an eclipse of the moon, which was then at the full, took place. Most of the Athenians, deeply impressed by this occurrence, now urged the generals to wait; and Nicias, who was somewhat over-addicted to divination and practices of that kind, refused from that moment even to take the question of departure into consideration, until they had waited the thrice nine days prescribed by the soothsayers."As it turns out, the 27 day delay caused by the lunar eclipse probably resulted in the Athenians losing the battle, and consequently the war as well.Despite being an Athenian and a participant in the conflict, Thucydides is often regarded as having written a generally unbiased account of the conflict and all the sides involved in it. In the introduction to the piece he states, "My work is not a piece of writing designed to meet the taste of an immediate public, but was done to last forever." Some historians have challenged this assertion, but it appeared true to me.The book has an unsatisfactory ending. It suddenly ends in the 21st year of the 27 year long war. Historians are not certain as to why it ends there. One possibility is that he died. But there are some sources that suggest that he lived beyond the end of the war. He mentions in his own text that the war lasted 27 years. So answer me this! If he died before the end of the war, how did he know the length of time for the duration of the war? Maybe his pet dog ate the last 6 years. Or maybe he did things as I do, just never got around to finishing the job.I find it interesting to note what is not in the book. There is no mention of the two individuals who subsequently became the most famous Ancient Greek names of the era, Socrates and Plato. (There is one reference to "Socrates son of Antigenes," but that it is not the Socrates we know about from Plato.) Socrates and Plato were contemporaries of Thucydides, but they were mere civilians of little consequence--although Socrates did fight in the early parts of the war as a young man. The importance of Socrates and Plato only became evident with the later popularity of Plato's writing. It's interesting to note that writers of contemporary history don't always know what will be considered important to later readers--e.g. Josephus' making no mention of Jesus and writing one sentence about his followers.The only reason I listened to this book was because it was selected for discussion by the Great Books KC group. I listened to the LibriVox audio recording of the translation by Richard Crawley. Otherwise I would have never had the patience for it. A much more pleasant way to learn about the Peloponnesian War is the historical novel, Tides of War by Steven Pressfield. Link to my Review.

  • Caroline
    2019-05-18 23:57

    But none of these allowed either wealth with its prospect of future enjoyment to unnerve his spirit, or poverty with its hope of a day of freedom and riches to tempt him to shrink from danger. No, holding that vengeance upon their enemies was more to be desired than any personal blessings, and reckoning this to be the most glorious of hazards, they joyfully determined to accept the risk, to make sure of their vengeance and to let their wishes wait; and while committing to hope the uncertainty of final success, in the business before them they thought fit to act boldly and trust in themselves. Thus choosing to die resisting, rather than to live submitting, they fled only from dishonor, but met danger face to face, and after one brief moment, while at the summit of their fortune, left behind them not their fear, but their glory.From The funeral oration of Pericles, once read by generation upon generation of European and American schoolboys who went on to become leader of their nations. No longer. As one watches the two great nations of Athens and Sparta destroy themselves fighting each other, one wishes everyone still studied Thucydides before they voted on members of Congress, or voted as Congressmen about whether to engage in squabbles around the world. This is not to say the United States should retreat to 19th century isolationism, but that it should ask hard questions before deciding whether to act, and think ahead about how to follow up victories and defeats in foreign countries.Thucydides covers so vast a theater of war, with so many players, over twenty-six years (plus prologue) that it’s impossible to summarize it. Suffice it to say that the train-wreck spectacle is riveting, and his prose magisterial. I really wish I had read this decades ago. It makes one consider subsequent history in a whole new light. The speeches are stupendous for both eloquence and rhetoric, as you watch various populations be manipulated or ignore wise advice.Also, I need to note that I read the Landmark Thucydides edited by Robert B. Strassler. Accept no substitutes. The notes and maps are fabulous. Strassler understands that a reader is most likely going to tackle this over several weeks, and won’t retain all the details from day to day. So he inserts very repetitive maps on almost every page so that the information you need is right in front of your face. You don’t have to flip wildly back twenty or thirty pages trying to figure out where Miletus or Abydos is. The side margins are full of helpful paragraph numbering and dates, along with a summary of every paragraph’s content/action. A running banner across the top of each page gives date, location and topic. Notes at the bottom of each page link text names to map locations and remind the reader with references to past events. Several appendices in the back describe ground and naval military procedures, governments, religious beliefs, monetary values, dates, etc.Not a light undertaking, but well well worth the effort.

  • Karl H.
    2019-04-27 22:01

    The Peloponnesian War was, to say the least, a challenging read for me. Thucydides is writing about a war that happened thousands of years ago, in a completely different culture, in an area where I don't know the geography, between a bunch of states that no longer exist. Oh yes, and there is no unified dating system at the time either. It’s also clear from reading the Peloponnesian War that Thucydides was an aspiring general, not an aspiring poet. One review I encountered while searching for a different translation stated that Thucydides “uses a style that might lead a reader to think that he deliberately was putting his readers through some kind of torture.” Well, torture might be putting too fine a word on it, but Thucydides sure doesn’t pamper his readers. He throws a barrage of names, places and generals at you, assuming that his readers are going to know where, what and who he is talking about. If you aren’t a classics scholar, you might not know, for instance, that the Lacedaemonians that Thucydides goes on and on about are just another name for the Spartans. He also jumps around from place to place so he can cover everything chronologically, and this makes following the locations of all the battles and generals tricky. I recommend that anyone who tries reading Thucydides to get a good critical edition with lots of footnotes, maps and as readable a translation as you can find. Blanco was who I wound up with, but there might be better versions out there. Having not read Herodotus, I can’t properly say just how much of the historical discipline Thucydides invented. But I have read Homer, and I do think there’s an interesting comparison to be made there. Thucydides, after all, never mentions Herodotus directly, but he talks about Homer’s facts and figures at length. I think in many ways, Thucydides saw himself as embodying a factual, realistic vision of history in contrast to Homer (and presumably Herodotus, who wrote accounts of history down where the Gods showed up in battle). Homer was very poetic when he wrote that Helen’s was the “face that launched a thousand ships”, but Thycudides notes that for one Agamemnon being the leader of the alliance probably had more to do with it, and for two the number one thousand seems dreadfully inflated.In Homer, war is treated as kind of a crapshoot that comes down to emotional intensity, the favor of the Gods, and the justice of the cause. Greece is destined to win the Trojan War because the stealing of Helen was a violation of hospitality, so the majority of Gods decree it to be so. Achilles fights up to the walls of Troy because he’s super angry, not because he came up with some clever stratagem. Ajax might be kicking butt, but if suddenly Zeus comes down and says “Nope, not today” the Trojans are going to win. In Homer, it’s the favor of the Gods that makes all the difference. The course of events is determined by the gods. And in a fine tradition leading to the present day, people continue to feel that right makes might.Thucydides was probably the first to react to the notion that the side that was more just would be favored by the Gods and win. It’s pretty astonishing in that context to read the debate between Athens and the island of Melos which Athens plans to conquer. Melos complains that the invasion of Athens is unjust and that the gods will punish the Athenians. Athens responds “Yeah, it’s unjust. So what? Who cares about justice? The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must. Oh and by the way, the gods aren’t going to fly down and help you guys.” And then Athens steamrolls the colony, kills off all the men and sells the women into slavery. Every decision is made as part of a rational calculus of interests. This rational, realist approach is also reflected in how Thucydides describes battle. For him, it’s not primarily about the emotions of the combatants and the will of the Gods. It’s all about reason and strategy- who has the high ground, who outflanks who, who has retrofitted their ships to better fight in a harbor. The question of whether or not Thucydides actually is the 100% factual rational historian he presents himself as really only occurred to me near the end of the text. Were the Athenians really so cynically frank about their motives? After all, even the most bellicose dictators today at least come up with some meager justification for their actions, why not Athens? Why is it that Thycudides didn’t cite his sources when apparently Herodotus did? Are those long speeches actually verbatim (or near it) as Thycudides claims, or was Thycudides taking a bit of poetic license himself by amalgamating different thoughts, speeches and points that were made over the course of a debate? And though decisions are often made based on reason, its not like people are emotionless robots- some emotion and irrational behavior sneaks in there too.I admit that I found Thucydides tough going, and honestly, I don’t know if I learned a ton about the Peloponnesian War, but I wouldn’t say it was completely a waste of time. Reading it inspired a lot of thought, and showed me a bit about where some of our frames and ideas in political thought and history came from. Just don't expect any poetry.

  • Nate Huston
    2019-05-13 21:37

    Fine. I nerded out on this one too. I really liked it. Might I suggest, however, that it is exceedingly beneficial (it was to me, at least) to take a look at Donald Kagan's lectures on the same subject. You can view them or download them at Lectures 18-21.Anyhow, while the detail with which Thucydides recounts some of the battles can be tedious at times(though perhaps not to a military historian), the subject matter dealt with is timeless. Pericles's funeral oration is outstanding - it could have been given by an American General during the Civil War (in fact, our instructor pointed out the parallels between it and the Gettysburg Address which, though I hadn't made the direct connection, I realized I had envisioned as I read it). Diodotus's speech about justice versus interests paints a vivid picture of the difference between justice and interests and which ought to be pursued for the "good of the nation."

  • Pontus
    2019-05-15 01:45

    (Translator: Richard Crawley. Editor: Robert B. Strassler)

  • Steven Peterson
    2019-04-28 03:33

    This is one of the early classic "histories" written. Of course, Herodotus had written his "History" before. But his acceptance of the role of gods in history renders Thucydides' hard-headed accounts of the Greek internecine warfare a further advance in historiography. Thus, we begin to experience something like a real history in this volume (and that does not denigrate the real contributions of Herodotus). This is a nice volume. The Introduction by M. I. Finley sets the stage; the translation by Rex Warner is (as far as I can tell) serviceable. The work of Thucydides comes through in this collaboration. Thucydides' focus is on the origins of this bloody inter-Greek war. The forces of Athens (and her allies) against Sparta (and her allies) is the center of this work. He notes the cause (page 49): "What made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear which this caused in Sparta." This is, as noted earlier, a fairly hard-headed view of history. To use contemporary terms, the author was something like a "realist." Some major parts of the work. . . . One of these is the funeral oration by Pericles, the Athenian leader. He spoke of what made Athens special. His death, according to Thucydides, was harmful to the Athenian cause. He says (page 163): "For Pericles had said that Athens would be victorious if she bided her time and took care of the navy, if she avoided trying to add to the empire during the course of the war, and if she did nothing to risk the safety of the city itself. But his successors did the exact opposite. . . ." This work has much of interest in it. Just one example. The Melian dialogue featured a debate between the Melians and Athenians. The Melians argued that morality was on their side. The Athenians acknowledged the argument, but also noted that they had the numbers and the weapons. This is an early debate between two schools of thought in international relations--idealists versus realists. The hard-nosed attitude of the Athenians won out in this case. . . . In some ways, Thucydides is best understood by reading Herodotus and then comparing the two, so that one can get a sense of one of the first historians and then someone who adopts a different posture as historian. This is a very good version of Thucydides (from someone who cannot read Greek, by the way). Well worth looking at if a person is interested in the devastating Peloponnesian War.

  • Laura
    2019-04-20 01:51

    From BBC Radio 4 - Book at Bedtime:'My work is not a piece of writing designed to meet the taste of an immediate public, but was done to last for ever,' ThucydidesAncient Greek historian Thucydides' spellbinding first-hand account chronicles the devastating 27-year-long war between Athens and Sparta during the 5th century BC. It was a life-and-death struggle that reshaped the face of ancient Greece and pitted Athenian democracy against brutal Spartan militarism.Thucydides himself was an Athenian aristocrat and general who went on to record what he saw as the greatest war of all time, applying a passion for accuracy and a contempt for myth admired by historians today. Looking at why nations go to war, what makes a great leader, and whether might can be better than right, he became the father of modern Realpolitik. His influence fed into the works of Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbs and the politics of the Cold War and beyond.Thucydides' masterful account of the end of Greece's Golden Age, depicts an age of revolution, sea battles, military alliances, plague and massacre, but also great bravery and some of the greatest political orations of all time.Today: With Spartan distrust of the rising power of Athens, is war inevitable?1. War Begins2. From Funerals to Plague3. Spartan Surrender at Pylos4. An Athenian Atrocity5. The Beginning of the End

  • Christopher Backa
    2019-04-21 20:43

    The narrator could have been better but the book is interesting

  • Jack
    2019-05-02 21:31

    One on the reading bucket list down. A must for the ancient world. Sparta versus Athens. Post Thermopylae history is primarily known because of Thucydides. I am still amazed that this history made it to us over the centuries. I am very happy I picked this one up and finally finished it off.

  • Great Book Study
    2019-05-09 20:56


  • Nicholas Whyte
    2019-05-09 21:49

    This is a classic work of history, about the war between Athens and Sparta in the 430s and 420s BC. I'm not terribly interested in the war itself, or the geographical details (though I would have liked it if my Penguin edition had put useful maps in the text closer to the descriptions of events taking place on obscure islands); I hoped to find out from reading it the extent to which Thucydides' reputation as the first proper historian is justifiable.What I found was rather different to what I expected. This is not an academic history as we know such things, but a commentary on contemporary international relations, propagandistically crafted for a particular domestic interpretation in Athens, rather like most of the books you can find in shops on the War on Terror or the Cold War. Thucydides' use of rhetoric, his visibly partial citation of evidence and his dramatic reconstruction of conversations at which he was not present are all familiar tactics from today's literature. He would have been very much in his intellectual element as a crafter of drama-documentaries. I rate it as fascinating artistically - particularly the complex character of Alcibiades - but barely history.I blame Thucydides directly for the useless mess that is most academic research into international relations. In Thucydides' account (the Melian dialogue is the most obviously fictional passage, but there are many others) decisions about war and peace (and, later in the text, internal revolution) are made on the basis of perfect or near-perfect knowledge of the international and local situation, after mature reflection and rational debate of the alternatives. It's a lovely fairy-tale and it's not surprising that many people choose to believe it; I had not appreciated, however, that it went back so far. Irrational decisions are only made by the deranged, who are normally anonymous (eg the people of Corcyra in 3.84, or the Syracusans who mistreat the Athenian captives in 7.86-87).I know I'm not being fair; Thucydides is at the very beginning of recorded history, and it is amazing that a book written 2430 years ago is still lucidly intelligible (and interrogable) on its own terms. Pericles' funeral oration (2.34-46), in particular, whether by Pericles or Thucydides, is a brilliantly eloquent appeal to the emotions of those who have lost their loved ones in the service of their country, and is far ahead of anything else I have read on that subject in terms of literary quality. But I think his inability, for whatever reason, to examine the cultural context of his time, and to be honest about his own political situation, weakens the truth of the book.Apart from the general issue of the book's ideological purpose, there are a lot of interesting points of detail here. As a lapsed astronomer, my eye was caught by the three eclipses mentioned, especially the first, where we are told that "the sun took on the appearance of a crescent and some of the stars became visible before it returned to its normal shape" (1.28). I was a bit surprised about the stars becoming visible even though this was not a total eclipse. A little research, however, got me to Mercury being close to maximum elongation 25 degrees from the Sun, and Venus approaching superior conjunction and 15 degrees from the sun, and I suppose both would have been visible if the Sun was sufficiently dimmed.In 5.16 we read of accusations that "Pleistoanax... and his brother Aristocles had bribed the priestess at Delphi to give oracles to the Spartan delegations, commanding them to bring home from abroad the seed of the demigod son of Zeus". The what??? of who??? I checked the original: Διὸς υἱοῦ ἡμιθέου τὸ σπέρμα - ​what on earth can it be?Snerk in 4.84 about Brasidas, who "was not at all a bad speaker, for a Spartan."Anyway, very glad to have finally ploughed through this.

  • Jeremy
    2019-04-22 23:48

    Finally finished the whole thing. It's quite a piece, and I highly recommend the Landmark edition which comes with maps and tables that greatly aid in the enormous task of parsing all of these old places and names into a coherent military campaign. While I do admire Thucydides direct, strictly empirical style, there's so much less of the kooky local flavor here which made Herodotus so rich, as a result it can be slow and ponderous at times. That being said, the speeches and dialogues Thucydides imagines between historical figures are beautiful examples of classical rhetoric, Pericles' funeral oration being the exemplar. You can see how so much of the rhythm and style of political speakers even today traces back to ideas first expressed from this era. Heck, if you go through the funeral oration and replace the word Athens with America, you actually get a fairly accurate summation of our national ideals and foreign policy ambitions from the last 60 years. I'm normally quite dubious about drawing parallels between the ancient past and the present, especially after reading Vico, but I've go to say, some parts of this book made me almost queasy with how they mirror events within the past few decades in terms of our national priorities and ideas about our place in the world. If you want to see how politics and power can utterly debase a nation from a safe distance, this is your rag.

  • Erik Graff
    2019-05-07 04:01

    For over three years I was a history major at Grinnell College. In the junior year only one course requirement remained, historiography, a course taught by only one faculty member. That was fine by me until we got to Augustine's City of God which, at the time, I thought was absolutely crazy and unreadable (I've since read it). Having almost completed the requirements for a religion degree as well by then, I switched majors and graduated on schedule.Although Augustine was unsupportable, I very much enjoyed being made to read Thukydides' History as anyone would because of how his seems so modern and objective an account.What is interesting in this regard is how unique Thukydides is. To my knowledge, no other historian approaches what we regard as serious historical scholarship until the Enlightenment, until more than a thousand years later. Read Herodotos, Diodoros, Livy or Suetonius to see what I mean. Tell me if you can think of an exception. The only one who comes to mind is Caesar whose account of the Gallic Wars approaches history.

  • Stephy
    2019-05-06 00:59

    I learned that I already knew the stories. I found this abandoned at the Willie Street Food Co-op in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1985. I hadn't done unpacking yet, all the books were in boxes, I was desperate. I took it home. The introduction was boring and went on forever. I skipped most of it and got on to book one, where things immediately became interesting, as I recognized stories my father told us as children, when we went for long walks, or car rides together.Today, rereading it once again, thinking of my father's death when I was fifteen, and my sister, the one who just died, was twelve, I remember that he, born in 1899, had a classical education. He spoke Greek and Latin fluently from grammar school on, and was passing on to us the education he knew we would never get in the 1960s.These were the stories of HIS childhood, and re-reading what he considered his childhood favorites helps me feel closer to him, and to my sister, who also went through life reading and rereading these ancient books, in the direction she was pointed by a father she barely knew.

  • Gardner
    2019-04-30 01:42

    The first great history book. In addition, there are spectacular passages like the Melian Conference where the Athenian envoy states:For ourselves, we shall not trouble you with specious pretences- either of how we have a right to our empire because we overthrew the Mede, or are now attacking you because of wrong that you have done us- and make a long speech which would not be believed; and in return we hope that you, instead of thinking to influence us by saying that you did not join the Lacedaemonians, although their colonists, or that you have done us no wrong, will aim at what is feasible, holding in view the real sentiments of us both; since you know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they canand the weak suffer what they must.

  • Jon Norimann
    2019-05-12 01:36

    One criteria for saying a book is good is if its ahead of its time. Of all books in existence this may be the book most ahead of its time. Reading this detailed description of a war between the city states of Sparta and Athnes it is unbelievable it was written about 2500 years ago. A modern historian describing a current war given similar sources would not do much different. Additionally it is among the best primers on classic Greece, the foundation of modern society. History of the Peloponnesian War is a classic for good reason and a must read for anyone reading more than a handful books.