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Sterling Point Books: Alexander the Great (Sterling Point Books)
Sterling Point Books Alexander the Great - Sterling Point Books
Author: John Gunther
Some say he was the greatest warrior in history, building an empire that extended from Europe to Africa and on to India and Central Asia. In a stirring narrative, famed historian John Gunther tells the story of Alexander the Great who, at only age 21, became King of Macedonia and set off on a 12-year journey to conquer the known world and extend...  more »
ISBN-13: 9781402741395
ISBN-10: 1402741391
Publication Date: 4/1/2007
Pages: 176
Edition: Updated Ed
Reading Level: Young Adult
  • Currently 3.8/5 Stars.

3.8 stars, based on 3 ratings
Publisher: Sterling
Book Type: Paperback
Members Wishing: 0
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terez93 avatar reviewed Sterling Point Books: Alexander the Great (Sterling Point Books) on + 323 more book reviews
I've branched out somewhat from the Landmark book series to see what other juvenile history literature is out there. This one was originally published in 1953, but was revised in 2007. It's a capable introduction to the story of one of the greatest military figures of all time, Alexander the Great (á¼Î»Î­Î¾Î±Î½Î´ÏοÏ). There's certainly been some revision regarding his legacy in the past generation or so - it's now acknowledged that he didn't so much conquer as plunder. Initially, he may have attempted to set up his own rulers in the areas he subjugated, but that became much less common (and effective) as he continued to move east, more out of necessity, as he didn't have the manpower to maintain any tight control of the areas he moved through for long.

I don't want to get into too many of the details here - the book does at least a decent job of hitting the highlights of Alexander's brief but illustrious life in an accessible way to a general audience, but I did want to say something about sources, as mentions of source material are scant in this short volume. It features some of the most familiar details of what is known about Alexander, such as his early life, his contentious relations with his father, Philip II (ΦίλιÏÏÎ¿Ï Philippos - 382 BC â 21 Oct. 336 BC, whose name means "Lover of Horses") and mother, the ambitious Olympias, the episode of his taming Bucephalos as a boy (whose name means "ox-head" in Greek, either a reference to the horse's appearance or his fierceness or stubbornness), and a broad-strokes description of his campaigns and untimely death.

Most of the information we have about Alexander is wrought from much later authors, the most voluminous of which is Plutarch's (ΠλοÏÏαÏÏοÏ, Ploútarchos, ca.âAD 46 â aft. AD 119) "Life of Alexander," which wasn't written until centuries after Alexander's death. It receives several passing mentions in the book, but, as noted, some discussion of this source would certainly have been warranted. For example, Alexander's biography was included in Plutarch's "Parallel Lives," which paired a Greek figure and their supposed-Roman counterpart. That technique certainly "colored" the author's perspective, offering an opportunity for discussion, even among young readers. In addition, Plutarch was more concerned with men's character, making him more a moral philosopher than a historian. It is in this source that we find the oft-quoted (almost certainly fictive) statement by King Phillip, after his son's famous ride on Bucephalos, "My son, seek out a kingdom big enough for thy ambitions, as Macedon is too small for thee."

Another source was by Roman historian Quintus Curtius Rufus, probably of the 1st century AD. His only surviving work, is the "Historiae Alexandri Magni," or "Histories of Alexander the Great," but it is fragmentary. Other information is gleaned from the biographies of famous Persian figures, such as the works of Diodorus Siculus (ÎιÏδÏÏÎ¿Ï 1st century BC), another ancient Greek historian. He is known for writing a monumental universal history, the "Bibliotheca historica," in forty books, fifteen of which survive intact, between 60 and 30 BC. Another even later source is the "Anabasis of Alexander" (á¼Î»ÎµÎ¾Î¬Î½Î´ÏÎ¿Ï á¼Î½Î¬Î²Î±ÏιÏ), composed by Arrian of Nicomedia in the second century AD, most probably during the reign of the Roman emperor Hadrian. It is believed that his did draw from now-lost contemporary histories of Alexander's campaigns, written by his general Ptolemy, his confidant Aristobulus, and another of his officers, Nearchus, in addition to the lost writings of the historian Cleitarchus, all of whom were contemporary with Alexander and wrote in the mid- to late fourth century BC.

Although they don't offer much biographical information, some visual depictions of Alexander also survive, offering another dimension for discussion about how he was portrayed, but these likewise were mostly produced after his death. One surviving fresco, at the tomb of Philip II, survives, which is the only known depiction of Alexander made during his lifetime, the 330s BC. As noted, Alexander had coins and other works produced, but these are generally highly stylized, so their accuracy is often questioned.

I wanted to at least note, in addition: as frequently is the case in the ancient sources from which the material is drawn, the book serves as something of a moralizing tale, which still, regrettably, retains an "Orientalizing" sentiment, that is, the notion that Eastern affluence is associated with weakness, laziness and vice. Hated enemies even in Roman times, the Persians are frequently described in ancient sources as weak and effeminate (men's use of parasols to shade themselves from the burning sun seems to be a particular and frequent topic of ridicule and scorn). This serves as yet another literary trope commonly applied to "The Other" in ancient sources, and a word on how non-Greeks are portrayed by Greek and Roman authors would have also offered another opportunity for discussion and textual criticism.

I also wish there was more material regarding the numerous figures and locations mentioned throughout the book, as little information is offered about some of the most illustrious figures and famous places in the history of the ancient Mediterranean, such as Demosthenes, Diogenes, Pindar, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and even Homer and the great Epics, with which modern audiences have little familiarity. The book even calls them "household words and names today," which, TODAY, they aren't.

A word of caution: the book assumes a great deal of knowledge from readers, in fact, who are probably far less familiar with Classical figures and sites than previous generations would have been. I've met very few outside of my small circle who are familiar with the Oracle at Delphi (many may not even know what an "oracle" is), biblical figures such as the great Mesopotamian kings Hammurabi, the significance of sites such as Sumeria, Babylonia, Assyria; and Persian kings, Cyrus the Great, Darius, Xerxes, and others. I think it would have been time well spent to include some type of index that featured a paragraph or two about these various figures and places especially, with perhaps some brief history of significant locations and events (such as Thebes, some sites in Egypt and the Levant, and events such the Peloponnesian War). There is an index, but there is little or no other content.

Aside from that, however, I'm always in favor of books which address our ancient past, and this one, despite some flaws, makes the material accessible to new generations of readers.
boomerbooklover avatar reviewed Sterling Point Books: Alexander the Great (Sterling Point Books) on + 432 more book reviews
Good overview/children's book about the life of Alexander the Great.