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January 5, 2007

A War Like No Other

How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War
Victor Davis Hanson – 9780812969702

In classical literature/history this is the most studied war of all time . . . not least because it is the oldest and most famous in the ancient Western world. Thucydides and others amongst the ancients, and Strauss and others amongst the current, have reported in detail on the war and/or individual battles therein, but in this narrative Dr. Hanson undertakes the discussion in an altogether new fashion, integrating the war as fought on sea and land, city and countryside noting, chronologically, the relevance (or lack there of) of various battles within the war and their impact upon Greek civilization of the era.

He describes the civilization of the time, the logic behind and the manner in which battles were fought, the changing alliances within the adversarial camps. As well, he integrates the impact of various concomitant occurrences such as the plague epidemic early in the war, why it happened, and the carnage it wrought. A Gestaltist approach, you might say.

Pericles died of the plague, which certainly affected the war’s outcome. Most of the noble families of Athens were devastated by the war, a majority of them perishing in combat or of the plague, leaving Athens without a ruling coterie, and which resulted in the ultimate destruction of Athens while setting the stage for conquest of all of Greece by Alexander.

Adjusting for population at the time, he observes that a similar ration of deaths would require that 40 million Americans perish in WWII, including the majority of its leaders and prominent citizens. In this vein he comments how different war is now than at the time, conceptually and destructively. He contemporizes that war with current war making.

This is a monumental and unique work which lends itself to a more comprehensive understanding of the West’s first battle of all against all, and well worth a read. Whatever you have read about this conflict . . . is different.

Posted by respeto at January 5, 2007 3:24 PM