A Reader posted a review at 2007-09-22 06:21:40.
If you're a nut for ancient history, or if you were wondering about how close Frank Miller got with 300, this is the book for you. But it's not for the casual reader, so be warned. There's a lot of information that comes are you quickly, all leading you towards understanding more about the famous battle of Thermopylae and why it's still significant 2500 years later.
For those of you who don't know - Thermopylae is a narrow pass that runs north-south into Greece and any invader who feels like making headway pretty much has to pass through it. These days it's pretty broad, but in the time of the Spartans, it was only about 14 meters wide. And it was here that 300 Spartans and nearly 5,000 warriors from other Greek provinces held off the much larger forces of the invading King Xerxes. While the Greeks did eventually lose the battle, their bravery and self-sacrifice has resonated through history.
But how did this happen? Cartledge does a quick round-up of all the forces in play at the time, giving brief descriptions of Spartan society, the rise of the Persian Empire, and ever-fluctuating Greek politics. He paints a much more complex picture of the events than you get from films, mainly because Cartledge is an historian and Frank Miller is a storyteller. Two very different responsibilities. He then goes on to look at how the battle has been remembered, both in ancient and modern times.
It's a really neat book, and offers a lot more layers to a story that most people don't actually know much about. The Spartans were lovers of freedom, for example, but only their own. They weren't so concerned about the Helot slaves who made their warrior lifestyle possible. And Xerxes was not a totalitarian monster who held himself as a God among men. The Persian Empire was a heterogeneous one, and while not exactly the Land of the Free, it wasn't as horrible a place as it is presented to be.
History is a tricky beast, especially once Hollywood gets its hands on it. Enjoy.