Monday, March 22, 2010

Great Captains of Antiquity

Despite the myth and legends built through the passage of ages that separate us the great captains were quite like us. In the same way that a modern president is at the end of the day just a person, so too was this true of the great captains of antiquity. It is our shared human nature which permits us to appreciate the great captains and doing so understand ourselves. The great captains shaped their times and in so doing shaped the modern world.
- Richard A. Gabriel

Thutmose III
Thutmose III : The Military Biography of Egypt's Greatest Warrior King
Richard A. Gabriel
This king is best remembered for military campaigns that led to the largest territorial expansion of Pharaonic Egypt. Gabriel, though not an Egyptologist, has consulted most of the recent scholarly literature on Thutmose III
as well as many published sources in translation. Thutmose III did not permit his military training and war experience to narrow his intellect, but retained his interest in scientific, religious, literary, and aesthetic concerns all his life. He discusses the strategic setting, the Battle of Megiddo, the campaign for the Lebanon coast, the Euphrates campaign, and the counterinsurgency campaign.

Leonidas and Themistocles
Persian Fire : The First World Empire and the Battle for the West

Tom Holland
In 480 B.C., Xerxes, the King of Persia, led an invasion of mainland Greece. Its success should have been a formality. For seventy years, victory—rapid, spectacular victory—had seemed the birthright of the Persian Empire. In the space of a single generation, they had swept across the Near East, shattering ancient kingdoms, stormin
g famous cities, putting together an empire which stretched from India to the shores of the Aegean. As a result of those conquests, Xerxes ruled as the most powerful man on the planet.

Yet somehow, astonishingly, against t
he largest expeditionary force ever assembled, the Greeks of the mainland managed to hold out. The Persians were turned back. Greece remained free. Had the Greeks been defeated in the epochal naval battle at Salamis, not only would the West have lost its first struggle for independence and survival, but it is unlikely that there would ever have been such an entity as the West at all. Tom Holland’s brilliant new book describes the very first “clash of Empires” between East and West.

Alexander the Great

Alexander : The Ambiguity of Greatness

Guy Maclean Rogers
For nearly two and a half millennia, Alexander the Great has loomed over history as a legend–and an enigma. Wounded repeatedly but always triumphant in battle, he conquered most of the known world, only to die mysteriously at the age of thirty-two. In his day he was revered as a god; in our day he has been reviled as a mass murderer, a tyrant as brutal as Stalin or Hitler.

Who was the man behind the mask of power? Why did Alexander embark on an unprecedented program of global domination? What accounted for his astonishing success on the battlefield? In this luminous new biography, the esteemed classical scholar and historian Guy MacLean Rog
ers sifts through thousands of years of history and myth to uncover the truth about this complex, ambiguous genius.

Ascending to the throne of Macedonia after the assassination of his father, King Philip II, Alexander discovered while barely out of his teens that he had an extraordinary talent and a boundless appetite for military conq
uest. A virtuoso of violence, he was gifted with an uncanny ability to visualize how a battle would unfold, coupled with devastating decisiveness in the field. Granicus, Issos, Gaugamela, Hydaspes–as the victories mounted, Alexander’s passion for conquest expanded from cities to countries to continents. When Persia, the greatest empire of his day, fell before him, he marched at once on India, intending to add it to his holdings.

As Rogers shows, Alexander’s military prowess only heightened his exuberant sexuality. Though his taste for multiple partners, both male and female, was tolerated, Alexander’s relatively enlightened treatment of women was nothing short of revolutionary. He outlawed rape, he placed intelligent women in positions of authority, and he chose his wives from among the peoples he conquered. Indeed, as Rogers argues, Alexander’s fascination with Persian culture, customs, and sexual practices may have led to his downfall, perhaps even to his death. Alexander emerges as a charismatic and surprisingly modern figure–neither a messiah nor a genocidal butcher but one of the most imaginative and daring military tacticians of all time. Balanced and authoritative, this brilliant portrait brings Alexander to life as a man, without diminishing the power of the legend.

Hannibal and Scipio Africanus
The Punic Wars : Rome, Carthage, and the Struggle for the Mediterranean

Nigel Bagnall

The Punic Wars triggered an era of astonishing human misfortune. Resulting from a mighty power struggle between the military confederation of Rome and the trading empire of Carthage between 264--241 B.C., 218--201 B.C., and 149--146 B.C., the wars were fought over a period of 118 years. Massive man-made devastation on both sides left Rome’s population radically depleted and Carthage razed and erased from the map.

Sir Nigel Bagnall brings his military experience and a modern professional eye to bear in analyzing
the Punic Wars here. He marshals classic military strategists such as Livy, Polybius, and Diodorus to plot the wars’ campaigns in Spain, Africa, Sicily, and the Peloponnese, and follows Hannibal’s daring but unsuccessful strike into the heart of Italy. But Bagnall goes beyond military strategy to discuss the force, structures, and politics of Rome and Carthage at their heights. And he contrasts their conduct of battle at strategic, operational, and tactical levels to show how they were governed by the same military principles used by nations today.

His thought-provoking final chapter relates these wars’ lessons to modern times in an impressive argument for adapting the experience of the past to the needs of the future. While the history of the Punic Wars dates back over 2000 years, Bagnall’s comprehensive account demonstrates that this ancient conflict is remarkable both for its scope and its contemporary relevance.

Julius Caesar
Caesar : Life of a Colossus

by Adrian Goldsworthy

As Adrian Goldsworthy writes in the introduction to this book, “in his fifty-six years, Caesar was at times many things, including a fugitive, prisoner, rising politician, army leader, legal advocate, rebel, dictator . . . as well as husband, father, lover and adulterer.” In this landmark biography, Goldsworthy examines all of these roles and places his subject firmly within the context of Roman society in the first century B.C.

Tracing the extraordinary trajectory of Caesar’s life from birth through assassination, Goldsworthy covers not only Caesar’s accomplishments as charismatic orator, conquering general, and powerful dictator but also lesser-known chapters during which he was high priest of an exotic cult, captive of pirates, seducer not only of Cleopatra but also of the wives of his two main political rivals, and rebel condemned by his own country. Ultimately, Goldsworthy realizes the full complexity of Caesar’s character and shows why his political and military leadership continues to resonate some two thousand years later.


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