Alexander the Great: The Hunt for a New Past

By Paul Cartledge
Read by John Lee

9.50 Hours 08/01/2009 unabridged
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Paul Cartledge, one of the world’s foremost scholars of ancient Greece, illuminates the brief but iconic life of Alexander (356–323 BC), king of Macedon, conqueror of the Persian Empire, and founder of a new world order. Alexander’s legacy has had a major impact on military tacticians, scholars, statesmen, adventurers, authors, and filmmakers. Cartledge brilliantly evokes Alexander’s remarkable political and military accomplishments, cutting through the myths to show why he was such a great leader. He explores our endless fascination with Alexander and gives us insight into his charismatic leadership, his capacity for brutality, and his sophisticated grasp of international politics. Alexander the Great is an engaging portrait of a fascinating man and a welcome balance to the myths, legends, and skewed history that have obscured the real Alexander.

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Summary

Summary

Paul Cartledge, one of the world’s foremost scholars of ancient Greece, illuminates the brief but iconic life of Alexander (356–323 BC), king of Macedon, conqueror of the Persian Empire, and founder of a new world order. Alexander’s legacy has had a major impact on military tacticians, scholars, statesmen, adventurers, authors, and filmmakers.

Cartledge brilliantly evokes Alexander’s remarkable political and military accomplishments, cutting through the myths to show why he was such a great leader. He explores our endless fascination with Alexander and gives us insight into his charismatic leadership, his capacity for brutality, and his sophisticated grasp of international politics.

Alexander the Great is an engaging portrait of a fascinating man and a welcome balance to the myths, legends, and skewed history that have obscured the real Alexander.

Editorial Reviews

Editorial Reviews

“May be the most accessible introduction in print…An amazingly solid, balanced, and evocative view of the man.” Washington Post Book World
“Incisive and judicious…What Cartledge does so well is explain the ancient world of Greeks and Persians.” Sunday Seattle Times
“Readable and engrossing…Immediate, discursive, insightful, and highly engaging.” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
“With his usual riveting storytelling, Cartledge…narrates Alexander’s life and rise to power…Cartledge’s knack for bringing history to life makes for an absorbing new biography of the legendary Greek leader.” Publishers Weekly
“Reading with British ease and assurance, narrator John Lee examines how Alexander used a love of hunting and horses to develop cavalry, siege, and battle strategies that forever changed the course of warfare and civilization. A fascinating final chapter lists the endeavors of subsequent conquerors and kings who emulated Alexander. For this chapter Lee’s tone—which projects a kind of verbal wink—acknowledges that Alexander’s accomplishments were a near-impossible act to follow.” AudioFile
“Alexander’s legend endures, and with very good reason…A literate rendering of Alexander’s life, drawing on the most reliable ancient and modern sources.” Kirkus Reviews

Reviews

Reviews

by Downpour.com 9/13/2017

Your note about the issue with Chapter 11 has been reported. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.
by Downpour.com 9/13/2017

Thanks! We very much appreciate your thoughtful reviews and feedback. :)
by Bertie Wooster 9/13/2017
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Once again, your responsiveness--along with great prices. consistent sound quality and a constantly-changing array of deals--makes Downpour my favorite audiobook source. Thanks again. JJ
by Bertie Wooster 9/13/2017
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A Good Book but an Unsuccessful Hunt

Overall I liked this book very much, but the overall thumbs-up comes with some grave reservations.

Paul Cartledge’s overlapping analyses of Alexander in relation to the Macedonians, Greeks, Persians, legend and history is an immensely helpful approach, especially in audiobook form. Having the story repeated from different perspectives helped get the shape of Alexander’s life set in my mind.

On the other hand, fashionable academic terms like, “coded” and “privileged” in the preface gave me pause. Of course, these terms are just as “coded” as the cultural practices they are used to “deconstruct”. Cartledge’s take on Hamlet’s speculation that Alexander’s dust might now “stop a beer barrel” also smells of the faculty lounge. These lines are “a chauvinistic illustration of the fact that Alexander has featured in the national literature of some eighty countries”. Wow. And I thought they were just an apt musing on the inevitable physical end of even the greatest.

But then the story began and things got better. John Lee’s reading is superb, his only fault an inability to separate quotations from the author’s own words. But he delivers Cartledge’s sometimes challenging and always information-packed sentences with the proper cadence and emphasis.

Oddly, for a book dealing largely with military conquest, the maps in the print version were almost unnecessary. After absorbing the shape of Macedonia and the extent of Alexander’s conquests I rarely referred to them, even during Cartledge’s discussion of battles. As he says, we don’t know exactly how things unfolded at the Granicus or Gaugamela. In such circumstances, his well-wrought words were enough.

And they really are well wrought. Cartledge is a fine writer, a perceptive historian with occasional flashes of humor. It all makes for a pleasurable learning experience. And we learn a lot.

For example, just as the Roman Peace helped spread Christianity, Alexander’s conquests—especially his spread of Common Greek—was just as pivotal. Alexander’s “divinity” is put into context with the divinization of other classical figures. Paradoxically, the man who hired or inspired historians in his own lifetime to write of his exploits has come down to us an enigma. Cartledge’s is critical only when it is obvious Alexander acted from thoroughly bad motives—his bloody progress through India, for example. While not retailing the myth of Alexander as a world-unifying humanitarian, neither does he condemn him as a mere conqueror. A rational stance, given Alexander’s early death and our lack of any reliable indication of his future plans.

But a stance that makes his appeal in the last chapter “for all of us—of whatever religious persuasion, or none—to recover an Alexander who can symbolize peaceful, multi-ethnic coexistence” sound more than a little silly, implying as it does that this petulant, self-indulgent glory hound can replace Jesus Christ. Similarly, Cartledge loses his accustomed balance when approaching contemporary events, referring to “the so-called Iraq War” (?) and implying that the Western view of Islam as “the other” (more trendy academic-speak) is somehow completely our fault.

But then, most classicists I’ve read see Christianity as a regrettable incident in the rational, sunlit Greco-Roman world. Whether or not Cartledge shares this view, he shows a remarkable ignorance of Christianity when describing a mosaic of the Tree of Life in Otranto Cathedral:

“…’life’ being interpreted very liberally indeed, from the Christian point of view. For though it begins predictably enough with Adam and Eve from Genesis, it branches out fantastically thereafter to include not only the Jewish King Solomon but even the entirely non-Biblical and indeed pagan hero, Alexander the Great.”

Is Cartledge really that ignorant of Christianity’s consistently acknowledged debt to Judaism? As open-minded as is his appraisal of Alexander, Cartledge’s idea of the “Christian point of view” seems fantastically cramped. His admonition that “facts never come to us ‘straight’ but are wrapped up or molded in accordance with each individual writer’s preconceptions and aims” apply, of course, to his writing, too.

This great truth about truth appears in the Appendix. We’re told we’ve only understood it fully in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, an observation that made me understand two facts in a flash: 1) my author denies the possibility of arriving at any coherent truth and 2) therefore the “hunt” in the subtitle, which I expected to lead somewhere, must lead nowhere.

But even though it does, I have to say I enjoyed this book very much, with all my reservations and caveats.

Final note: the last 13 words of chapter 11 are missing. They merely segue into the next chapter, but it was a disconcerting.

Author

Author Bio: Paul Cartledge

Paul Cartledge has taught Greek history at Cambridge University since 1979 and is also a Fellow at Clare College. Widely acknowledged to be the world’s leading expert on the subject of Sparta and ancient Greece, he is the first A. G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture (2008) which focuses on the study of more than 1,000 years of Greek cultural achievements and highlights the lasting influence they continue to have on society today. In addition to having written and edited scores of articles and books, including The Spartans: An Epic History; and Thermopylae: The Battle that Changed the World, he is also academic consultant to the BBC and PBS for the series The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization.

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Details

Details

Available Formats : Digital Download, Digital Rental, CD, MP3 CD
Category: Nonfiction/Biography & Autobiography
Runtime: 9.50
Audience: Adult
Language: English