Alexander the Great: Student of Aristotle, Descendant of Heroes
Tags: non-fiction Ancient Greece
Posted in Book Reviews on April 13, 2018
Kindly note: The publisher of this series provided a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
in60Learning is a new range of books designed to provide and overview of people and events of the past in an easily digestible format. With a total print length of around 40 pages, they are meant, as the publisher’s name implies, to be read in around 60 minutes. The publisher offered me my choice of books for review. I chose the Alexander biography since he is a character that continues to fascinate me. I’ve read a lot about him; much of it fictionalized, to be honest, but I thought I still knew enough to judge what the book offered.
With the goal of having a biography that can be read in an hour, the challenge is always what to cover, and what to leave out, and that was a big part of why I chose this book of the series: to see what choices were made. The book largely concentrates on Alexander’s rise to power and the campaign of conquest that took him all the way to India. It manages to do this in a way that isn’t just a dry cataloging of milestones. While it does offer a chronological overview, it also highlights specific activities which offer some insight into Alexander’s complex character, through accounts written in the centuries following Alexander’s death.
It’s not too surprising that very little is said about what happened to the empire Alexander built after he died, other than, essentially, it fell apart. You would think the Ptolemaic dynasty would have been worth a mention. A bit more curiously, the book doesn’t discuss any of Alexander’s personal relationship. Hephaestion, supposedly Alexander’s closest friend, and possible lover, is not mentioned at all. There’s also no mention of any of Alexander’s three marriages, even though one of his wives, Roxana, bore him a son, although he was born after Alexander’s death.
I can’t say as I learned anything new from reading this book, although one thing I did note is that the authors made a point of suggesting Alexander had a drinking problem. It makes a rather convincing argument, since many of the more heinous atrocities committed during Alexander’s campaign came after a night of heavy drinking. However, it’s a rather modern perspective to say he had a drinking “problem”. It’s easy to forget that safe drinking water is a fairly recent innovation. Up until well into the nineteenth century, the safest form of liquid to drink was usually something fermented. Indeed, it’s been suggested that Alexander’s death may have been due to drinking bad water. So, drinking alcohol was the norm of the time, even if it appears Alexander may not have been able to hold his drink.
These books are probably good for satisfying your curiosity about a subject, but they might not be in sufficient detail if you really needed to get to know a person or event in history. Given the range of subjects, the series might be a way to learn more about the past without investing too much time.
“Alexander the Great” is available from Amazon.