THE GENIUS OF ALEXANDER THE GREAT by N.G.L. Hammond

THE GENIUS OF ALEXANDER THE GREAT

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A solid if unsurprising introduction to history's greatest conqueror by an expert on his life and times. Famed for such works as A History of Greece to 322 b.c. (1959), Hammond (Greek/Bristol Univ.) has distilled a lifetime of Alexander studies into a brief summary for the general reader of what the Macedonian conqueror did and why. To keep it readable, Hammond includes no footnotes; an appendix refers the skeptical reader to the author's more detailed works. Beginning with Alexander's boyhood, the book recounts his amazing military feats in the Balkans, Asia, and Egypt, ending with his premature death of malaria at 32. The prose is dense and many of the facts familiar; even so, the tale's particulars can still inspire gasps of astonishment, as when Alexander successfully leads his army across the lethal desert of Gedrosia. The biographer openly admires his subject, lauding him not only as history's greatest general but as a charismatic and enlightened leader who aimed to foster prosperity and peace. This is never completely believable: Was Alexander really that perfect? Did contempt for other peoples and greed for their wealth play no role in the foundation of his empire? So satisfied is Hammond with Alexander's own conviction of having the gods' favor that he uncritically records stories of fulfilled omens that will be suspicious to anyone who doesn't believe in Zeus. Hammond states at the outset his disagreement with scholars who ``pick and choose'' among primary sources to support their ``disbelief in great men,'' but he seems all too ready to go to the opposite extreme, denying or rationalizing stories that present Alexander in an unflattering light. The book succeeds as a summary of facts but not as a convincing portrait; it sounds at times more like a boys' adventure yarn than a true intellectual adventure. (illustrations, not seen) (Book-of-the-Month Club/History Book Club selection)

Pub Date: March 10th, 1997
ISBN: 0-8078-2350-3
Page count: 220pp
Publisher: Univ. of North Carolina
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1997




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