A New Life
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Master of the Persian Empire at the age of 26, conqueror of Central Asia at 30, dead at 32.

Alexander’s legend endures, and with very good reason. Writes classicist/biographer Cartledge (Greek History/Chairman of Classics Faculty/Cambridge Univ.; The Spartans, 2003), he “became at various times a hero, a quasi-holy man, a Christian saint, a new Achilles, a philosopher, a scientist, and prophet, and a visionary.” But most importantly, he was a warrior. Alexander’s victories were by no means inevitable, Cartledge notes, and some came about because Alexander retained certain military innovations of his father, Philip of Macedon, who had conquered much of Greece only a few years before Alexander’s time. For instance, the men of the Macedonian army carried their own equipment and supplies, which reduced the size of the baggage train and “rendered distance a negligible factor,” allowing that army to range widely. Alexander added a great navy to this army after taking control of Philip’s forces upon his father’s death—a demise in which, Cartledge more than hints, Alexander may have played an important part: “The charge of patricide can never be proved,” he slyly writes, “but that it can be contemplated at all conveys a good notion of the edgy quality of life at the top of Macedonian society.” A devoted student of Aristotle’s, although he gave the so-called barbarians more credit than did his master, Alexander was the supreme pragmatist: here he allowed the conquered cities of Greece to keep their old democratic governments, there he butchered the satraps of Persia just as an object lesson, for Alexander “did more or less what he wanted” and understood the uses of terror. And what he wanted more than anything else, it appears, was to conquer the world, drink, and be treated like a god, all of which he accomplished before meeting his own end—perhaps, Cartledge notes, as a victim of poisoning.

A literate rendering of Alexander’s life, drawing on the most reliable ancient and modern sources. (See also Steven Pressfield’s The Virtues of War: A Novel of Alexander the Great)

Pub Date: Oct. 5th, 2004
ISBN: 1-58567-565-2
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Overlook
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2004


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