Pressfield continues with his top-quality historicals about classical antiquity.
The familiar Alexander story almost defies the need for yet another treatment, but Pressfield, deft and graceful as always in his historical authenticity, creates an Alexander so understandable, personable, and psychologically almost modern that, for the only very occasionally doubting reader, the pleasure of sitting back and letting the tale go by is as great as usual in the company of this author. The story opens in 326 b.c., near the end of Alexander’s conquests, as the Macedonian armies, in what’s now Pakistan, ponder how to cross the swollen river between them and what will be the Battle of the Hydaspes, Alexander’s last pitched battle. In eight years, the commander has come 11,250 miles; fought three monumental battles and countless lesser ones; conquered Egypt; and broken the ancient Persian empire: now, he wants only to push on in order to stand at “the Shore of Ocean and the Limits of the Earth.” His badly worn men, however, are less willing than they once were to serve this young military genius, and there are stirrings not only of malcontent but of a plot against Alexander, the latter quelled by executions. While waiting to cross the river, and to see whether the army will collapse or fight, Alexander (“I must unburden myself. I must reorder my thoughts. I must find an answer to the corps alienation”) tells his life story to young Itanes. There will be the early years in Macedon; the defeat of the Greeks at Chaeronea; then the expedition eastward as Alexander follows his glory-seeking “daimon.” The drama is high and personalities vivid, and only rarely does the veil of antiquity feel strained, as when lifelong friend Hephaestion concludes, “What we do is a crime, Alexander. In the end it is but butchery.”
Still, historical drama from Pressfield (Last of the Amazons, 2002, etc.) again ranks among the best and finest.