Pressfield produces an even greater spectacle—and, in its honest, incremental way, an even greater heart-tugger—than in
his acclaimed tale of the battle of Thermopylae, Gates of Fire (1999).
Jason, son of Alexicles, lived almost to 92, in the prime of that long life having fought for Athens and been close friend
to Socrates. When a grandson asks him whether, of all those he'd known in his life, there had been “one whom memory has
driven deepest,” Jason responds immediately: yes, Polemides, the man who assassinated Alcibiades. Thus unfolds the most
remarkable of tales, told partly in Jason's own words and partly in the words of the imprisoned and treason-charged soldier
Polemides as—over the same few days that Socrates waits to drink the hemlock—he tells Jason the story of the many
intertwinings of his own military life, during the “thrice nine years” of the Peloponnesian War, with the life of that bold,
brilliant, gifted, immeasurably ambitious leader, Alcibiades. The political complexities between Sparta and Athens, not to
mention the cultural competition between them, are handled with a clarity that enlightens and captivates the reader at once—as
Polemides becomes a mercy killer in the ghastly Great Plague in Athens early in the war; as Alcibiades all but single-handedly
launches the Athenian fleet in its attack on Sicily—only then, when he's recalled on charges of treason, to abandon the fleet (and
Polemides) to one of history's most ungodly, cruel, costly defeats; and as the same Alcibiades afterward piles up one glorious
naval victory after another in Asia and the Hellespont, returning to Athens in glory only later to be declared, through his
enemies' skilled manipulations of the demos, the greatest danger to her.
On every page are color, splendor, sorrow, the unforgiving details of battle, daily life, and of the fighter's lot. Unabashedly
brilliant, epic, intelligent, and moving.