Friday, July 25, 2014

Persian Fire by Tom Holland

Persian Fire by Tom Holland

This is a another history book. This time about the Persian Empire, the Greek cities states and the reoccurring conflicts between them. You may remember the Persian Empire as the bad guys from 300. Well Mr. Holland would like to introduce to them properly. In this book you'll read about the foundation of the Empire, the coming of Cyrus the Great who conquered not just 1, not just 2 but 3 empires to build the first great world empire of human history. A colossus that covered almost all the known world at the time, it crushed resistance and rebellion and it's ruling class believed they had a divine mission to bring all the world under rule.  A rule that would bring religious tolerance, local autonomy and really a rather light tax system... Huh We're not really dealing with the armies of Mordor here.

You also meet Darius the man who if he doesn't have the biggest pair of brass balls in history, should at least be in the conversation. This is the guy who kills Cyrus' son and with the blood still on his hands turns around and yells,

"I have saved the Empire! This isn't the son of Cyrus at all but an evil wizard who killed him and took his form to rule over us all as an evil tyrant!"

And makes it stick. You have to admire the sheer gall of the man here. There are other examples to, but I start listing them all this is going to go from being a book review to a essay on how awesome Darius is. We also get to look at how the Persian Empire is set up and run, the tribute system, the roads (actually a fairly good road systems that even the Romans would approve of) and the messenger service that is right up there with the Pony Express. Since I didn't know much about the Persian Empire this was a welcome thing.  You end up learning a bit about the Persians, their empire and their worldview.

We also talk about those unruly Greeks. We get a front side seat to the transformation of Athens (where the last tyrant is stabbed to death by a pair of angry young men because he tried to break up their romance... So he could sleep with one of them. And you thought Republican Gay Sex Scandals were interesting). The creation of the Spartan military state and a look what was necessary for the Spartans to go so far into batshit crazy land to do it.  Before anyone gets started, let me remind you Sparta was a state where the ruling body declared war on it's slaves every year so it could say it had a moral reason to send out teenage death squads to roam the hills killing anyone who was uppy.  We're talking about a system here that even the Confederates would say has maybe gone to far to keep people in bondage here.  We also get a sense of just how hard it was for all these Greeks to work together... Even has a giant Persian Army is storming Greece itself and burning down Athens.  We learn that the Greeks are debating, arguing and quarreling about what to do and that some of the leaders of this alliance had to go to really shady means to keep everyone together. The cast of characters is vast and interesting with plenty of blood, lies, honor, sex, war, terrorism and more to go around. This is one of those books for people who keep saying history is boring (that's a statement that honestly tells me the person doesn't actually know much history).

The only real problem here is some issues with moving from topic to topic, it gets a touch huh... jerky really. Also Holland tends to focus almost entirely on the elites of some of the societies, which I shouldn't blame him for as no one kept records of what your average peasant was doing.  Still it would be nice to get more of a sense of what the "99%" to use a modern term was up to at this time. 

Persian Fire gets a A- has it is not quite yet a masterpiece but still a really great book that everyone should be able to enjoy.  I hope to be able to review Tom Holland's other book the Rubicon sooner or later.

Next up is Shadow Ops: Control Point... Oh Boy.

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