One of our most provocative military historians, Victor Davis Hanson has given us painstakingly researched and pathbreaking accounts of wars ranging from classical antiquity to the twenty-first century. Now he juxtaposes an ancient conflict with our most urgent modern concerns to create his most engrossing work to date, A War Like No Other.Over the course of a generation, the Hellenic city-states of Athens and Sparta fought a bloody conflict that resulted in the collapse of Athens and the end of its golden age. Thucydides wrote the standard history of the Peloponnesian War, which has given readers throughout the ages a vivid and authoritative narrative. But Hanson offers readers something new: a complete chronological account that reflects the political background of the time, the strategic thinking of the combatants, the misery of battle in multifaceted theaters, and important insight into how these events echo in the present.Hanson compellingly portrays the ways Athens and Sparta fought on land and sea, in city and countryside, and details their employment of the full scope of conventional and nonconventional tactics, from sieges to targeted assassinations, torture, and terrorism. He also assesses the crucial roles played by warriors such as Pericles and Lysander, artists, among them Aristophanes, and thinkers including Sophocles and Plato.Hanson’s perceptive analysis of events and personalities raises many thought-provoking questions: Were Athens and Sparta like America and Russia, two superpowers battling to the death? Is the Peloponnesian War echoed in the endless, frustrating conflicts of Vietnam, Northern Ireland, and the current Middle East? Or was it more like America’s own Civil War, a brutal rift that rent the fabric of a glorious society, or even this century’s “red state—blue state” schism between liberals and conservatives, a cultural war that manifestly controls military policies? Hanson daringly brings the facts to life and unearths the often surprising ways in which the past informs the present.Brilliantly researched, dynamically written, A War Like No Other is like no other history of this important war.
Published: Random House Publishing Group an imprint of Random House Publishing Group on Jun 27, 2005
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This work provides some difficulties in evaluating, mainly because it is somewhat difficult to figure out exactly what it is. It is not a narrative of the Peloponnesian War. Nor is it an examination of either the causes or long-term results of the War. It is not a piece of social commentary as these portions of the work are brief, shallow, generally worthless and easily ignored. More than anything, it is an effort by the author to provide the reader with something of a sense and feel for the War, as well as some discussion of how various aspects of warfare were conducted during this period.Rather than provide a chronology of the various battles and campaigns, Hanson divides his work into a discussion of various aspects of warfare, such as sieges, land battles, warfare at sea, etc. Each chapter then becomes a mix of narrative discussion of battles and how that aspect of battle changed over time, as well as a more detailed look at just how this aspect of warfare was conducted. The chapter headings provide fairly clear indications of what aspect of warfare is to be discussed.Once we break this work down to that level, it becomes easier to assess. Hanson writes well. His prose is lively and flowing and his style is nearly conversational. At times he wanders off in what seem to be tangents and quite frequently the chapter discussions seem not to clearly follow any discernable pattern. An excellent example of this somewhat erratic writing style comes in Chapter 6, Walls, which discusses siege warfare. He opens the chapter with a discussion of Platea and tells how a small number of Thebans advanced to the city in hopes of working their way inside to attack the democratic leaders in order to hand the city over to the larger force the following day. At this time the narrative breaks off as Hanson provides us with 5 paragraphs discussing Platea and how its strategic situation between Athens and Thebes - but far closer to Thebes, places the city in a precarious position. Then Hanson abruptly returns to his narrative discussing how events unfolded once the advance party entered the city.This is fairly consistent throughout this work - that Hanson will deviate from the flow of his discussion into what reads very like a tangent. Generally this occurs just long enough - 500-1000 words - for a reader to become disconnected from the prior discussion, at which point Hanson returns to it. This causes the work to often read as disorganized and can be confusing. More consistency would have been far better - in the case of Platea, discussing the strategic situation of the city to open the chapter, followed by an unbroken narrative, would have made this much more readable. However, once a reader has worked his or her way through these difficulties, the work contains some excellent information. The discussions on just how various aspects of warfare were conducted is very informative, particularly the contrasts showing how these tactics altered over time. Particularly telling is his discussion of how much more vicious warfare became characterized by a decrease in mercy shown to the defeated, an increase in massacres of civilians, etc. In particular, I felt the Chapter titled, "Ships," devoted to marine warfare, was particularly good. In each of these chapters a great deal of information is provided, not just on the overall usage of these aspects of war, but on the characteristics and skills of the individual hoplite, rower, etc. I do feel some value would have been added with some illustrations and more maps, however this is an excellent aspect of this work.This is not one of those works which I would call, "valuable for the casual reader and student of Greek History alike." On the contrary, it breaks little new ground and the somewhat disorganized presentation will likely be very frustrating for those with an in-depth knowledge of the Peloponnesian War. However for someone who is new to the subject I believe it would be quite good. Hanson writes with a lively and engaging style and his detailed descriptions are quite understandable. However even for the newcomer I wouldn't read it as a stand-alone volume. Find yourself a good narrative of the Wars, such as Kagan, get a copy of Thucydides and settle down for a very informative and enjoyable read.more