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I may not know how to tune the lyre or to handle the harp but I know how to take a small and unknown city and make it famous and great.

One of my greatest regrets, in an academic career that includes more than a few, is that we learned so little about Greece and Rome in school as we were growing up. By the time we got to Junior High and High School Latin and Greek were no longer even offered and none of our history classes spent much time on Ancient History. Then in college it was like a scene out of Donna Tartt's Secret History--the kids in such classes seemed to be in a secret cult, led by the professors and not open to we unwashed. Fortunately though, for those of us who consider ourselves bereft, several authors have been doing yeoman's work in recent years, presenting the history of these civilizations in eminently readable style. Among the best are the historian/political commentator Victor Davis Hanson, the novelist Steven Pressfield, and now Barry Strauss, a Cornell professor of history and classics.

Though not as celebrated as the land battle at Thermopylae, the sea Battle of Salamis (September, 480 B.C.) was, as Mr. Strauss argues, every bit as pivotal to the Greek success in staving off the Persians. If the subtitle of the book may overstate the case a bit, Salamis does nonetheless bear the comparison that Mr. Strauss makes to Gettysburg, as battles that while not decisive in themselves made more likely and easier the long term victories in the respective wars.

More though than just its historic importance, Mr, Strauss makes excellent use of its improbability and the novelistic twists and turns surrounding it. If it were fiction you'd think the teller of the tale embellished too much, but it's all real. In one episode, the Athenian commander, Themistocles, dispatched a lone slave, Sicinnus, to bring disinformation to the Persian King Xerxes, telling him that the Greeks were terrified and ready to flee, thus prompting the attack that Themistocles desired. Mr. Strauss, as is his wont, fully discusses the differing versions of and controversies over this story, but then says:
[T]he mission did take place. There is no reason to deny it except for its improbability, and that is a poor argument, since history is full of the improbable.
Indeed the whole war was rather improbable:
Persia had unrivaled wealth in money and manpower; unparalleled ability in engineering and logistics; superiority in both projectiles and cavalry; superb ships, harbors, and seafaring allies; and diplomatic and psychological capabilities of such sophistication that only a state able to muster the resources of the world's oldest civilization could have unleashed them. Greece had better infantry and better seamanship than Persia as well as far shorter supply lines and superior knowledge of the terrain.

It would have made sense for Persia to respond with the force multiplier of cunning and innovative tactics. A raid on Athen's unfortified harbor, for example, or a cavalry raid in central Greece that could destroy crops might bring friendly traitors to power in Athens. Persia could win the war at little cost.

Generations earlier, under Cyrus the Great, Persia had excelled at just such unconventional warfare. Now, however, it was deemed beneath the dignity of the King of Kings. The commanders of the world's greatest empire, who ruled from a ceremonial capital that sat on a 350-acre terrace at the royal city of Persepolis, like to think big. And so, Persia resorted to the least efficient and most expensive force multiplier: numbers.
You get a nice sense there for the lucidity of Mr. Strauss's prose and the way he mixes sharp analysis into a flowing narrative. Likewise, you can see why we've such a rooting interest in the Battle, not just because we're descendants of that great civilization but because of the fun inherent in watching a more nimble and thoughtful fighter take on a lumbering and seemingly invincible foe. It doesn't hurt that there's something flattering about seeing how much more effective the Greeks, with whom we share much, were than King Xerxes, whose tyrannical empire resembles somewhat the several we've fought ourselves.
The bulk of the book, of course, surrounds the battle at sea and here Mr. Strauss brings his personal knowledge--he took up rowing at 40--with an apparently voluminous reading of the sources to create for us as accurate and compelling a picture as we're ever likely to get of what went on. A cover blurb from Dava Sobel compares him to Patrick O'Brian and that high praise is warranted. It would be enough to be instructed about this important piece of our past, but Mr. Strauss turns history into a ripping adventure yarn as well. It is a fantastic book.


Grade: (A+)


See also:

Barry Strauss (3 books reviewed)
Barry Strauss Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Barry S. Strauss
    -BOOK SITE: The Spartacus War (Simon & Schuster)
    -PODCAST ARCHIVE: Barry Strauss (
    -ARTICLE ARCHIVE: Barry Strauss (
    -ARCHIVES: Barry Strauss, Visiting Fellow: Military History/Contemporary Conflict Working GroupMember (Hoover Institute)
    -ENTRY: Strauss, Barry S. (
    -FACULTY PAGE: Barry Stuart Strauss, Bryce and Edith M. Bowmar Professor in Humanistic Studies (Cornell University)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Barry Strauss (IMDB)
    -AUDIOBOOK: Barry Strauss The Death of Caesar The Story of History's Most Famous Assassination
    -Excerpt: from The Spartacus War: 3. The Praetors (NPR)
    -ESSAY: A Failed Rebel's Long Shadow (Barry Strauss, July 16, 2010, WSJ)
    -ESSAY: Cicero and Original Day of Infamy (Barry Strauss, Death of Caesar December 8, 2021)
    -ESSAY: The Unbelievable (Mostly) Untold Tale of Spartacus’s Wife (Barry Strauss, Apr 5, 2013, WSJ)
    -ESSAY: What’s So Useful About Studying Ancient History?: Americans are notoriously ignorant of history, even their own, and while there’s nothing new about this indifference, the consequences are profound. (Barry Strauss, May. 27, 2019, Daily Beast)
    -ESSAY: Why Ancient Rome Needed Immigrants to Become Powerful: The Caesars embraced newcomers, less out of idealism than out of self-interest. (BARRY STRAUSS, 4/03/19, History)
    -ESSAY: How Anti-Trade Nativism Wrecked the Ancient Greeks: Cleon was an Athenian demagogue, a shrewd operator known for violence and for getting things done. (Barry Strauss, May 22, 2016, WSJ)
    -ESSAY: The Ides of March: A Leadership Epic Fail: Lessons from Julius Caesar about what not to do when running a company. (Barry Strauss, March 15, 2016 , WSJ)
    -ESSAY: Things Shakespeare Got Wrong About the Ides of March (Barry Strauss, MARCH 15, 2015, History News Network)
    -ESSAY: American Sniper, American Iliad (Barry Strauss, February 21, 2015, Real Clear Politics)
    -ESSAY: The Classical Roots of ‘The Hunger Games’: The blockbuster film franchise reaches back to the myth of Theseus, ancient Greece and Rome, and the very foundations of Western culture (Barry Strauss, Nov. 13, 2014, WSJ)
    -ESSAY: Under the Banner of Women: History shows that love and war are not always opposites. (Barry Strauss, March 27, 2014, City Journal)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Present at the Revolution: The enduring legacy of Cato, inspiration to George Washington and many others (Barry Strauss, January 18, 2013, City Journal)
    -ESSAY: Reflections on the Citizen Soldier (Barry Strauss, Parameters)
    -EXCERPT: Prologue: Piraeus (Simon Says)
    -ESSAY: Go Tell The Spartans: At Thermopylae a king and three hundred of his soldiers set the standard for battle to the death against overwhelming odds. (Barry Strauss, MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History)
    -ESSAY: What, You Condemned Anti-Semitism?: How very one-sided! (Barry Strauss, 12/11/02, National Review)
    -ESSAY: Reflections on the citizen-soldier (Barry Strauss, Summer 2003, Parameters)
    -REVIEW: of Warrior Politics by Robert D. Kaplan (Barry Strauss, Arion)
    -ESSAY: The Fisherman: Catching Spartacus    -EXCERPT: from The Trojan War A New History (Barry Strauss, NPR)
    -BOOK REVIEW: How to wage war: On Leadership in War: Essential Lessons from Those Who Made History, by Andrew Roberts & Military Strategy: A Global History, by Jeremy Black (Barry Strauss, New Criterion)
    -ESSAY: Populism, II: Populares & populists: On the proto-populist movements of the Roman Republic. (Barry Strauss, October 2016, New Criterion)
    -BOOK REVIEW: Herodotus’s wheel: On Robert Strassler’s The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories (Barry Strauss, New Criterion)
    -ESSAY: The biggest loser: Why the failings of Demosthenes prove his historical importance. (Barry Strauss, March 2013, New Criterion)
    -BOOK REVIEW: A war without heroes: A review of A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War by Victor Davis Hanson (Barry Strauss, New Criterion)
    -BOOK REVIEW: Brutality & benevolence: A review of Ataturk: Lessons in Leadership From the Greatest General of the Ottoman Empire (World Generals Series) by Austin Bay (Barry Strauss, New Criterion)
    -ESSAY: Troy’s Night of the Horse: The Trojans got tricked, but did the Greeks need a wooden horse? (Barry Strauss, History Net)
    -ESSAY: The Greatest Ancient Leader (Barry Strauss, History Net)
    -ESSAY: Ancient Uprisings That Changed the World (Barry Strauss, History Net)
    -ESSAY: Battle of Thermopylae: Leonidas the Hero (Barry S. Strauss, Fall 2004, MHQ)
    -ESSAY: American Universities Must Stop Covering for the Chinese Communist Party (R. RICHARD GEDDES & BARRY STRAUSS, May 6, 2020, National Review)
    -ESSAY: MissionU and the University’s Mission (BARRY STUART STRAUSS, May 10, 2018, National Review)
    -BOOK REVIEW: of In Defense of a Liberal Education by Fareed Zakaria (Barry Strauss, American Interest)
    -BOOK REVIEW: Return of the Barbarians: Confronting Non-State Actors from Ancient Rome to the Present by Jakub J. Grygiel (Barry Strauss, American Interest)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Death of the Republic: The fall of Rome, as much as its rise, continues to rivet us. (Barry Strauss, Summer 2019, Claremont Review of Books)
    -VIDEO LECTURE: Lecture: Barry Strauss on Leadership: Historian Barry Strauss tells the story of three great soldier-statesmen of the ancient world—Alexander the Great, Hannibal, and Julius Caesar—and discusses what they can teach us today about ambition, leadership, strategy, and more. (Barry Strauss, Jun 24, 2013, The Getty)
    -VIDEO LECTURE: “Trustworthiness of Ancient Sources” - Barry Strauss (Barry Strauss, Feb 1, 2016, Hillsdale College)
    -VIDEO LECTURE: Spartacus: The Man and the Myth: Barry Strauss talks about his new book, The Spartacus War, the real story of the Hollywood hero and revolutionary icon. Strauss depicts a Spartacus with parallels of insurgency and counter-insurgency between then and president-day wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Barry Strauss, Mar 12, 2014, WGBHForum)
    -PODCAST: with Barry Strauss, Episode 97: What Have the Romans Ever Done For Us? (Jack Butler, April 9, 2019, The Remnant)
    -PODCAST: Episode 32: The Gallic War by Julius Caesar (HOSTED BY JOHN J. MILLER, April 24, 2018, Great Books)
    -PODCAST: Episode 011: Barry Strauss on “The Death of Caesar” (Historically Speaking, April 15 , 2015)
    -PODCAST: Episode 237: Ten Caesars by Barry Strauss (HOSTED BY JOHN J. MILLER, March 11, 2019, Great Books)
    -VIDEO LECTURE: Spartacus and the Great Books (Barry Strauss, March 4, 2010, Jefferson Center, UT Austin)
    -VIDEO LECTURE: Barry Straus - Ten Caesars: Roman Emperors from Augustus to Constantine: What can leaders from the Roman Empire teach us? And in what ways is the Roman Empire still alive and well today? In a Chats in the Stacks talk, Barry Strauss will discuss his new book Ten Caesars: Roman Emperors from Augustus to Constantine (Barry Strauss, Oct 22, 2019, Cornell University Library)
    -VIDEO LECTURE: Cornell history professor sheds new light on the death of Julius Caesar: Barry Strauss, Cornell's Bowmar Professor in Humanistic Studies and chair of the Department of History, talks about "The Death of Caesar: New Light on History's Most Famous Assassination" in this July 22, 2015 lecture sponsored by the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions. (Barry Strauss, Aug 25, 2015, Cornell University)
    -VIDEO LECTURE: : Applying Lessons from Ancients to Modern Business Culture (Barry Strauss, May 9, 2017, Talks at Google
    -VIDEO DISCUSSION: The Battle of Salamis: A Conversation with Prof. Barry Strauss: Renowned historian Prof. Barry Strauss joins HALC to commemorate the 2500th anniversary of the Battle of Salamis and discuss its importance in deciding the outcome of the Persian Wars, its legacy today, and his book The Battle of Salamis: The Naval Encounter that Saved Greece (The Hellenic American Leadership Council, Apr 24, 2020)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Strauss Offers Fresh Look at 'Trojan War' (NPR, September 21, 2006, Talk of the Nation)
    -INTERVIEW: The Spartacus War: An Interview with Barry Strauss (Donald A. Yerxa, June 2009, Historically Speaking)
    -INTERVIEW: 'Spartacus War': Story Of The Real-Life Gladiator (Neil Conan, February 02, 2010, WBUR)
    -INTERVIEW: Interview: Barry Strauss on Ten Caesars (James Blake Wiener, 15 March 2019, Ancient History Encyclopedia)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Salamis: The Battle That Saved Western Culture (Weekend Edition, July 18, 2004, NPR)
    -PROFILE: Cornell classicist and historian Barry Strauss studies that elusive thing called peace (Paul Cody, July 2, 1998, Cornell Chronicle)
    -INTERVIEW: Salamis: The Battle That Saved Western Culture: Book Details Decisive Clash Between Ancient Persians, Greeks (Brian NaylorJuly 18, 2004, Weekend Edition Sunday)
    -PROFILE: Strauss goes into battle with myths in 'The Spartacus War' (Daniel Aloi, May 20, 2009, Cornell Chronicle)
    -PROFILE: Barry Strauss brings ancient warfare to life in The Battle of Salamis (Franklin Crawford, 9/30/04, Cornell Chronicle)
    -PROFILE: Strauss navigates midlife waters with memoir on learning to scull at 40 (Franklin Crawford, 4/08/99, Cornell Chronicle)
    -PROFILE: Classicist and historian studies that elusive thing called peace (Paul Cody, 7/09/98, Cornell Chronicle)
    -PROFILE: Rowing against the current: Princeton fellow looks at middle-aged love affair with sport (Justin Feil, April 28, 1999, Princeton Packet)
    -INTERVIEW: Gladiator: A conversation with historian Barry Strauss, author of a new book on Spartacus. (INTERVIEW BY DONALD A. YERXA, Books & Culture)
    -ARCHIVES: Barry Strauss (Claremont Review of Books)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: Barry Strauss (Kirkus)
    -ARCHIVES: Barry Strauss (American Interest)
    -ARCHIVES: Barry Strauss (Jack Miller Center)
    -ARCHIVES: Barry Strauss (LA Review of Books)
    -ARCHIVES: "barry strauss" (National Review)
    -ARCHIVES: Barry Strauss (New Criterion)
    -ARCHIVES: "barry strauss" (History Net)
    -ARCHIVES: Barry Strauss (City Journal)
    -ARCHIVES: Barry Strauss (Ancient History Encylopedia)
    -ARCHIVES: Barry Strauss (Daily Beast)
    -VIDEO ARCHIVES: Barry Strauss (You Tube)
    -ARCHIVES: Barry Strauss (NPR)
    -REVIEW: of The Spartacus War by Barry Strauss (Tom Holland, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of Spartacus War (Mary Beard, Sunday Times uk)
    -REVIEW: of Spartacus War (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Spartacus War (Christopher Hirst, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Spartacus War (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Spartacus War (Valentina Arena, History Extra)
    -REVIEW: of Spartacus War (Bruce S. Thornton, New Criterion)
    -REVIEW: of Spartacus War (Adrienne Mayor, 5 Books)
    -REVIEW: of Spartacus War (John Wilson, Books & Culture)
    -REVIEW: of Spartacus War (John Stoehr, Creative Loafing)
    -REVIEW: of Spartacus War (Arthur M. Eckstein, Michigan War Studies Review)
    -REVIEW: of Spartacus War (A Trumpet of Sedition)
    -REVIEW: of Masters of Command: Alexander, Hannibal, Ceasar and the Genius of Leadership by Barry Strauss (Victor Davis Hanson, New Criterion)
    -REVIEW: of Masters of Commands (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Ten Caesars: Roman Emperors from Augustus to Constantine by Barry Strauss (Adrian Goldsworthy, New Criterion)
    -REVIEW: of Ten Caesars (Catharine Edwards, Times Literary Supplement)
    -REVIEW: of Ten Caesars (Catherine Nixey, NY Times book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Ten Caesars (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Ten Caesars (Jerry Lenaburg, NY Journal of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Ten Caesars (Steve Donoghue, CS Monitor)
    -REVIEW: of Ten Caesars (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Ten Caesars (Ryan Shinkel, Modern Age)
-REVIEW: of Rowing Against the Current by Barry Strauss (kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of The Trojan War: A New History by Barry S. Strauss (Thomas Zacharis, History Net)
    -REVIEW: of Trojan War (Johannes Haubold, International Journal of the Classical Tradition)
    -REVIEW: of Trojan War (Peter Jones, The Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Trojan War (Christoph Ulf, Michigan War Studies Review)
    -REVIEW: of Trojan War (Victor Davis Hanson, New Criterion)
    -REVIEW: of Trojan War (Ursus, UNRV History
    -REVIEW: of Trojan War (Writing Bros)
    -REVIEW: of Trojan War (Vicki J. Yiannias, Greek News)
    -REVIEW: of Trojan War (Ivy Panda)
    -REVIEW: of Rojan War (Charles, The Worthy House)
    -REVIEW: of Trojan War (Article Myriad)
    -REVIEW: of Trojan War (Adelaida Lower, Historical Novel Society)
    -REVIEW: of
-REVIEW: of Death of Caesar by Barry Strauss (James Romm, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Death of Caesar (Nick Owchar, LA Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Death of Caesar (Lev Grossman, TIME)
    -REVIEW: of Death of Caesar (Greg Woolf, WSJ)
    -REVIEW: of Death of Caesar (Roger Kimball, New Criterion)
    -REVIEW: of Death of Caesar (Scott Manning, Philadelphia Inquirer)
    -REVIEW: of Death of Caesar (Robin Levin, Death of Carthage)
    -REVIEW: of The Battle of Salamis. The Naval Encounter That Saved Greece -- and Western Civilization by Barry Strauss (John Lewis, Bryn Mawr Classical Review)
    -REVIEW: of Battle of Salamis (Tom Holland, TLS)
    -REVIEW: of Battle of Salamis (Steve Martinovich, Enter Stage Right)
    -REVIEW: of Battle of Salamis (Michael Kenney, Boston Globe)
    -REVIEW: of Battle of Salamis (Brother Edward Sheehy, Philadelphia Inquirer)
    -REVIEW: of Battle of Salamis (N.S. Gill,
    -REVIEW: of Battle of Salams (W.J. Rayment)
    -REVIEW: of Battles of Salamis (Rob Colburn, Row2k)
    -REVIEW: of The War that Made the Roman Empire: Antony, Cleopatra, and Octavian at Actium By Barry Strauss (Peggy Kurkowski, Washington Independent Review of Books)

Book-related and General Links:

-ESSAY: Freedom, Barbarism, and Triremes (Bernard J. Dobski, 9/30/20 , Law & Liberty)