Book Notes: "Tides of War" by Steven Pressfield

Tides Of WarTides Of War by Steven Pressfield

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pressfield is hard to fault in this historical fiction centred around the Athenian general Alcibiades. If I have any criticism, it is of the format, where one narrator is written entirely in italics for pages at a time, and the reader must be constantly on guard to remember which narrator is at work, and to plow through the italicised text without giving up in despair. I was fortunate to have read Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War before reading Tides of War, and this work fills in many gaps, particularly those glossed over by Thucydides. Whether this is a result of Thucydides' not completing the history to the bitter end, where Alcibiades plays a more prominent role, I am not sure. Nevertheless, Pressfield's research is evident, and while he admits that the work is historical fiction and he has exercised literary licence to make the story work, his approach, much like in Gates of Fire, is as clever as being independently wealthy. There are many themes, ideas, philosophies, and sentiments weaved in and throughout the story that force one to think about democracy then and as we experience it today. It is hard not to draw parallels of the end of the Athenian Empire with the end of the American Empire I would argue we are witnessing today. That said, Pressfield has not written a political commentary, but rather a story about individuals and their actions against a backdrop of social and political turmoil. The reader can only hope that Alcibiades was as great as he is depicted by Pressfield, and take solace in the extent of his foibles so that it might give lesser mortals a sense of hope despite their own inadequacies. Is this better than Gates of Fire? I think his earlier novel reads better, but the lessons to be gleaned from Tides of War seem less-clichéd than the done-to-death exploits of the 300 at Thermopylae, and for this, I think, this work deserves the gong. While George Bernard Shaw's masterpiece was, for him and me, Back to Methuselah, Pygmalion will always be the popular standout. I think it is the same with these two great novels of historical fiction, but you could do worse than to read anything written by this author.

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