Book Review: Alexander the Great – Philip Freeman [TSS]

Title: Alexander the Great
Author: Philip Freeman
ISBN: 9781416592808
Pages: 416
Release Date: January 4, 2011
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Non-Fiction, History, Biography
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary:

In this biography of Alexander the Great, Philip Freeman takes the legendary leader and shows readers the man underneath.  He illuminates Alexander’s prowess on the battlefield, helping readers see the genius behind the leader’s tactics. 

Review:

In Alexander the Great, Philip Freeman delivers a comprehensive biography of the man who conquered the known world.  Starting with Alexander’s father, King Philip of Macedonia, Freeman shows how Philip’s diplomatic and battlefield skills helped shape the young Alexander.  In particular, the development of the sarissa battlefield technique (in which troops hold very long spears and march together in tight formation) contributed significantly to Alexander’s conquest of Persia.  Freeman gives Philip his due credit moving onto Alexander himself.

Freeman portrays Alexander as a tactical genius with an unquenchable thirst for conquest.  Convinced he is descended from a god rather than his own father, Alexander seeks to outdo what Philip did.  Once he accomplishes that, though, it’s not enough for him.  And so begins Alexander’s march across Asia. 

Alexander wasn’t perfect, and Freeman doesn’t try to make him so.  For the most part, Alexander treated the people whose land he conquered well, but sometimes he had lapses in judgment.  Allowing his soldiers to rape and pillage Persepolis and then setting fire to Great King Darius’ palace are the most memorable instances of this.  Freeman tries to provide context for Alexander’s behavior whenever possible, but he doesn’t apologize for him.  As a result, the reader receives a balanced and unbiased account of Alexander the Great.

The biggest lapse in judgment Alexander made, though, was his continuing conquest, his inability to slake his thirst for more land.  He thought his army would march to the ends of the earth with him.  Considering how brilliant of a tactician he was, this inability to factor in the human element was a glaring oversight on Alexander’s part.

Much of Alexander the Great consists of descriptions of the battles Alexander undertook.  Never dry, Freeman succeeds at creating a sense of excitement and adventure around each and every one of these engagements.   The reader really gets a sense of just how brilliant Alexander was and why.  While he never condescends to the reader, Freeman explains clearly and concisely exactly how Alexander won each battle and why it was important.

Though Alexander the Great would have benefitted from a stronger overall narrative structure, it was an interesting and well-written biography.  I enjoyed learning about the legendary Alexander the Great; Freeman succeeded at putting a human face on this larger-than-life man.  I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in biographies or in the ancient world.

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