The spotlight of history

Regular readers know that I read a lot of history. I like to think it helps my fiction, but it's always been a favorite form of reading for me.

I've recommended some fun reads in past months, and readers have appreciated those recommendations.  But not all periods of history, not even all significant periods, with big events and big effects, are popular as topics for books.  In Greek history, for example, you've got the Persian invasion, the Peloponnesian War, and the artistic production of the fifty years in Athens that lie in between those two periods.

I recently decided to learn Greek history more broadly, and picked up The Ancient Greeks, a critical history, by John V. A. Fine.  It is specifically a history of politics and events--he explicitly says he's not the one to go to for art, literation, philosophy, etc.  So that's a distinct lack. But if you want to get the entire picture--or as much of it as we have, this is a good way to get it. Just don't expect a quick, entertaining read.

And that "as much of it as we have" is key to Fine's method, as he tells the reader in the preface:

My aim has been not to produce a smoothly flowing narrative which can lull a reader into unthinking acceptance of the views presented, but to try to make him think. One should never forget that we, as our predecessors were, are constantly being misled because we accept too readily the views that have become sacrosanct through tradition. A history which does not constantly cause one to reflect on what he is reading and to be cognizant of the nature and ambiguities of the evidence is hardly performing the function that a historical work should

The book covers from the earliest days until the Macedonian conquest of the peninsula. You can see the Peloponnesian War as just one large event in a series of miserably endless wars that never resolved anything.

If you want to work on the foundations of you knowledge of the classical world, this is an excellent way to do it. If you want to kick back with some entertaining reading, not so much.