A Group Read – The Virtues of War

Title: The Virtues of War: A Novel of Alexander the Great
Author: Steven Pressfield
Read for: Ancient and Medieval Historical Fiction
Source: library
Rating: ★★★★☆
Review Summary: Immersive story which will draw you into Alexander’s era and into some very cool speculation on his personality, based on historical accounts.

The Virtues of War is the perfect mix of fact and fiction to make a good book. The author clearly did his research and uses accurate details to form a fascinating picture of life around 320BC.  However, as he states in the introduction, he’s also able to take liberties with the facts and put battles and speeches in the order which makes the best narrative. Best of all, the book is told as though Alexander is speaking to a nephew, leading to what I think are some of the major strengths of this book.

First, this book is barely fiction and reads a lot like narrative non-fiction.  Alexander the Great was pretty awesome and it’s a lot of fun to get some insight into his motivation and emotions. It’s even more fun because the author’s speculation on Alexander is backed up by sources from Alexander’s time. At least that impression is given and an internet search supports that view, although no bibliography was included.  The author also does a good job of integrating Alexander’s past with the current point in his campaign, which makes it feel as though Alexander himself is talking and seeing relations between earlier events in his life and his present.  Something about it just makes the narrative feel natural. Finally, the actual quotes are worked in nicely and outside sources never make the narrative choppy.

The only problems I had with the book all relate to the battles, starting with the exacting level of detail in which they’re described. This is neat, but sometimes over done (unit listings, for example) and sometimes hard to follow (battlefield maps would have helped a lot). The battle descriptions don’t spare on the gore either, so to steal Jessica at Quirky Bookworm‘s question, no, I would not recommend it to your grandmother. It was barely this side of being too much for me to enjoy. Fortunately, unlike the battles, the gore was a small part of the book and everything else was superbly done.

Who should read it? history buffs, fans of narrative non-fiction, my friend with a man-crush on Alexander the Great, not your grandmother


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