The Greeks, a global history: a book review

And so I reach the end of my non-resolution journey to finish my Christmas book pile, and what a great book I have to finish with. It has taken me a little longer than I predicted to finish them all, May rather than April, but I have thoroughly enjoyed working through the 16 books bought for me by family and friends last Christmas. From modern classics of literature to writing guides and finally a history of The Greeks by Roderick Beaton, it has been an eclectic journey. If you have been following along you will know not every book was to my liking, but I have enjoyed myself all the same.

With a large TBR pile awaiting me (which has grown during the last couple of months despite me promising myself it would not…) I am sure there will be more book reviews to come, but for now, the regular posting of reviews comes to an end. I hope you have found my thoughts on the books I have read useful, and maybe even picked up a copy of one or other of the books as a result. If you have stuck around through the journey thank you! I hope you will stay longer to see what other twaddle I can write in the coming months.

Before that, I need to give you my thoughts on the final book in the series, and resist the urge to make the joke about it being all Greek to me…

The Greeks: a global history

My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I have thought long and hard about whether to award The Greeks 5 stars. The book has its flaws, nothing it perfect after all, but I am not sure whether I see a 5 star review as saying something is perfect, rather m it is just better than everything else. I have decided I will give it 5 stars as I think it really is a brilliant work, and the (small) areas I would change are relatively minor.

Spanning the 3,500 year history of the Greek people (not just the nation known today as Greece), this book is a history impressive in both scope and detail. Familiar people and institutions such as Socrates or the Byzantine Empire are interspersed with large sections of history I had previously been ignorant of. If I had had any doubts of the impact of the Greeks to the modern world, they are long since banished.

Divided into 15 chapters typically covering 3-400 years of history (though some chapters are as short as fifty years), the book highlights expertly the changing face of what it means to be or speak Greek, while also interweaving common threads of history for the Greek people throughout. Whether your historical interest is in so called Ancient Greece, the founding of the Christian church or the rise and fall of great empires and nation building, there is something in The Greeks for you.

What I really liked

  1. Beaton’s writing style and narrative weaving is excellent, all the while he is able to litter the book with source materials and references, and making sure the book is neither dry nor boring. It has taken me a while to read The Greeks, solely because it is a hefty tome. In truth I have struggled to put it down!
  2. The division into chapters of roughly equal lengths of history worked well to demonstrate the constant and at times rapid change experienced by peoples we would call Greek.
  3. As I have said in previous reviews, I love a good map, and each chapter of this book starts with a useful overview of the area covered in the coming chapter. With a smorgasbord of islands and cities named through the book, it might have been hard to visualise where the narrative was without these maps to guide.
  4. Not the most important point, but the full colour images in the centre of the book are well chosen and compliment the text rather than distracting from it.

The less good bits

  1. I’m being really picky here, but I did feel at times like Beaton skipped through large chunks of history in very few lines (if at all). Clearly, when you are writing a 3,500 year history, you cannot include everything, but at times I would have liked a little more. As I said above, nothing is perfect…

Summary

The Greeks: a global history is a masterpiece, don’t think I need to say much more!

Who should read this book? Anyone with even a passing interest in history.

Have you read The Greeks or got it on the TBR pile? What did you think of the book? Did you enjoy the wide scope and breadth of the book? Am I being too harsh with my criticism above? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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