Alexander the Great is one of the most famous conquerors in history. But who was this king who brought down the Persian Empire at such a young age?
In his most recent book, Alexander the Great, classics professor and author Philip Freeman explores the ancient ruler, whom he calls “fascinating.” Freeman begins his tale with Alexander’s father, King Philip, and continues all the way through Alexander’s life and conquests to his death and legend.
Alexander the Great could be a boring book, fit only for history majors and Plutarch fans. Fortunately, Freeman set out to write “a biography of Alexander that is first and foremost a story”—and, in this, he succeeded. The book is not full of historical mumbo-jumbo that only scholars can understand and enjoy; rather, Freeman tells us about Alexander’s life like a novel—a remarkably interesting novel, to boot. Freeman brings the characters to life, making them seem real and relevant rather than people whose bones have long since faded to dust.
We learn in the book that Alexander’s yearning for conquest began at an early age, as he followed in the footsteps of his mighty father, who felled the city-states of Greece. Freeman relates events from Alexander’s youth, including his parents’ divorce and his annihilation of the famous warriors of the Theban Sacred Band. My personal favorite anecdote, however, is the story of his acquisition of Bucephalas, the horse who would follow him “to the ends of the earth” on his quest to dominate.
Freeman details Alexander’s conquests right up until the king’s death, concluding with the redistribution of his empire and the effect of his legacy. Along the way, he explores what drove Alexander’s passions and the battles and conquests that earned him the title “the great.”
The greatest victory of the book, however, is Freeman’s storytelling. This biography stands out from others written about Alexander thanks to its smooth flow and interesting narrative. It is, as Freeman hopes, a history book for those readers who are not already experts on Alexander or his world.
Alexander the Great is available now from Simon & Schuster at a list price of $30.