Monday, 24 August 2015

Review: Ghost on the Throne, by James Romm

Ghost on the Throne is a history of the years immediately after the death of Alexander the Great, as the Diadochi (Successors) battled for mastery of the world. I have read a small amount on the subject, and was interested to see how this stacked up.

After Alexander passed on, it was as if the alpha wolf of a pack had died. But because he had so many secondary fellows, all of whom acknowledged they were his inferior but considered themselves equal to their fellows, suddenly there were a large number of would be alpha wolves looking to get as much power and influence as possible. No shrinking violets, the upper echelons of the Macedonian elite were (almost uniformly) personally brave, quick-witted, devious men hardened by decades of constant warfare. And the only man capable of reigning over them was gone.

There are ten chapters, each starting with an overview and then little sections of a few pages (sometimes less) focused on one individual or a small group in a given time and place. The approach is interesting, and effectively disentangles a fluid political and military situation that might otherwise become too complicated, enabling the various events to be kept track of more easily.

Whilst I was familiar with the general progression of events there was new information about the parts I knew (anecdotes about Antigonus losing his eye and trusting Demetrius), and a whole slew of completely fresh information regarding the situation in Athens (as well as bits and pieces elsewhere).

The level of detail was spot on. The progression of events was relayed in detail without getting bogged down in triviality, and the writing style was very easy to read without being dumbed down.

There’s a focus on the political (and personal psychology) rather than the military, which is partly because major battles and direct confrontation were relatively uncommon.

Another plus was the map at the start (there are a few others, and some illustrations/photographs, later on) which overlaid Alexander’s conquests onto a modern map of Europe/Asia/Africa. It really was bloody enormous.

So, down sides. Not many, to be honest. I would’ve liked the book to go on for longer, though it does end at a natural break point. The references to ‘old man Antipater’ do get over-used. There are notes, which was a surprise because there are no symbols/numbers to signify these and I stumbled across them at the back of the book when I’d finished it [I also much prefer footnotes to endnotes].

I would recommend this book to anyone after a history of the aftermath of Alexander’s death. I think it’s accessible for new history readers, but has a level of detail that would also satisfy people who already have some knowledge of the era.


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