Tag Archives: Richard Powell

The Magic of Words

Richard Powell (1908-1999) is one of my favorite authors. PowellHe grew up in Philadelphia, started as a newspaper reporter, then went into advertising, before becoming a popular novelist in the 1950s and 60s.  He also taught creative writing at Syracuse University.

Powell’s most famous novel was The Philadelphian.  In 1959 it was turned into a movie, “The Young Philadelphians,” starring Paul Newman.  My favorite was his last book, Whom the Gods Would Destroy (1970) about the Trojan War epic.  If you like ancient history, it’s a classic, not only for the story, but for Powell’s brilliant writing style.

PhiladelphianOver the years I’ve hunted down and read all 20 of Powell’s novels.  When I was teaching high school English I was delighted to learn that he also wrote several magazine articles for The Writer magazine. Reprinted below is my favorite among his articles.  It provides some nice advice for novices and pros alike…


The Magic of Words
Richard Powell
The Writer (October 1967)

Of course it will never come true, but I keep having this dream in which the President of the United States sends a message to Congress demanding civil rights for words.  In it, he points out how badly words are abused, and calls attention to the fact that our language is a national resource that is being mistreated even more than our rivers and air.  It is only a dream, however, and I do not look for the War on Poverty to be extended to the spoken and written word.

The trouble is that the poverty pockets in this case are too hard to get at, because they are not in city slums or Appalachia, but inside people’s heads.  People are willing to use their brains on many difficult problems—avoiding income taxes, beating the horses, sneaking an extra coffee break—but apparently most of them couldn’t care less about the problem of how to use words clearly and dramatically.  Among these people are scientists, educators, lawyers, government officials, doctors, businessmen and housewives.

Is it possible that there are also writers among them?  Yes, friends, there are writers among them.

Impact

Let us skip the problem of writers who do not know how to use words clearly.  Nobody can help them, and perhaps the published writers among them do not even want to be helped, because a murky style of writing may sometimes win critical acclaim.  Let us, instead, take up the problem of writers who use words clearly, but with no more impact than that of a wet dishrag dropped on the floor.  There are many such writers.  They may do a fine job of plotting and characterization, but they handle words like a cook ladling out alphabet soup: the first collection of letters that comes out of the pot goes into the dish.  Here is an example of alphabet-soup writing:

  • I got up this morning as happy as a lark and, as usual, ate breakfast like a horse.  I sat at my desk and worked like a mule all day and ended dog-tired.

I have given you a lot of information about my day, have I not?  I have also given it clearly.  But how many people would be interested in hearing about my zoological day?  I have used words that bored you stiff and were as dull as dishwater, including the expressions I used in this sentence.  I have used old, worn-out groupings of words.  I have used words in a lazy, thoughtless way, picking up expressions once new and shiny, but now so overworked that they have no power to hook reader attention.  The sad thing about this is that there is a magic in words when they are used with a touch of imagination.  What I should have done, if I wanted anybody to pay attention to a very ordinary collection of facts, was to call on the magic of words.  Perhaps I might have written:

  • When I got up this morning I felt like the bubbles in champagne, and breakfast tasted as if I were just coming off a diet.  I spent the day beating a typewriter ribbon to rags, and ended up as tired as the clichés I was trying not to use.

Now I have dressed my dull facts in bright clothes, and so people might pay attention, I have thrown out my collection of zoological clichés and developed some new expressions.  A cliché is an expression that, when it was new, sketched a vivid picture for people.  The first man who used the expression ‘dog-tired’ no doubt impressed his audience; they would have pictured how a dog looks when he is panting and his tongue hangs out and he flops down.  But, with use, the term dog-tired lost its force.  Nobody who reads or hears it for the tenth or hundredth or thousandth time gets a vivid picture from it.  It has become a cliché.  It is now merely a crutch for lame brains; it is a mental sleeping pill.  It is a way to avoid thinking.  There is no word magic in a cliché.

I don’t want to pretend that, when I developed some new expressions to replace the zoological clichés, I simply made a flourish and pulled them out of a hat.  In the first place, I wouldn’t pull them out of a hat, because that’s another cliché, perhaps invented soon after the first magician pulled the first rabbit out of the first hat.  New expressions do not come easily to me; my brain is lazy, too, and approaches the idea of work like a teenager asked to do the dishes.  But I have learned that if I play the harsh parent with my brain, it will go to work, even though grudgingly.  It took me an hour to work out those new expressions, and if I had spent two hours on them they would undoubtedly be better.  I don’t advise writers to spend an hour on every sentence they write, because they might never finish a story or article.  But, when you need to grab attention, you must spend time and thought on the job.

It is not difficult for a person of normal intelligence to write in a colorful and dramatic way.  One summer, several years ago, I taught a writing course at Syracuse University.  Included in the homework I assigned were some problems in colorful writing.  I explained to my students that one method of colorful writing is to describe Item A in terms of Item B: for example, describe a mountain as if it were a living creature.  (It could be an old lion crouched in the distance, or a vulture hovering over the valley.)  None of my students were professional writers, and none had previously known any tricks of colorful writing.  But, when given a method of doing it, they produced such examples as these:

  1. (Describe a young girl, at her first dance, in terms of another type of living thing.)  “Jane sat in the small gilt chair beside the dance floor, thin, angular, unmoving, eyes carefully blank, legs straight out before her like knobby stems.  She seemed as much a fixture as the potted palms.”
  2. (Describe a society matron in terms of another type of living things.)  Mrs. Cheyney was, he thought, like a faded rose, even to her hands with their thorns of fingernails.
  3. (And the same.)  “Mrs. Culpepper looked for her name in the society column, easer as a St. Bernard sniffing at a hydrant.”

 This is good writing.  It is professional.  Anybody who can do this on demand could have a successful career in some form of writing.  The trick of describing one thing in terms of another is much used by good writers.  Carl Sandburg wrote a complete poem by using this trick merely one time.  The poem contains six lines and twenty-one words, and has been reprinted in many anthologies of American poetry.  It is titled “The Fog,” and Sandburg describes the fog as if it were a cat.

Some years ago, in writing a story, I wanted to describe gulls flying, and I wrote of them in terms of ice skaters:  “Gulls figure-skating against the sky.”  This happens to stick in my memory because Reader’s Digest used my words on its “Picturesque Speech” page and paid me ten dollars, the first of many delightful checks from the magazine and Reader’s Digest Condensed Book Club.  While writing this article I wanted to see if I had exhausted the ways of describing gulls in terms of something else, and I came up with these descriptions:

  • The gulls went tobogganing down the snowy clouds.
  • The gulls did a waltz in the ballroom of the sky.
  • High up, a gull wheeled and curved, writing a message against the blue paper of the air.

This experiment seems to hint that there may be as many ways of describing gulls in flight as there are gulls.

Mood and atmosphere

When does a writer use such colorful expressions?  Always?  No.  That might be like a steady diet of fruitcake.  Colorful writing is used to create a needed effect – perhaps of mood or atmosphere or character – and when the effect has been achieved, it is a waste of time to do it over and over.  Nor should colorful writing be used merely to show off.  It must contribute to achieving the writer’s purpose in his piece of fiction or article or poem or speech or whatever.  I would not use colorful words to describe the ringing of a telephone, unless I needed to create a certain mood; if the mood had already been crated, I would simply say that the telephone rang, and then get on to more vital things.  But if the call was going to be important and I had to get the reader in the right mood for it, I might write:

  • I reached for the ringing telephone as if getting my first lesson in snake charming.
  • The telephone bell echoed in my head like a dentist’s drill.
  • The telephone bell made a little apologetic murmur.
  • The telephone jingled pleasantly, like an old hurdy-gurdy.

Each of these sentences contributes to the establishment of a different mood or atmosphere.  They could not be used interchangeably.

The same method, of course, can be used in describing people.  In my latest novel, Don Quixote, U.S.A., I wanted to describe my hero’s physical appearance, and at the same time create a mood and tell something of his character.  This called for colorful writing and for the expenditure of several hours of mental sweat to produce two sentences. As I say, these things do not come easily to me; getting them out of my head is often like trying to shake the last dime out of a piggy bank.  After four hours, I had these two sentences:

  • Mine is not the grim, strong face of the typical Goodpasture.  Such a face is spare and angular, as if welded from steel plowshares, whereas my features look as if they had been hastily whittled out of balsa wood.

In those two sentences, I provided a good deal of information about my hero’s physical appearance, the family from which he came, and his character.  I doubt that it would have been interesting to readers if I had merely written:  “All of my family have strong, grim faces, but mine is rather weak and nondescript.”

Another way to write colorful language is to exaggerate to achieve an effect.  It is not very striking merely to write that somebody is thin.  If you want to create a dramatic effect, use exaggeration.  Draw a word picture of how that person is.  For example:

  • She was so thin she could have taken a bath in a fountain pen.
  • He was so thin he could have lurked behind a needle.
  • He as so thin he could have crawled through a pencil sharpener… and with a pencil in his pocket, too.

Effective parts of speech

In trying to make magic with words, it is wise to beware of the adjective.  Nouns are good words to use in sentences.  They are like bones, providing the needed skeleton.  Verbs are good words.  They are the muscles, providing the action.  But adjectives are in most cases merely the clothing or ornaments of a sentence, and it is easy to overdress a sentence.  Let me quote the beginning of a famous speech, and count the adjectives in it:

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them,
The good is oft interred with their bones.
So let it be with Caesar.

How many adjectives in those opening lines of Mark Anthony’s speech?  Shakespeare didn’t use any.

So in trying to put magic into your words, don’t think that piling up adjectives will do the job.  One well-chosen adjective may be perfect, like a diamond ring on the hand of a pretty woman.  Too many adjectives may be like too many diamond rings; not only does the display seem crude, but also it may hide the fact that the woman has lovely fingers.

Words should be a source of never-ending mystery and delight to any writer.  All of us should be forever curious about how words were invented and evolved and what they used to mean and what they mean now.  Another term for a cliché is a hackneyed expression.  Think a moment about the word “hackneyed.”  Do you know how it originated?  Well, back in the days of horses and carriages, a horse that was kept for hire was called a hackney.  Such animals were overworked, and were often tired and slow and thin.  Somebody started applying the term to phrases that were also tired and slow and thin: hackneyed phrases.  When first used, the term was colorful and called up a picture in the reader’s mind.  But how good a picture does it evoke now?

Are you the sort of writer who can look up a word in the dictionary without ever being lured into looking up others?  Can you run across such words as “boycott” without digging out the sad tale of Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott?  Can you hear the term “halcyon days” without discovering the pleasant old Greek myth from which it come?  If you are not fascinated by words, I feel sorry for you, because you must find the use of them a dull and tiring job.  To make magic with words, a writer must know what they mean.  And, if he hopes to use words in a new and colorful way, he must be able to recognize the old drag ways in which they have been used.

Words are like Cinderella:  sad little drudges, wearing rags and dirtied by soot.  It is in the power of writers to play Fairy Godmother, and make those drudges into shining creatures.  Words can sing and dance, growl and roar, tiptoe and march.  They will do all these things for any writer who is willing to wave the magic wand of his imagination over them.

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Suggested Reading List

If you have a taste for ancient Greek history, you may want to give my list a look. I have thousands of books in my house, over 700 of them devoted to ancient Greek history, culture and literature.  Even if you’re already a fan of Greek literature, hopefully I am be able to point out a gem or two you’ve missed.

choice-classics

The Iliad and Odyssey of Homer

Not to be sacrilegious, but The Iliad was the Bible of its day. If you haven’t read any of the ancient Greek authors, start with Homer. He gives you the most authentic look at what life must have been like in ancient Greece. The writing is superb. Though there was probably no single man named Homer and these two epic poems probably contain the collective wisdom of a series of bards, the end result is Shakespearean in scope.

While the events of the Trojan War occurred around 1184 B.C., the story was part of an oral tradition for centuries that wasn’t written down until the invention of the Greek alphabet around 750 B.C. Plenty of time for traveling bards to insert characters and genealogies to butter up whoever was in their audience. Interestingly, Athens receives only brief mention in the form of a minor hero, Menesthius, which may be due to Athens not becoming a power till about 500 B.C., by which time The Iliad’s story and characters were solidified.

It helps to understand what an impact Homer’s epics had on Greek culture to know that when Alexander the Great was a young man, he carried The Iliad with him everywhere and even slept with a copy under his pillow at night. When Alexander landed in Asia the first place he visited was Troy, where he took the reputed ‘shield of Achilles’ from a temple and carried it with him throughout his campaigns.

Most high schools generally include The Odyssey in their 9th grade curriculum, though The Iliad is the better story. When I was doing my student teaching and inquired why they chose The Odyssey over The Iliad, I was told The Iliad is too violent, which is true. The Odyssey is about a journey, which has modern applications for students everywhere, which is understandable. Still, I managed to sneak in sections of The Iliad when I taught.

Though The Iliad describes warefare in graphic detail, with heads flying and bodies gutted by the spear, ultimately it is an anti-war story.  It’s main hero Achilles made the choice to go to Troy, live a short life, and win eternal fame, versus staying home and living a long life but dying in obscurity.  At the climax of the story, after Achilles has slain Troy’s most famous son, the family man Hector, in the scene where he gives Hector’s body to Hector’s father King Priam, Achilles has his ephipany that now that he has won his fame, he too will die.  Though most people miss it, I tend to think Homer’s point is that Achilles chose wrongly.  What good is fame when you’re dead?  If Achilles had stayed at home, he would have lived a long happy life, instead of dying horribly, killed most likely by a poisoned arrow that hit him in his famous heel,

The big question for readers today is which translation of Homer to read. There are almost as many translations as there are characters in the poem. When I was young I read Richard Lattimore’s version and like a lot of people tend to think it’s the best. It’s not easy reading, but it is considered the closest to the ancient Greek style and meaning. More recently Princeton professor Robert Fagles came out with a more modern version that many people prefer. In the 18th century Alexander Pope wrote a version that rhymes the entire poem. I find it rather remarkable, though others find it ridiculous. There are also a number of prose versions written by Samuel Butler, E.V. Rieu and W.H.D. Rouse. All are good. Poet Robert Fitzgerald did a translation in the 1960’s, that while not as faithful to the ancient Greek as Lattimore’s, is considered an excellent literal translation.

Not long ago The New Yorker printed a nice article on the different Homeric translations, Englishing the Iliad: Grading Four Rival Translations.

The Aeneid
of Virgil

As a teenager, after reading The Iliad and The Odyssey I was overjoyed to learn that a Roman poet named Virgil had continued the story in his Aeneid. The story mimics Homer’s epics with battle scenes similar to what is found in The Iliad and it follows the wandering of the Trojan Prince Aeneas across the Mediterranean similar to Odysseus adventures in The Odyssey. Aeneas even runs across one of Odysseus’ crew members that was left stranded on the island of the cyclops and rescues him. In the end Aeneas finds his way to Italy where he founds Rome. Traditionally The Aeneid was written by Virgil to connect the Roman Emperor Augustus with the heroes of Greek myth found in Homer’s work. Heroes like Aeneas were descended from the gods, in Aeneas’ case Aphrodite, which helped solidify the Emperor’s claims to divine origins.

The Histories by Herodotus

Herodotus (484-425 B.C.) is considered the ‘father of history,’ as he was supposedly the first to chronicle a historical event, in this case the Persian War. My bet is that others wrote histories before Herodotus, his is just the only one to survive. The Histories covers a lot of ground, from the foundation of the Persian Empire by Cyrus the Great (557-530 B.C.) to his successors conquest of Egypt, Asia Minor (Turkey), Scythia (Bulgaria) and their eventual conflict with the Greeks (490-479 B.C.). Herodotus may have been the first person to travel far and wide to interview people for his history. In a way, he was recording events from the memories of the Persian War veterans similar to the way Ken Burns interviewed World War II vets for his documentary film, The War. Unfortunately, a lot of what Herodotus records is tainted by superstition, folklore and petty political rivalries, which makes some of his facts suspect. The most famous example is his claim that Xerxes’ Persian army numbered one million men. Modern historians claim it would have been impossible to feed that size army, and it’s more likely that to the Greeks the Persian army was so large, that they used a number like a million to estimate its size. Historians reckon it was probably closer to 250,000 men.

There are a lot of good translations of The Histories out there. The new The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories is excellent as it includes maps on nearly page, plus is accompanied by a great deal of worthwhile commentary.

The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides

While Herodotus has been dubbed the ‘father of history,’ Thucydides (460-395 B.C.) is known as the ‘father of scientific history.’ His History of the Peloponnesian War covers the war between Sparta and Athens (431-404 B.C.) and as Thucydides was an Athenian general during the war, is much more factual than Herodotus’ work. Though Herodotus has a lot of good stories to tell in his work, such as the stand of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae, Thucydides’ work is better written. He does not glorify war or moralize events, instead he records the facts, which make quite clear just how horrifying war must have been in the ancient world. Thucydides died before finishing the book, so it does not cover the last seven years of the war. Readers interested in finding out what happened turn to Xenophon’s Hellenica.  Like Thucydides, Xenophon was a general during the Peloponnesian War, he’s just not as good a writer as Thucydides.

Description of Greece by Pausanias

Pausanias was a Greek traveller and geographer living in the 2nd century A.D.  His Descriptions of Greece gives firsthand observations of the art and architecture in ten Greek cities, including Athens, Sparta and Corinth.  He not only describes what he sees, but provides the myths and legends that produced the buildings, statues and monuments.  Though Pausanias lived several hundred years after the period I am writing about, his work provided inestimable assistance in helping me describe the cities and the landscapes in my book, The Wandering King.  Want to take a walk through ancient Greece?  Check out Pausanias.

The Tragedies of Aeschylus

One of the things that saddens me about Greek literature is knowing that most of what was written during the Classical Age has been lost. Only a fraction of what was written has survived.  Much of it was destroyed when the Library of Alexandria in Egypt was accidently burned down in 48 B.C. by none other than Julius Caesar.

For instance, of the ninety plays written by the Athenian playwright Aeschylus’s (525– 455 B.C.) only seven survive. One of his plays, The Persians, is unique in that it was based on his personal experience in the Persian War at the Battle of Salamis.

The Tragedies of Euripides

Of Euripides’ (480-406 B.C.) ninety-five plays, eighteen survive. Of them, my favorite is The Trojan Women, which was produced into a movie in 1971 starring Katherine Hepburn and Vanessa Redgrave. It deals with the fall of Troy from the perspective of the captured Trojan women, who were once royalty and are now slaves. It is possibly one of the best anti-war plays of all time.

The Tragedies of Sophocles

Seven of Sophocles’ (496-405 B.C.) 123 plays survive. His most famous work is the story of Oedipus the King, though my favorite is his story about Oedipus’ daughter Antigone. She is a wonderfully heroic figure who fights the ‘establishment’ to do what she believes is right and of course, dies for her efforts.  Sophocles was the most successful playwright of his time, winning the dramatic competition at Athens 24 times, compared to 14 wins for Aeschylus and 4 for Euripides.

The Comedies of Aristophanes

The best known comic playwright of the classical age was Aristophanes (446-386 B.C.). My favorite among his plays is Lysistrata, the plot of which is truly remarkable and still reads well today.  The (fictional) story describes how the women of Athens and Sparta conspire together to end the Peloponnesian War by refusing to have sex with their husbands!  Eleven of Aristophanes’ forty plays survive.

historical fiction

Whom the Gods Would Destroy by Richard Powell
Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1970

This is my favorite historical novel of all time. In the 1950’s, Richard Powell won acclaim as the author of The Philadelphian, which was later turned into a movie The Young Philadelphians (1959) starring Paul Newman. Like in a lot of cases, the book is a hundred times better than the movie. Unfortunately, no one ever thought to make a movie about his best novel, Whom the Gods Would Destroy,  The title comes from a line in Euripides, “Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.”  The book tells the story of the Trojan War through a young Trojan boy named Helios.  Powell takes Homer’s characters such as Achilles, Odysseus, Hector and Helen and injects so much life into them, he turns them into living, breathing people that you feel you know, and are quite sad to leave when you finally finish the book.

Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield
Doubleday, 1998

Steven Pressfield has written a number of novels about ancient Greece, none of which I really like. I mention The Gates of Fire because it’s about the 300 Spartans and it’s the least offensive of all his novels. The beginning and ending are worth skipping, but the middle section that deals with the Battle of Thermopylae is excellent. They probably should have taken Pressfield out and shot him after he wrote that part, as I’ve yet to enjoy anything else he’s written. The title of the book comes from the word ‘Thermopylae,’ which means ‘hot gates’ in Greek.  The place was named for the hot sulpher springs in the area and was thought to be one of the entrances to the underworld.

Goat Song by Frank Yerby
The Dial Press, 1967

Frank Yerby is perhaps best known for writing about the American south. He is also the first African American writer to sell more than a million copies and to become a millionaire as a writer. He wrote a couple of historical novels, including Goat Song, which follows a Spartan named Ariston during the Peloponnesian War. Most of Yerby’s early books were romance novels, and it shows in Goat Song, though it does have some nice scenes. In ancient Greece, a tragic play was called a ‘goat song.’

Pompeii by Robert Harris
Random House, 2005

Though not about Greece, this book is worth mentioning as it is an excellent novel about the eruption of Vesuvius in southern Italy and the destruction of the city of Pompeii. The book covers two days in the life of Marcus Attilius Primus, a Roman aquarius (an engineer that works on aqueducts), who is sent to Pompeii to investigate why the aqueduct there has stopped working. The book reads like a mystery novel, and as Marcus learns, early tremors from Vesuvius are what have disrupted the city’s aqueduct. The description of Roman daily life and the volcanic erruption are so well done, you feel like you are there walking the streets of Pompeii alongside Marcus.

The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell
Harper Collins, 2005

Another novel not about Greece, but Cornwell’s historical novels are worth mentioning as they are extremely good reads.  His Saxon series follows a hard-nosed warrior named Uhtred during the reign of Alfred the Great when the Vikings were rampaging across England. The series starts with The Last Kingdom, is up to its sixth book, and though the series has its highs and lows, Uhtred is such a good character, I find it impossible to resist it when Cornwell comes out with another installment.  Also high on my list of Cornwell’s many books is his King Arthur trilogy which starts with The Winter King.

nonfiction

The Greek Myths by Robert Graves

Though there are dozens of books on the market about Greek myths, Robert Graves’ book is the definitive work on the subject. It covers every Greek myth ever told, including a lot you probably never heard before  What makes Graves’ book unique is that each chapter is divided into three sections. The first part retells the myth, the second section provides the ancient Greek sources where the myth may be found, and the last part gives the reader an interpretation of the myth’s origins.  While his recounting of the myth will not wow you, his interpretations most likely will as they provide great insights into ancient Greek culture.

Alexander of Macedon: 356 – 323 B.C. by Peter Green
University of California Press, 1992

I’m not a fan of Alexander the Great, but after reading this book I became a follower of classical British scholar Peter Green. Green not only recounts Alexander’s life, he provides a fascinating analysis of each battle, peels back the propaganda spewed by Alexander’s historians and digs out the truth. Green has written several books on ancient Greece, but this is his best. I’ve given it to friends who don’t care about ancient history and even they found it hard to put down.

The Greco-Persian Wars by Peter Green
The University of California Press, 1998

Another book by Peter Green, this one on the Persian Wars. Not as well written as his book on Alexander, but it’s one of the better works on the subject.

The Oracle: Ancient Dephi and the Science Behind its Lost Secrets by William J. Broad
Penquin Books, 2007

The oracle of Delphi influenced Greek politics and society for hundreds of years.  Stories about the oracle are legandary.  For instance, when Croesus of Lydia asked the oracle if he should attack Cyrus the Great, the oracle responded, “If you do, a great empire will fall.”  Croesus thought the oracle meant the Persian Empire would fall, attacked, and it was his empire that was destroyed.  In this fascinating book, the author Broad investigates whether or not the oracles were just clever propaganda spewed by the priestesses, called Pythias, or if there was a scientific basis behind the mysterious oracle. By tracking down recent archegological evidence, Broad discovers that the Temple of Apollo at Delphi was built on a fault line over a chasm that emitted ethylene gas.  By comparing the historical and archelogical record, Broad reveals that the Pythias breathed in the fumes, which put them into a euphoric state that they interpreted as being inspired by Apollo, god of prophecy, and then delivered their oracles.  Though a niche subject area, the book is well-written and provides an interesting, fact-based answer to the mystery of the Delphic Oracle.

The Spartans: The World of the Warrior-Heroes of Ancient Greece by Paul Cartledge
Overlook Hardcover, 2003

Thermopylae: The Battle That Changed the World by Paul Cartledge
Overlook Hardcover, 2006

Like Green, Cartledge is another Brit, a professor at Cambridge and probably the world’s foremost authority on ancient Sparta. Though not the best writer, he’s a must read for anyone that wants to know everything about the Spartans.

A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War by Victor Davis Hanson
Random House, 2005.

The Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in Classical Greece by Victor Davis Hanson
Alfred A. Knopf, 1989.

Hanson is an American military historian, columnist, political essayist and former classics professor. He first attracted my attention when he was teaching at California State University and mocked up an ancient Greek hoplite panoply and was running tests among his students to see how far they could run, to check Herodotus’ claim that the Athenians sprinted for a mile before crashing into the Persian line at the Battle of Marathon. Hanson is an excellent non-fiction writer, though from what I see on Amazon his first foray into fiction, a novel titled The End of Sparta has received mixed reviews.

A History of Sparta, 950-192 B. C. by William George Grieve Forrest
W. W. Norton & Company, 1969

This little paperback gives a great overview of Spartan history. Forrest was not only a professor of ancient history at Oxford, he was an RAF pilot during WW2.

Well, that’s my list.  If you’d like to suggest something you’ve read that you felt was praise-worthy, please leave a comment!