The History of the Peloponnesian War
Why this book?
Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War probably needs no introduction. It is our only primary source for the shattering conflict between Athens and Sparta, which ended the “Golden” period of Athens famous for its art, its plays, and of course, its revolutionary system of direct democracy. Beyond its value as a work of history, Thucydides provides timeless insights into the nature of humanity, conflict, and society. He remains one of the most profound writers about human nature, politics, and strategy. When I teach Thucydides, I often joke with students that whatever you are looking for, “you can find it in Thucydides.” Just thinking in terms of contemporary headlines, we might say that if you’re interested in the dynamics of great power competition, you can find it in Thucydides. If you want to explore how societies react to pandemic diseases, how democracies debate policy or how they are vulnerable to demagoguery, how policymakers manage fears of escalation in conflict, or how big conflicts can have small causes, “you can find it in Thucydides.”