The best books about Greece and Greek civilization, old and new

Roderick Beaton Author Of The Greeks: A Global History
By Roderick Beaton

Who am I?

I was only thirteen when I first travelled to Greece and began to learn the ancient Greek language at school. That double impression of a vibrant, living country and its people, and the extraordinary fact that there they still speak a language that was first written down more than 3000 years ago, set me upon a lifetime of studying and teaching, and inspired me to communicate my love of Greece and Greeks to others. I’ve written several books, all of them Greek-themed in one way or another. These are some of the books that have accompanied me along the way – and new ones that may inspire you too.


I wrote...

The Greeks: A Global History

By Roderick Beaton,

Book cover of The Greeks: A Global History

What is my book about?

More than two thousand years ago, the Greek city-states, led by Athens and Sparta, laid the foundation for much of modern science, the arts, politics, and law. But the influence of the Greeks did not end with the rise and fall of this classical civilization. As historian Roderick Beaton illustrates, over three millennia Greek speakers produced a series of civilizations that were rooted in southeastern Europe but again and again ranged widely across the globe.

In The Greeks, Beaton traces this history from the Bronze Age Mycenaeans who built powerful fortresses at home and strong trade routes abroad to the dramatic Eurasian conquests of Alexander the Great, to the pious Byzantines who sought to export Christianity worldwide, to today’s Greek diaspora, which flourishes on five continents. 

The books I picked & why

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The Last of the Wine

By Mary Renault,

Book cover of The Last of the Wine

Why this book?

I first read this novel when I was in my teens. I had just begun to learn Ancient Greek at school and had spent my first summer holiday in the Greek islands. I instantly fell in love with the Greek world, ancient and modern, and Mary Renault brought to life for me the world of Athens at the height of the ‘classical’ civilization of Greece, 2,500 years ago. It is a world strangely close to us, and yet unimaginably distant too. Renault’s warm humanity and gift for atmosphere and storytelling captivated me and I’ve been coming back to The Last of the Wine ever since.


Democracy: A Life

By Paul Cartledge,

Book cover of Democracy: A Life

Why this book?

Paul Cartledge tells the story of the whole world’s favourite political system from its obscure and uncertain beginnings in ancient Athens, two and a half thousand years ago, through the ups and downs of the ancient world, to its revival in modern times. The author is a leading historian of ancient Greece – but he wears his learning lightly and this book is a sure and reliable guide to a topic that turns out to be even more complicated than we thought!


Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire

By Judith Herrin,

Book cover of Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire

Why this book?

This is the ideal introduction to the thousand-year, Greek-speaking empire of Byzantium that lasted right through the Middle Ages until the conquest of Constantinople in 1453. A joy to read, and beautifully illustrated, it brings together the strange contradictions of an empire that was at once intensely Christian and spiritual but also loved power and wealth and invented the arts of diplomacy as we know them today.


The Greek Revolution: 1821 and the Making of Modern Europe

By Mark Mazower,

Book cover of The Greek Revolution: 1821 and the Making of Modern Europe

Why this book?

A top historian of modern Europe turns his attention to the revolution that began in Greece 200 years ago and paved the way for the foundation of the nation-states that today make up the greater part of the European continent. Mazower tells a tragic, and in many ways a terrible, story of human suffering, cruelty, heroic determination, and self-destructive in-fighting. It’s every bit as gripping as a good novel.


Athens: City of Wisdom

By Bruce Clark,

Book cover of Athens: City of Wisdom

Why this book?

Athens is where I lived as a student in the 1970s, and I’ve loved the place ever since! People who visit Greece often miss out on the capital or find the modern city ugly and noisy. But this book explains the magic effect that Athens has exercised on natives and visitors for at least two thousand years – all the way from the legendary wisdom of Solon the lawgiver to the gritty problems of a decade of enforced austerity (only recently overcome), and of a new multi-culturalism that comes with mass migration across Europe’s front line into Greece.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Greece, Athens, and Ancient Greece?

5,309 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Greece, Athens, and Ancient Greece.

Greece Explore 90 books about Greece
Athens Explore 34 books about Athens
Ancient Greece Explore 66 books about Ancient Greece

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Ecology of the Ancient Greek World, The Hemlock Cup, and The Athenian Murders if you like this list.