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

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

The Books I Picked & Why

The Last of the Wine

By Mary Renault

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.


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Democracy: A Life

By Paul Cartledge

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!


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Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire

By Judith Herrin

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.


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The Greek Revolution: 1821 and the Making of Modern Europe

By Mark Mazower

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.


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Athens: City of Wisdom

By Bruce Clark

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.


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