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

Why am I passionate about this?

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. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Last of the Wine

Roderick Beaton Why did I love 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.

By Mary Renault,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Last of the Wine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Athens and Sparta, the mighty city states of ancient Greece, locked together in a quarter century of conflict: the Peloponnesian War. Alexias the Athenian was born, passed through childhood and grew to manhood in those troubled years, that desperate and dangerous epoch when the golden age of Pericles was declining into uncertainty and fear for the future. Of good family, he and his friends are brought up and educated in the things of the intellect and in athletic and martial pursuits. They learn to hunt and to love, to wrestle and to question. And all the time his star of…


Book cover of Democracy: A Life

Roderick Beaton Why did I love 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!

By Paul Cartledge,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Democracy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Democracy is either aspired to as a goal or cherished as a birthright by billions of people throughout the world today - and has been been for over a century. But what does it mean? And how has its meaning changed since it was first coined in ancient Greece?

Democracy: A Life is a biography of the concept, looking at its many different manifestations and showing how it has changed over its long life, from ancient times right through to the present. For instance, how did the 'people power' of the Athenians emerge in the first place? Once it had…


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

Roderick Beaton Why did I love 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.

By Judith Herrin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Byzantium as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Byzantium. The name evokes grandeur and exoticism - gold, cunning, and complexity. In this unique book, Judith Herrin unveils the riches of a quite different civilization. Avoiding a standard chronological account of the Byzantine Empire's millennium - long history, she identifies the fundamental questions about Byzantium - what it was, and what special significance it holds for us today. Bringing the latest scholarship to a general audience in accessible prose, Herrin focuses each short chapter around a representative theme, event, monument, or historical figure, and examines it within the full sweep of Byzantine history - from the foundation of Constantinople,…


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

Roderick Beaton Why did I love 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.

By Mark Mazower,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Greek Revolution as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the exhausted, repressive years that followed Napoleon's defeat in 1815, there was one cause that came to galvanize countless individuals across Europe and the United States: freedom for Greece.

Mark Mazower's wonderful new book recreates one of the most compelling, unlikely and significant events in the story of modern Europe. In the face of near impossible odds, the people of the villages, valleys and islands of Greece rose up against Sultan Mahmud II and took on the might of the imperial Ottoman armed forces, its Turkish cavalrymen, Albanian foot soldiers and the fearsome Egyptians. Despite the most terrible disasters,…


Book cover of Athens: City of Wisdom

Roderick Beaton Why did I love 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.

By Bruce Clark,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Athens as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A sweeping narrative history of Athens, telling the three-thousand-year story of the birthplace of Western civilization.

Even on the most smog-bound of days, the rocky outcrop on which the Acropolis stands is visible above the sprawling roof-scape of the Greek capital. Athens presents one of the most recognizable and symbolically potent panoramas of any of the world's cities: the pillars and pediments of the Parthenon – the temple dedicated to Athena, goddess of wisdom, that crowns the Acropolis – dominate a city whose name is synonymous for many with civilization itself.

It is hard not to feel the hand of…


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The Woman at the Wheel

By Penny Haw,

Book cover of The Woman at the Wheel

Penny Haw Author Of The Invincible Miss Cust

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Why am I passionate about this?

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Penny's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Inspiring historical fiction based on the real life of Bertha Benz, whose husband built the first prototype automobile, which eventually evolved into the Mercedes-Benz marque.

"Unfortunately, only a girl again."

From a young age, Cäcilie Bertha Ringer is fascinated by her father's work as a master builder in Pforzheim, Germany. But those five words, which he wrote next to her name in the family Bible, haunt Bertha.

Years later, Bertha meets Carl Benz and falls in love—with him and his extraordinary dream of building a horseless carriage. Bertha has such faith in him that she invests her dowry in his…

The Woman at the Wheel

By Penny Haw,

What is this book about?

Inspiring historical fiction based on the real life of Bertha Benz, whose husband built the first prototype automobile, which eventually evolved into the Mercedes-Benz marque.

"Unfortunately, only a girl again."

From a young age, Cacilie Bertha Ringer is fascinated by her father's work as a master builder in Pforzheim, Germany. But those five words, which he wrote next to her name in the family Bible, haunt Bertha.

Years later, Bertha meets Carl Benz and falls in love-with him and his extraordinary dream of building a horseless carriage. Bertha has such faith in him that she invests her dowry in his…


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Interested in Greece, Athens, and Ancient Greece?

11,000+ 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.

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