The most recommended books on the Peloponnesian War

Who picked these books? Meet our 17 experts.

17 authors created a book list connected to the Peloponnesian War, and here are their favorite Peloponnesian War books.
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Book cover of The Peloponnesian War

Tom Kratman Author Of The Romanov Rescue

From my list on history and practice of war.

Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by war since I was literally a toddler. True story, I was the only two-and-a-half-year-old in South Boston, Massachusetts with an adult library card. I had to get one, and to get it to prove to the librarian that I could read, in order to check out certain books that I wanted. I only recall one title, The Battle of Midway. Since then, though I’ve done other things like practice law and become a novelist, most of my adult life was still spent as an enlisted man, non-commissioned officer, and company grade and field grade infantry officer in the Army.  

Tom's book list on history and practice of war

Tom Kratman Why did Tom love this book?

Written around twenty-five centuries ago, this remains the seminal work of history, political science, man as he is, war, and diplomacy. The author expressly intended that it be “a work for all time,” and so it remains. Moreover, it serves still as an example of a civilization ruining itself, as Europe did in the Great War. Thus, it continues to warn.

By Thucydides, P.J. Rhodes, Martin Hammond (translator)

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Peloponnesian War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'The greatest historian that ever lived'

Such was Macaulay's verdict on Thucydides (c. 460-400 BC) and his history of the Peloponnesian War, the momentous struggle between Athens and Sparta as rival powers and political systems that lasted for twenty-seven years from 431 to 404 BC, involved virtually the whole of the Greek world, and ended in the fall of Athens. Thucydides himself was a participant in the war; to his history he brings an awesome intellect, brilliant narrative, and penetrating analysis of the nature
of power, as it affects both states and individuals.

Of his own work Thucydides wrote: 'I…

Book cover of How to Think about War: An Ancient Guide to Foreign Policy

Neville Morley Author Of Thucydides and the Idea of History

From my list on understanding Thucydides.

Who am I?

I’m a historian and classicist, teaching at the University of Exeter. I am equally interested in classical Greece and Rome, especially their economy and society, and in the ways that classical ideas and examples have been influential in the modern world.

Neville's book list on understanding Thucydides

Neville Morley Why did Neville love this book?

Not a book about Thucydides, but a selection of the speeches – one of the most striking aspects of his approach to history is the way he includes set-piece debates, not so much as accurate transcripts of what was actually said as a means of exploring issues of war, peace, democratic deliberation and so forth. If you already own a copy of Thucydides, this may not be of much interest (unless you’re obsessive enough to compare Hanink’s translations with others), but if you’re new to the topic this may be a good place to start: the speeches are more accessible than the lengthy battle narratives, they’re the main basis for Thucydides’ reputation as a thinker about political issues, as well as the source of some memorable lines, and Hanink’s introduction does a good job of explaining all of this.

By Johanna Hanink, Thucydides,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How to Think about War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An accessible modern translation of essential speeches from Thucydides's History that takes readers to the heart of his profound insights on diplomacy, foreign policy, and war

Why do nations go to war? What are citizens willing to die for? What justifies foreign invasion? And does might always make right? For nearly 2,500 years, students, politicians, political thinkers, and military leaders have read the eloquent and shrewd speeches in Thucydides's History of the Peloponnesian War for profound insights into military conflict, diplomacy, and the behavior of people and countries in times of crisis. How to Think about War presents the most…

Book cover of The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War

Richard Jenkyns Author Of Classical Literature: An Epic Journey from Homer to Virgil and Beyond

From my list on classical literature.

Who am I?

I spent my career teaching Classics, mostly at Oxford University, where I was a fellow of Lady Margaret Hall and Professor of the Classical Tradition. I have worked on the influence of the ancient world on British literature and culture, especially in the Victorian age, and when being a conventional classicist have written mostly about Latin literature and Roman culture. I have also written short books on Jane Austen and Westminster Abbey.

Richard's book list on classical literature

Richard Jenkyns Why did Richard love this book?

Thucydides, along with Herodotus a generation earlier, created history as we know it. Herodotus added to narrative the analysis of cause: ‘why’ as well as ‘what’. Thucydides added different levels of causation: the immediate reasons for the war and the long-term causes. He studied how the dynamics of fear and power drive states into warfare. He took the gods out of history (it is hard to remember how radical that was). He studied the corruption of moral language and behaviour under the pressure of conflict. In Pericles’ Funeral Speech he set out the theory of Athenian democracy (Pericles would have denied that our own society was democratic—a challenging thought). Thucydides’ eye is not exactly cold, but it is unblinking: no historian seems so free of illusion.

By Robert B. Strassler (editor),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Landmark Thucydides as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Thucydides called his account of two decades of war between Athens and Sparta "a possession for all time," and indeed it is the first and still the most famous work in the Western historical tradition.

Considered essential reading for generals, statesmen, and liberally educated citizens for more than 2,000 years, The Peloponnesian War is a mine of military, moral, political, and philosophical wisdom.

However, this classic book has long presented obstacles to the uninitiated reader. Written centuries before the rise of modern historiography, Thucydides' narrative is not continuous or linear. His authoritative chronicle of what he considered the greatest war…

Book cover of The Plague of Athens

Rita Monaldi and Francesco Sorti Author Of Imprimatur

From my list on how the Plague changed history.

Who are we?

We have always been fascinated by literary masterworks that stage the plague as a pivotal factor in the plot. We added the next ingredients: a whodunnit with a claustrophobic setting, the Baroque Age, a (real) financial thriller between Rome and London, and an unusual protagonist. Rita is a historian of religions, Francesco is a musicologist. After working as journalists, meeting in a newspaper bureau, and getting happily married, we started a writing career publishing 11 novels translated into 26 languages and 60 countries with more than 2 million copies sold. Our novels are a mix of literary creativity and meticulous research, characters and settings are strictly based on original documents and eyewitness accounts. 

Rita's book list on how the Plague changed history

Rita Monaldi and Francesco Sorti Why did Rita love this book?

Nobody can describe the plague better than... one who’s been infected. 430 BC: coming from Ethiopia through Egypt, a massive plague outbreak hits the overpopulated Athens, right in the middle of a bitter war against Sparta. Thucydides, the first Greek historian with a modern approach, witnesses the tragic days (doctors and authorities were totally unprepared) of the largest metropolis in the Mediterranean. The author himself is contaminated and later recounts his experience in this unforgettable section of his History of the Peloponnesian War.

By Thomas Sprat,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The 18th century was a wealth of knowledge, exploration and rapidly growing technology and expanding record-keeping made possible by advances in the printing press. In its determination to preserve the century of revolution, Gale initiated a revolution of its own: digitization of epic proportions to preserve these invaluable works in the largest archive of its kind. Now for the first time these high-quality digital copies of original 18th century manuscripts are available in print, making them highly accessible to libraries, undergraduate students, and independent scholars.
Western literary study flows out of eighteenth-century works by Alexander Pope, Daniel Defoe, Henry Fielding,…

Book cover of Ancient Greece: From Prehistoric to Hellenistic Times

Barry Sandywell Author Of Logological Investigations, Volume 1: Reflexivity and the Crisis of Western Reason

From my list on the beginnings of European theorizing.

Who am I?

I'm currently an Honorary Fellow in Social Theory at the University of York, U.K. For more than five decades I've been working to promote more reflexive perspectives in philosophy, sociology, social theory, and sociological research. I've written and edited many books in the field of social theory with particular emphasis on questions of culture and on work in the field of visual culture. Recently these have included Interpreting Visual Culture (with Ian Heywood), The Handbook of Visual Culture, and an edited multi-volume textbook of international scholars to be published by Bloomsbury, The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Visual Culture. My own position can be found in my Dictionary of Visual Discourse: A Dialectical Lexicon of Terms.

Barry's book list on the beginnings of European theorizing

Barry Sandywell Why did Barry love this book?

If Gadamer is an important guide to the hermeneutics of beginnings and the spirit of theorizing, Thomas Martin’s work is one of the most concise, readable, and comprehensive introductions to the social history of ancient Greece and the spiritual origins of Western culture. While there are many fine histories of the period, this book provides access to the whole sweep of Greek history from the beginnings of Hellenic civilization in Indo-European and Mycenaean cultures, to the Archaic age, the beginnings of democracy with the age of the city-state, the collapse of the Athenian Empire at the end of the Peloponnesian War, and the rise of Hellenistic Greece and the Hellenistic kingdoms that led to the hegemony of Rome and Latin culture. The work is an exemplary form of what I would call 'configurational’ history as his narrative interweaves military, political, religious, and social history with detailed discussion of the realm…

By Thomas R. Martin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This compact yet comprehensive history brings ancient Greek civilization alive, from its Stone Age roots to the fourth century B.C.

"A highly readable account of ancient Greece."-Kirkus Reviews

Focusing on the development of the Greek city-state and the society, culture, and architecture of Athens in its Golden Age, Thomas R. Martin integrates political, military, social, and cultural history in a book that will appeal to students and general readers alike. Now in its second edition, this classic work now features new maps and illustrations, a new introduction, and updates throughout. "A limpidly written, highly accessible, and comprehensive history of Greece…

Book cover of Thucydides: The Reinvention of History

James M. Banner Jr. Author Of The Ever-Changing Past: Why All History Is Revisionist History

From my list on historians and how they think and write.

Who am I?

An experienced historian who’s occupied both academic and public posts and written for popular as well as academic audiences, I’ve become absorbed by what’s behind the history so many of us read for all the reasons we read it: enlightenment, pleasure, and lessons about life in a fragile world. That’s taken me to write and teach about the professional lives of historians, about some fundamental realities of historical thought, and now about historians themselves: who they are, what they do, and why they do it. It’s often said that if you wish to understand books, know the people who write them. The books I’ve recommended help do that.

James' book list on historians and how they think and write

James M. Banner Jr. Why did James love this book?

This book is important, authoritative, and compelling because it demonstrates that a conservative historian can be comfortable with revisionist history. Kagan, a Yale historian noted as a leading academic traditionalist, terms Thucydides “the first revisionist historian” not because he was like today’s leftists but because he took issue with his pioneering predecessor, Herodotus. In his great history of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides threw down the gauntlet over which was the “best” and “right” way to do history. He thought its subjects should be politics, warfare, the relation between states, and—a surprise?—men. His views held the field for centuries. The Framers of the Constitution were its legatees. So were we until the late 20th century, when social and cultural subjects gained attention. This wonderful book shows why.

By Donald Kagan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A reconsideration of the first modern historian and his methods from a renowned scholar

The grandeur and power of Thucydides' The Peloponnesian War have enthralled readers, historians, and statesmen alike for two and a half millennia, and the work and its author have had an enduring influence on those who think about international relations and war, especially in our own time. In Thucydides, Donald Kagan, one of our foremost classics scholars, illuminates the great historian and his work both by examining him in the context of his time and by considering him as a revisionist historian.

Thucydides took a spectacular…

Book cover of Thucydides: The War of the Peloponnesians and the Athenians

Paul Cartledge Author Of Thebes: The Forgotten City of Ancient Greece

From my list on ancient Greece and their world.

Who am I?

I have studied Classics and Ancient Greek history since my teens, I read ‘Greats’ (Ancient History and Philosophy) at Oxford, completed an archaeological doctorate on early Sparta also at Oxford (1975), while spending my teaching career (1972-2014) in Northern and Southern Ireland, and in England at Warwick and Cambridge Universities. I retired as the inaugural, endowed A.G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture before taking up my current position as A.G. Leventis Senior Research Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge. I have been the author, co-author, editor, or co-editor of some 30 books on ancient Greek history, most recently Thebes: the Forgotten City of Ancient Greece.

Paul's book list on ancient Greece and their world

Paul Cartledge Why did Paul love this book?

Thucydides of Athens (c. 455-400 BC) was an Athenian aristocrat of supreme intelligence and a failed politician who turned his 20 years of political exile to excellent account by turning himself into the most acute analyst and historian of the great Atheno-Peloponnesian War of 431 to 404. Thucydides was born within the world’s first democratic political state but was out of sympathy with the rule of the majority, the masses – except when they themselves were kept in check and did what they were advised by a superior statesman of the unique calibre of Pericles (c. 493-429).

Thucydides outlived the end of that War, which was a major defeat ultimately for his own home city by the Spartans aided financially by the old enemy, the Persians. But he did not live long enough to complete his History, which breaks off in mid-sentence in what we call the summer of 411…

By Thucydides, Jeremy Mynott (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Thucydides' classic work is a foundational text in the history of Western political thought. His narrative of the great war between Athens and Sparta in the fifth century BC is now seen as a highly sophisticated study of the nature of political power itself: its exercise and effects, its agents and victims, and the arguments through which it is defended and deployed. It is therefore increasingly read as a text in politics, international relations and political theory, whose students will find in Thucydides many striking contemporary resonances. This edition seeks to present the author and the text in their proper…

Book cover of The Peloponnesian War

John Carroll Author Of The Saviour Syndrome: Searching for Hope and Meaning in an Age of Unbelief

From John's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Cultural and social interpreter Interpreter

John's 3 favorite reads in 2023

John Carroll Why did John love this book?

The Peloponnesian War is the first work of history, the first piece of sustained political analysis, and it reads today, 2400 years later, as if it were composed yesterday. It reflects on the decline of 5th century BC Athens, and how it was that the wealthiest of ancient Greek states, one with a vast and unequalled empire, could lose a thirty-year war to relatively primitive and small, Sparta.

Thucydides was an Athenian who fought in the war and was unfairly exiled by his own city, but is still able to reflect dispassionately, and sadly, on the calamitous failures of political leadership that doomed his city. He writes with clarity and timeless insight.

By Thucydides,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Unabridged Crawley Translation, Introduction by Terry Wick

Book cover of The Last of the Wine

Jim Carr Author Of Yesterdays

From my list on wars over the ages.

Who am I?

I love history and languages from the first time my school classes opened my eyes to them and it has stayed with me ever since. Learning Latin helped me to understand how these people talked and how they thought and expressed themselves. It didn’t matter what, whether the daily lives of Romans and how they built their empire. It has coloured my thinking, and helped me in writing all my books that take place during the past, whether in Roman life or medieval warfare.

Jim's book list on wars over the ages

Jim Carr Why did Jim love this book?

If you think our wars are long and drawn out, the 25-year war between Athens and Sparta at the time of Athenian power in ancient Greece. The story is told by Alexis, born at a time of plague and the outset of the war. Alexias is born to a rich family and takes part in all the big events that shaped the outcome of the war. The book traces his adventures from his school days and how he witnessed the great naval battle in the Great Harbour, how he was captured and buried his father on his return. There are also references to Alicabides, a prominent figure in Athens at the time.

The Last of the Wine is more than about battles. It also offers great insights into how lived beyond the constant battles that pepper the book and coming to know some of the key Athenian statesmen who come…

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 The Plague of War: Athens, Sparta, and the Struggle for Ancient Greece

Myke Cole Author Of The Bronze Lie: Shattering the Myth of Spartan Warrior Supremacy

From my list on narrative military history.

Who am I?

I’m a lifelong warfighter, law enforcement officer, intelligence officer, and emergency services worker, intimately familiar with the crisis response and what makes conflict so fascinating to students of history. I’m also a popular novelist with an in-depth understanding of story arcs and what makes great prose. I’ve previously published narrative military history myself – Legion Versus Phalanx: The Epic Struggle for Infantry Supremacy in the Ancient World. My short nonfiction, much of it based on military history and crisis work, has appeared in The New York Times, The Daily Beast, The New Republic, Foreign Policy, and Ancient Warfare Magazine.

Myke's book list on narrative military history

Myke Cole Why did Myke love this book?

Roberts’ groundbreaking, game-changing story of the Peloponnesian War (really, wars) is richly detailed and comprehensive, a modernizing “leveling up” from Donald Kagan’s 2004 standard text. By centering her narrative in the impact of the war, rather than strategy and politics, Roberts brings home the terrible human cost of the conflict, and the book serves as a critical examination of what wholesale violence means to a society, from the high to the low. Roberts writes with incredible empathy, and her voice makes the book more than enlightening, it’s a deeply moving mediation on the depths of self-inflicted suffering as only human beings can engender. 

By Jennifer T. Roberts,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In 431 BC, the long simmering rivalry between the city-states of Athens and Sparta erupted into open warfare, and for more than a generation the two were locked in a life-and-death struggle. The war embroiled the entire Greek world, provoking years of butchery previously unparalleled in ancient Greece. Whole cities were exterminated, their men killed, their women and children enslaved. While the war is commonly believed to have ended with the capture of the Athenian
navy in 405 and the subsequent starvation of Athens, fighting in Greece would continue for several decades. Sparta's authority was challenged in the so-called Corinthian…