Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Lords of the Sea - Jorhn R. Hale

Lords of the Sea: The Epic Story of the Athenian Navy & the Birth of DemocracyHale's Lords of the Sea is the history of the Athenian navy.  Pretty straightforward, so this will be a fairly short review.  The book is extremely readable, and it wasn't necessary to drag my feet through tons of horribly academic language.  It moves at a fairly good pace, and only uses 318 pages to cover hundreds of years of history, so there isn't a lot of pointless detail.


Hale is very obviously in love with the Athenian navy and credits it with every single advancement Athens made.  He credits the NAVY with the BIRTH OF DEMOCRACY even when Athens was a democracy BEFORE the navy!  He also glorifies it to the point that he ends up glorifying war.  A good chunk of the book takes place during the Pelopponesian War, and he makes it seem like a paddle around the pond for Athens, when in fact the the Athenians and Spartans spent most of the war torturing each other and dying in terrible ways.  These are entirely glossed over or ignored in favor of relating the detailed plots of some of the plays that were written--and not all of those were about the sea or the navy.  If you're going to include plays, Hale, you should probably have thought to include Lysistrata, the one about how the Pelopponesian War was so horrible and caused so many deaths that the women of Greece refused to have sex with their husbands until the men ended the war, because the women didn't want to lose anymore family members.  (This was, by the way, fiction; no such sex strike ever took place, to my knowledge.)  That seems a bit more important than a farmer flying to Olympus on a dung beetle.

There also seems to be some extrapolation; Hale often puts words or thoughts into Greek mouths, or records actions that I very much doubt were recorded.

Overall, a readable book, but Hale's love of the navy has obviously blinded him to other important aspects of Greek life, and this should be read with a heart dose of salt.

2 stars out of 5, for the blindness toward history.

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