A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.
A fascinating piece of Persian/Roman/Asia Minor history/biography. Mithradates makes almost every other challenger to the status quo seem inept, uncreative and not really committed. He isn't, however, a warrior king/leader you can completely admire. His methods for removing the Romans from Asia Minor were not even remotely reasonable ('Kill them all and let Zeus sort them out' wasn't tolerable even in 88 BC). However, his life was mythic. He was a brilliant linguist, military commander, scientist, and absolutely machismo to boot. He wasn't interested in playing a minor character on the world stage. He wanted to be a Darius or an Alexander the Great type of leader and for much of his life he was. The Romans were terrified of him. He fought them using terror, direct action (both naval and military), statecraft, and asymmetric warfare. He was rich, charismatic and ruthless.
The shortcoming of this book is one that would probably be the shortcoming of any historical biography of Mithradates: the lack of complete records. So much of Mithradates life is shrouded in rumor, speculation and second and third-hand sources. Those materials that exist are often biased because they were written by Romans. So Mayor is stuck, she can either try to sort out the fact from the fable and sometimes get a little loose with her narrative, or she can write a book that no one but Classical Historians would probably want to read. She chose readability, and the book was VERY readable, but it did come at a cost. The "what ifs and alternate endings and he might haves" get to be a little too much, or at least enough that I couldn't see giving this biography five stars.
Herodotus might have been the Father of History, but Xenophon was the cool, older brother. This one-time pupil of Socrates is one of those soldier/scholars who makes both intellectuals and warriors feel inadequate. 'The Persian Expedition' or 'The March of the Ten Thousand' or 'Anabasis' (all depending on your version or translation) relates the story told by Xenophon of his experiences fighting with and leading the 10,000 Hellene mercenaries hired by Cyrus the Younger and the army's 3000+ mile march into Persian.
This experience, which Will Durrant once called "one of the great adventures in human history," can be read as history, adventure story, leadership manual, or a real-life application of Socratic philosophy.
There was some drudgery with the minor, post Constantine emperors. I was also not as excited by the HRE sections as I was by the sections on the Rise of Islam, the Mongols, the Ottoman Empire, and the Crusades. Those sections alone are why I rated the second half 5 stars and not 4. Anyway, a fantastic read. Ironic to finish it right after S&P lowers our national credit rating and our senators again fail to do anything productive. Thrilled that so much effort was put into making this available in Audio format.