This book is incredible, and probably best suited as an audiobook. As a first-person telling by Alexander himself (and with excellent narration by John Lee) you feel like you are listening to a real account of his life.
The magic, of course, is mostly in Pressfield's pen and imagination. He manages to detail some of the most epic battles in history, full of action and gore and triumph, but also delve into the moral and intellectual concerns which Alexander struggled with during his life, what Pressfield seems to posit as the qualities that truly made Alexander "great."
I was blown away by this book.
Who better than the author of Gates of Fire to do justice to the enigmatic character of Alexander? For those who are fascinated and horrified at the same time by detailed and accurate descriptions of ancient warfare, this is your book. Lacking all the formulaic elements that can destroy otherwise good historical fiction (love interests and/or comic relief from sidekicks that did not really exist, etc.) this is a bare bones descriptions of a great man at war with himself.
Say something about yourself!
It's been said that to read a biography of Alexander the Great is ruin yourself for all fiction, such is the caliber of the tale. If this is so, is there no room for historical fiction that puts the reader up close and personal, being told the story by the man himself?
A caveat to those who read historical fiction for history... Steven Pressfield states up front that he has taken considerable liberties with the known facts, and he explains where and how. The point of the story is to explore the heart and mind of a warrior, less through the context of honor in the way the historical Alexander might have understood, and more as we do today with concepts such as chivalry, which would have been alien to the Macedonians. Because we are told up front what to expect, it's somehow easier to simply let the story unfold. It's not that Pressfield didn't understand his subject. It's that he is inviting us to understand him as he does, through means we can identify.
The story itself is told, as I say, through Alexander's 1st person perspective. The thoughts and strategies of the man are examined in detail, his feelings made known. Pressfield makes take pride in the idea of this man as the noble warrior that myth paints him to be. Much like with many of the author's other works, the way it's written appeals to the most primal qualities of man without apology, but does so in a way that separates the warrior from the brute thug. It also really makes me crave a good juicy steak, the bloodier the better.
I feel that no review of this work made by me will do justice to this amazing work. While listening to The Virtues of War I laughed out loud, shed tears and felt the thrill of understanding of issues so deep and evocative that I just could not put it down. Any Western Civ. history buff or fan of pre-classical, classical, post-classical Mediterranean history should miss the opportunity to listen to Pressfield's prose. If you want to understand what motivated Alexander then I think this is as close to an intimate knowledge of the man as can be found. It is true that Pressfield takes considerable artistic license with historical fact regarding times and places in this tale but he explains his reasoning up front and the license is made understandable as well as forgivable.
If you liked Mary Renault's "Flame from Heaven", then you will love the Virtues of War.
This is a wonderful interpretation of the story of Alexander the Great. It is a historical novel, and it does take license, on many things. However John Lee does a wonderful narration and if you are truly an "Alexander' enthusiast, this book, along with "Alexander the Great" by Arrian, and "Alexander" by Harold Lamb these two books are narrated by Charlton Griffin, who like John Lee is a wonderful narrator. Your points will not be wasted on any of these books I promise.
I never would have imagined myself intrigued by battles and descriptions of warfare strategy, but I listened to this twice through, I loved it so. Not being a scholar of greek history, I can't know how many liberties were taken, and I don't care. By any account, Alexander was remarkable, and this account really brings him to life.
I throughly enjoyed Mr. Pressfield's superb ability to introspectively describe the internal conflicts at the foundation of war and conquest.