Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Athenians And Their Empire - Malcolm McGregor

The Athenians And Their Empire
Malcolm McGregor
University of British Columbia Press
Copyright: 1987
9780774802697

From the cover of the book:

Malcolm McGregor draws on a life-time of scholarship to write a comprehensive account of the most celebrated period in classical Greek history - "The Golden Age" - in which military and political advances of the Athenians coincided with their greatest achievements in art, literature, philosophy and social theory. McGregor explains how democracy was nurtured in Athens and how effective government was achieved by a balance of open public debate and the role of individual decisive statesmen such as Pericles. This genuinely democratic government brought peace and prosperity to the Athenians and their allies and, as McGregor asserts, contributed to the extraordinary cultural ascendancy of fifth-century Greece.

In this straightforward but colourful narrative, McGregor avoids the detailed complexities of scholarly controversy. The Athenians And Their Empire is the only critical study of its kind and will be of equal interest to students, teachers, general readers and travellers with a keen desire to understand the most crucial and fascinating period of ancient Greek history and culture.

Malcolm McGregor is a professor of classics emeritus, University of British Columbia. At present he is a lecturer in ancient history in the Langara campus of Vancouver Community College.

First off, this was a textbook and the teacher didn't appear to have the highest opinion of the book, so some of that may have helped me in forming my opinions. With that caveat in mind...

One of my biggest issues with the book is the decision McGregor has made to not include any footnotes for his sources, not even when he quotes them directly. Granted that most of the sources used are from Thucydides and Herodotus, but still... The most they get is something like "Thucydides says" prefacing the quote. But where did he say it? I've never seen another history book do that before (at least not one I'd buy and trust as reliable).

Also, the book tends to skim over things, such as opposing sides and views. For example, at the start of the Persian Wars, the Athenians had done quite a bit of destruction to Persian cities. That is skipped, more or less, while the damage the Persians did in return is discussed in much more detail.

As with the above example, the author's biases are very visible in the words he's chosen. Still, my noticing that may come from the teacher's pointing a lot of the examples out in class. Essentially, McGregor is working from the opinion that the Athenian Empire was a good thing for Greece and for history.

Despite all of this, the book is quite readable, and doesn't take too long to get through. It's good as an overview of the period, but counter it with some other books as well. I preferred the other textbook: Raphael Sealy's A History Of The Greek City States 700-338 B.C. although it is nowhere near as readable.
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