Philip and Alexander: Kings and Conquerors

Basic. Oct. 2020. 608p. ISBN 9781541646698. $35. BIOG
Philip II of Macedon (382–36 BCE) inherited a small kingdom and made it the dominant power in Greece; his son and heir Alexander the Great (356–23 BCE) not only overthrew the Persian Empire but conquered territory as distant as India. Alexander and his military triumphs have received the lion’s share of popular and scholarly attention, but Goldsworthy’s dual biography asserts the importance of both men, further positing that while both were brilliant and capable, their accomplishments also relied on situational benefits and good fortune as much as their skills: Philip’s rise was aided by the fractious nature of the Greek states, and Alexander’s conquest benefited hugely from Philip’s consolidation of Macedonian power and establishment of a well-trained military force. The text also effectively deals with the gaps in sources of knowledge about both men as people, with Goldsworthy avoiding conjecture when possible and presenting famous rumors and legendary incidents as valuable examples of the myth-building around both men but not always verifiable historical facts.
VERDICT The thorough and riveting narrative of both Philip and Alexander’s lives and accomplishments makes this an ideal choice for the general reader, with some fresh insights to offer to those familiar with the subjects as well.

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