Book Review: 24 Hours in Ancient Athens by Philip Matyszak

24 hours in ancient athens

24 Hours in Ancient Athens by Philip Matyszak is the third book in a series of light-hearted, yet incredibly informative, non-fiction books covering the ancient world – with the previous books having covered Ancient Rome and Ancient Egypt. I’d really enjoyed both previous books, so was excited for this one – and it met all my expectations, so yeah, I enjoyed this one too!

Set in 416 BC, we meet Athens, and Classical Greece, at its real peak – this is the Ancient Greece that my mind naturally conjures up in my mind. The past century has seen Athens rise continuously: they led the Greek forces in the Persian wars and enforcing a crushing defeat on Xerxes at the Battle of Salamis; established the Delian league (*cough*Athenian Empire*cough*) and defeated their main Greek rivals, the Spartans, during the first Peloponnesian War. Things are looking good for Athens, this is their golden era, though another war is on the horizon as tensions with the Spartan’s bubble up again.

 

1

  • The concept: Just like in the other books in the series, I love the almost narrative approach to the topic. Each chapter, which represents an hour with the 24-hour period, covering the life of a certain type of person/career in Ancient Athens. Personal favourite chapters of mine were the Hoplite and Cavalry man, which covered a lot of the history around the Peloponnesian war, and the Councillor chapter, with its insight into how arguably the world’s first major democratic society was created and run.
  • The Setting: Ancient Greece is a topic that has always captured my imagination ever since I was a child, so this was an easy win for this book, but I loved how the writing kind of captured the energy and enthusiasm of the time.
  • The sneaky inclusion of so many famous Ancient Athenians: Matyszak must have worked hard to pick this. Sure, he knew that he needed Athens at the height of its power, but picking an exact year with SOOOOO many famous Ancient Greeks poking around must have been a challenge. Socrates, Plato, Hippocrates are just a few that make a cheeky appearance!

 

2

  • The chapters don’t link: This is something they did in the Roman book, but it doesn’t seem to have translated over to the over books in the series. After the Egyptian book, I had assumed that it was simply down to the different authors used for these books, but no. It is a bit of a shame, and I don’t see why it couldn’t have been done here. It doesn’t hugely affect the book, but it was just a small touch that I appreciated.
  • The cover colours don’t match: This is a little bit OCD, but hear me out. The white used for the covers of the Roman and Egyptian books matched, this is not so for Ancient Egypt. I get that they have gone for a more terracotta -ish feel to the colour scheme to fit with Ancient Greek pottery, while the Roman one matched with the colour of marble and the Egyptian one matched with the colour of papyrus, but if I line these three books up next to each other, this one jumps out and it annoys the perfectionist in me! I think this is my problem, really.

 

My Likes

I would definitely recommend this book, and in fact, I would recommend this entire series. They’re easily accessible and fun non-fiction for anyone with a passing interest in the ancient world. I personally hope they carry on the series, maybe we get an ancient Persian one? Or Babylonia? Maybe the ancient Maya? Which ancient civilisations would you like them to cover? Let me know!

Jack

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