Audiobook Adventures: Persian Fire by Tom Holland & narrated by Andrew Sachs

Persian Fire by Tom Holland, and narrated by Andrew Sachs, is a fast-paced, narrative history of The Greco-Persian Wars. It strikes a great balance between entertainment and information as it recounts the story of these iconic conflicts and battles from the ancient world.

Encompassing several centuries of ancient history in the entirety of its scope, the main meat of the book can be condensed down to the decade or so that surrounds Darius’ and Xerxes’ invasions of Greece in 490BC and 480BC. Names of battles and heroes from these years echo though history and are taught in schools to this day, as well as filling pop culture. Who hasn’t heard of King Leonidas and Thermopylae or the Battle of Marathon and Pheidippides? I’m sure the Battle of Salamis feels slighted as it was just as, if not more, important . But it has never captured the imagination in quite the same way!

Aside from these crucial years, the book does spend a reasonably big chunk of time on the wider historical context and backgrounds of the major players in the Greco-Persian Wars. The first half (roughly) of the book covers the rise of the Persian Empire from their origins as a vassal tribe under the Median Empire to their meteoric expansion under Cyrus the Great and Darius the Great; the history of Sparta as it fought its way to pre-eminence in the classical Hellenic world and the beginnings of Athens as a power in the Greek world and its early democracy, as well as an overview of the conquest of the Ionian cities by the Persian Empire that began the conflict between the Persian and Greek worlds.

One thing to say is that this book, despite its title, has a far greater emphasis on Greece than Persia. Aside from the sections covering the rise of the Persian Empire, much of the book is told from a Hellenic point of view. For me, this makes the title a little bit misleading as I would have honestly expected more Persian information here and this is – after a quick look through Goodreads – the main complaint I see about this book. Holland does, early on, explain that this heavy Greek focus is a matter of practicality. Quite simply, Ancient Greek histories and literature on these wars have survived to this day in greater quantities and states of repair than their Persian counterparts, possibly because more existed in the first place. Holland quite rightly points out that the Persian propagandists weren’t in the habit of declaring their failures to the world.

Aside from this slight frustration about the title and the amount of Persian focused content, this book is one I would 100% recommend to anyone with an interest in this area of history. The author’s writing is clearly passionate and knowledgeable, and conveys the history in a highly entertaining fashion, while the narrator does a fantastic job of bringing this to life with a superb delivery that echoes the author’s enthusiasm.


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