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3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (687 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Paul Cartledge Narrator: John Lee Publisher: Blackstone Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: August 2009 ISBN: 9781455188383
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The Spartans of ancient Greece were a powerful and unique people, radically different from any civilization before or since. A society of warrior-heroes, they were living exemplars of self-sacrifice, community endeavor, and achievement against all odds, qualities that today signify the ultimate in heroism. Scholars even believe that Thomas More had Sparta specifically in mind when he coined the term “Utopia.”

Paul Cartledge, widely considered the world’s leading expert on Sparta, engagingly examines the rise and fall of this singular society. In a narrative that resounds with the battle cries of the ancient Greeks, he takes a compelling look at the many illustrious Spartan figures from the worlds of history and legend, including Lycurgus, Lysander, King Leonidas, and Helen of Troy and Sparta.

Based firmly on original sources, The Spartans is the definitive book about one of the most fascinating cultures of ancient Greece.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Cartledge displays a marvelous ability to make the readers care about the Laconic warriors…and the society that shaped them.”

    USA Today

  • “A fascinating book…Cartledge offers the general reader the fruits of his own rich scholarship in an accessible form.”

    BBC History

  • “The Spartans presented in this book could change the popular image of ancient history, making it more compelling and accessible.”

    Times Literary Supplement

  • “A fine overview of the rise and fall of a singular culture, spiced with anecdotes, quotations, brisk summary, and real insight.”

    Seattle Times

  • “Cartledge brings [the Spartans] to life again with verve [and] style.”

    Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

  • “Cartledge brings the Spartans to life, making us share their aspirations and showing them such as they were…There is much in this fascinating book about art, religion, lifestyle, and politics, written in a style that eschews all jargon, ambiguity, and academic obfuscation.”

    Greek Embassy Newsletter

  • “Remarkable…Cartledge’s crystalline prose, his vivacious storytelling and his lucid historical insights combine here to provide a first-rate history of the Spartans, their significance to ancient Greece and their influence on our culture.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “Lee can create nuances in delivery, allowing listeners to distinguish among bits of information that are actually comparatively dull (such as population statistics or facts of coinage). In that the audio version may be superior to the print version”

    AudioFile

  • “Engaging…Cartledge cloaks his erudition with an ease and enthusiasm that will excite readers from page one.”

    Booklist

Listener Opinions

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Andrew | 2/19/2014

    " I read this book in anticipation of the movie "300". The book is very informative, but reads like a text-book. I certainly learned a lot about the Spartans, but I could have been just as satisfied by reading about them on wikipedia. The movie "300" was awful, and was highly inaccurate in its depiction of the culture. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Richard | 2/4/2014

    " A bit dry but informative. Made me wish for something more focused on everyday life in Sparta. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Tomas | 1/27/2014

    " Good historical book on the rise and fall of the spartiates. Before reading this I thought they'd fallen to obscurity after the battle of Leuktra(?) but they had quite a few more ups and downs after that. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Nelson | 1/18/2014

    " This is a bad book. That doesn't change the fact that Cartledge is an eminent authority on Sparta and uniquely well-qualified from a research perspective to write this book. The demands of academic history, however, are not the same as those for a book produced for general consumption. This volume fails on at least three counts. First, tone. Were this a text for scholars, Cartledge would be well within his rights to write in the querulous, self-defensive tone he sometimes takes here. A general history presents settled matters to an intelligent but not necessarily specialist audience. Such a readership is not interested in the arcana of specialist debates over issues; they just want the facts, such as they are. If the facts are in dispute, a frank explanation and a clear position taken are what general history requires. Cartledge can't forgo playing swift rounds of 'cover my ass' on specialist debates that the general reader doesn't know and certainly can't be brought to care about. Such defensive gestures, if they were deemed truly necessary, should have been relegated to end notes or a more expansive set of appendices. Second, the book fails in terms of structure. A general history ought to tell an interesting story well. Given the resuscitation of interest in Sparta, in no small part because of films like _The 300_ but also because of a general fascination with the topic in the West, Cartledge doesn't have to work hard to make his choice of topic exciting. All he really has to do is get out of the way and tell the story clearly. If he can add new facts to well-worn stories (like that of Thermopylae) so much the better. The organization of this particular narrative is a disaster. The history of Sparta is divided into three periods (roughly): everything up to Thermopylae, the period of Spartan hegemony through the Peloponnesian war, and the long dissolution thereafter under the Macedonians and finally the Romans. Nothing wrong with that in principle. But the story is never told in anything like a straightforward manner. Instead, Cartledge loops forward and backward in time, dipping like a swallow into any topic that strikes him as important from moment to moment, without conveying to the reader the purpose of the digressions. One would be hard pressed from this volume to put together a coherent account of the rise, dominion and fall of Sparta. Worse, Cartledge sees fit to lard his general narrative with potted histories (mostly taken from Plutarch or Xenophon or other ancient sources) of characters he deems important. Most of the mini-biographies add little to the source material. They interrupt the flow of the overall narrative and very often repeat information conveyed two or more times elsewhere in the book. Sometimes these mini-bios are built on nothing more than a single line of reported dialogue--very flimsy scaffolding to base a 'biography' on, particularly when the larger purpose of the biography in the overall narrative isn't clear to begin with. Thirdly, this fails at the level of the sentence and paragraph. Cartledge's looping organizational style filters down to the level of the sentence, where he frequently burdens forthright statements with one qualifying clause after another. His editors have badly let him down, at times allowing him to produce sentences that are barely grammatical, with unclear referents. At other times the text is repetitive. We learn twice in two paragraphs that Augustus was known as Octavian, for instance. All of this adds up to a maddening volume. Set pieces that should have been gems in the crown of this story (the heroic defense at Thermopylae) lose luster in Cartledge's infuriating prose style. Mostly this is just kind of ineffective stuff which is depressing. But the final chapter, on hunting, turns into a nasty little set piece designed to take Roger Scruton out to the shed for daring to compare foxhunting to Spartan boar-hunting. I hold no brief for foxhunting, but surely Scruton is allowed to put the two things together if he wishes (despite his snarkiness, Cartledge provides no compelling reason why the two things can't be at least contrasted). Cartledge's final chapter thus leaves a nasty taste after a largely unedifying slog through history. Not recommended at all. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Jana | 1/17/2014

    " I had to read it for school. I'm sure it would be better if I had chosen to read this on my own. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Jonathan | 12/22/2013

    " A well-organized and easy-to-read book, but there is nothing new here for anyone who has ready Thucydides and Herodotus. I did not take away any new insights into Greek history. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Daniel Kukwa | 10/28/2013

    " A few moments of brightness can't hide the dry-as-sandpaper writing style & presentation. A society this fascinating shouldn't come across as dusty as Greek soil in the height of summer. I would love to see what someone such as Norman Cantor could have done with this material... "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Louette | 9/28/2013

    " A litttle superficial for me. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 John | 8/18/2013

    " Excellent portrait of the history, culture and philosophy of this remarkable Ancient Kingdom by the Country's leading expert. The stand of 300 Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae changed the course of European History "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Forrest | 6/17/2013

    " Awesome overview of the Spartans. Really well written. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Gorgo Mage | 4/10/2013

    " I totally loved this book! it was so interesting learning about the spartan culture. I totally wanted to be a spartan woman until i learned that they shaved their heads once their married "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Beth martinez | 3/18/2013

    " Great book about Spartan Warrior culture. Breaks down things with mini bios of the Spartan kings. I would have loved to have seen more analysis of Spartan culture, as in day to day life. Probably not the best book to read if you know nothing of Greek history. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Shawn Ryan Rosa | 2/6/2013

    " Excellent! A short, but fantastic look at the most war-like people ever known. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Yiannis | 9/8/2012

    " Societies are living entities, they adapt to the environment. A striking example was the Spartan society, unique in history. The book is a deep dive in its structure and values, what shaped them, and how it influenced later thinkers. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Ian | 8/24/2012

    " It was interesting but not compelling in any way. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Zane | 7/21/2011

    " Great read. Paul Cartledge is really good at making ancient history come alive while still providing ample amounts of information. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Angie | 5/14/2011

    " A wonderfully unbiased historical account by a self-acknowledged laconophile. Includes biographies of notable Spartans, including the renowned Leonidas. He makes excellent use of classical sources, including Plutarch's Lives. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Riley | 11/20/2010

    " I knew nothing about the Spartans or ancient Greece, which is why I read this book. But in getting through it, I realized I don't have a lot interest in the subject. With history from this long ago, I always have trouble contextualizing what occurred. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Riley | 9/10/2010

    " I knew nothing about the Spartans or ancient Greece, which is why I read this book. But in getting through it, I realized I don't have a lot interest in the subject. With history from this long ago, I always have trouble contextualizing what occurred. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Ian | 10/17/2009

    " It was interesting but not compelling in any way. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Tom | 7/7/2009

    " A bit boring but boy do I know the history of Sparta! "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Tomas | 5/20/2009

    " Good historical book on the rise and fall of the spartiates. Before reading this I thought they'd fallen to obscurity after the battle of Leuktra(?) but they had quite a few more ups and downs after that. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Yiannis | 2/14/2009

    " Societies are living entities, they adapt to the environment. A striking example was the Spartan society, unique in history. The book is a deep dive in its structure and values, what shaped them, and how it influenced later thinkers. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Escapegoat | 9/30/2008

    " A wonderfully unbiased historical account by a self-acknowledged laconophile. Includes biographies of notable Spartans, including the renowned Leonidas. He makes excellent use of classical sources, including Plutarch's Lives. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Eric | 5/27/2008

    " Informative but a little impenetrable with all the names -- the fact that the Spartans basically had no artisans of their own and were completely dependent on the Helots and surrounding regions was definitely interesting. "

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About the Author

Paul Cartledge has taught Greek history at Cambridge University since 1979 and is also a Fellow at Clare College. Widely acknowledged to be the world’s leading expert on the subject of Sparta and ancient Greece, he is the first A. G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture (2008) which focuses on the study of more than 1,000 years of Greek cultural achievements and highlights the lasting influence they continue to have on society today. In addition to having written and edited scores of articles and books, including The Spartans: An Epic History; and Thermopylae: The Battle that Changed the World, he is also academic consultant to the BBC and PBS for the series The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization.

About the Narrator

John Lee, a stage actor and writer and a coproducer of feature films, has narrated more than one hundred audiobooks of every conceivable genre, earning some three dozen Earphones Awards and the prestigious Audie Award.