Rec-post: Alexander the Great

I really like history, and I really like ancient history, but Alexander the Great is probably my favorite historical subject. I have a bad habit of finding books about Alexander whenever I wander into a physical or virtual bookstore;  I enjoy reading them even though they’re all hypothetically telling the same story and relaying the same facts. Alexander historians have a LOT OF OPINIONS and they disagree most of the time, which keeps it interesting if I ever get tired of the Siege of Tyre and the invasion of Persia (spoiler: I don’t).

If you are interested in reading a book about Alexander, or you have read some but want more, or you have read a LOT and want to tell me how wrong I am, look no further! Listed below are my favorite books on Alexander the Great, whether they’re novels, biographies, or picture books.

If you have Alexander the Great recommendations for me, please share them in the comments!

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A famous mosaic or whatever 

 

Nonfiction

The Age of Alexander by Plutarch: If you don’t know anything about Alexander the Great, this would be my first nonfiction recommendation. Plutarch was a Roman historian who wrote a few centuries after Alexander, but he was working off of the primary sources (biographies written during or soon after Alexander’s lifetime). That being said, he is an anecdotal writer, so he embellishes where he feels he needs to, and slathers his Roman bias all over everything. Still, it’s a great place to start and pretty entertaining to read. Plutarch knows how to tell a good story. Later biographers tend to use Plutarch and Arrian the most.

The Campaigns of Alexander by Arrian: Arrian is probably the best, most comprehensive source in existence for Alexander. Like Plutarch, Arrian was a Roman writer using the primary sources to write his own Alexander biography, but Arrian does his best to accurately record Alexander’s military exploits. Arrian has less fun storytelling than Plutarch, but more accuracy (in relative terms) and lots of specifics military details.

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Everyone knows that Alexander the Great didn’t have pupils.

The History of Alexander by Quintus Curtius Rufus: If you really want to cover all the main secondary sources, you should tackle Rufus as well. He has really strong opinions about Alexander, like the others he slathers his Roman bias all over everything, but he’s a lot closer to the source material than we are. Rufus gets only a half-hearted recommendation from me because he includes a lot of embellished speeches, he is obsessed with Darius (king of Persia) and he kind of hates Alexander.

Note: Other main sources include Diodorus and Justin, but I haven’t read those guys yet.

Alexander the Great and the Macedonian Empire (Great Courses) by Kenneth Harl: I listened to these lectures but there are DVDs available as well. This is a fantastic and  comprehensive run-down of Alexander, his historical context, and his legacy. My only complaint is that Harl has a huge crush on Alexander, and tends to rationalize or justify some of Alex’s less awesome choices. If you like audiobooks, this would be my #1 rec.

Alexander of Macedon by Peter Green: This is the best biography; I want to eat it up. This and the Harl lectures are the best of the more modern biographies I’ve come across so far. Peter Green doesn’t hate Alexander, and he doesn’t love him, but he respects Alexander is a megolomaniac genius and admires his skill in manipulating everything and everyone around him. I subscribe to this view also, in part because of this book.

The Nature of Alexander by Mary Renault: This is Mary Renault’s nonfiction treatment of Alexander the Great; see below for her fiction treatment. Like Harl, Renault has a huge crush on Alexander and she will stop at nothing to justify any torture, genocide, or palace burnings that her dear Alex gets up to. Like, relax. Sometimes people do bad things but they can’t be boiled down to that one bad thing.

Alexander the Great by Paul Cartledge: This book is repetitive and boring at times, but Cartledge does a great job of analyzing the sources and rejecting the less plausible versions of Alexander episodes. This book isn’t as readable or engaging as some (see Freeman, below), but it is one of the more accurate biographies, and Cartledge has a dry humor that comes out in places.

Alexander the Great by Philip Freeman: If you’re new to Alexander the Great, this is a nice contemporary overview of his life. It’s very readable, but Freeman is not very discriminating with his sources. He’s here for the sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

Fiction

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Alex’s mom Olympias gets a bad rap but at least she got some good coinage out of it.

Stealing Fire by Jo Graham: This book is set after Alexander’s death, but has a lot of flashbacks to various points in his career. It’s told from the perspective of one of Alexander’s officers, who made his way up through the ranks from being a groom. who The plot revolves around the theft of Alexander’s body by one of his generals, and that same general taking over Egypt. You know, the fun stuff. This is a great historical fiction book with some fantasy elements. My main complaint is that Alexander isn’t physically present for most of the events depicted, but his presence is felt throughout by the other characters and in the flashbacks.

Fire From Heaven and The Persian Boy by Mary Renault: These books have a couple of big problems: Mary Renault has a huge crush on Alexander, and the female characters are generally thrown into the whore or witch categories. However,  Renault tries to give an accurate, engaging view of what happened and illustrate what kind of man Alexander was personally. He comes across very positively in these books which is problematic in some cases, but as a work of fiction, it is well-crafted. I haven’t read the third book in the trilogy, The Funeral Games, because it’s post-Alexander and I’m not about that.

Alexander the Great by Demi: If I was going to make a picture book version of Alexander, this is what it would look like. Yes, it’s very idealized. Yes, it mostly draws on Plutarch anecdotes which may or may not be have actually happened. But the storytelling is coherent, and as a broad character study, you get the gist of Alexander’s personality and goals. The art is gorgeous, and the use of gold is absolutely perfect. I want to stare at every page for hours. There’s an epic quality to the illustrations that, yes, romanticized, but go big or go home, unless you’re satirizing the guy. He’s Great, after all.

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These sarissas were 18-feet long so that ancient Macedonians could fit all their enemies on one shish-kabob.

A Choice of Destinies by Melissa Scott: This is my favorite Alexander novel I have read so far, but it’s an alternate history. This book explores what might have happened if Alexander hadn’t gone to India, had an heir that’s old enough to have a chance once Alexander dies, and various other differences. I don’t recommend reading it if you don’t know much about Alex, because you will be very very confused and probably be convinced that he fought Romans. The book doesn’t make clear if Alex still dies of a fever in Babylon, but it does emphasize that his Empire is stabilized in his lifetime and survives for a long time. It has science fiction undertones, but what I love most about this book is how believable the alternate events are, and how well Scott characterizes everyone believably considering the historical sources. I also love the emphasis on Alexander’s engineers: those guys were smart and crucial to Alexander’s campaigns.

 

Hamilton Book Tag

I finally got around to doing the Hamilton book tag! You can watch the video below, or just read my answers to the prompts even further below.

Let me know if you end up doing this, too, because I want to read your answers!

THE QUESTIONS:

The Room Where It Happens (book world you would put yourself in): I would definitely choose Middle-Earth! I’ve spent years thinking about, reading about, and writing about that stupid place. I know all the best places to live, stop for coffee, or buy a horse.
The Schuyler Sisters (Underrated Female Character): Anne Elliott from Persuasion. She’s amazing and deserves so much more love than she gets. She’s sensible, not a show-off, kind, compassionate, observant, and loyal.
My Shot (A character that goes after what they want and doesn’t let anything stop them): I mean, I’m not sure if I should apply this in a good way or a bad way, but the first character that sprang to mind was Nathaniel from The Amulet of Samarkand. He is terrifyingly ambitious but also I love him.
Stay Alive (A character you wish was still alive): WOW UM SPOILERS for “The Tale of Beren and Luthien” (from The Silmarillion) but I’m still really upset about Finrod Felagund. I will probably always be really upset about Finrod Felagund.
Burn (The most heartbreaking end to a relationship you’ve ever read): SPOILERS for Doctrine of the Labyrinths series by Sarah Monette – um Felix and Gideon from The Mirador messed me up real bad.

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You’ll Be Back (Sassiest villain): Piper Greenmantle from The Raven Cycle. I mean, she’s also terrifying and ice-cold, but she can be pretty hilarious. I almost picked her husband Colin but I think she’s better.
The Reynolds Pamphlet (A book with a twist that you didn’t see coming): Any book by Megan Whalen Turner, several books by Timothy Zahn
Non-stop (A series you marathoned): SO MANY but I’ll mention The Lord of The Rings because it involved stealing from my brother, and honorary mention goes to The Mortal Instruments trilogy because I could barely put those books down even though it was the middle of a college term and it was INCREDIBLY STRESSFUL.
Satisfied (Favorite book with multiple POVs): The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan, or any book in that series (The Heroes of Olympus).
Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story (A book/series you feel like will be remembered throughout history): The Lord of The Rings – I know I keep giving Tolkien answers but I can’t help how I feel! It’s already a classic, obviously, and so many of the themes and characters are universal, that even with its problematic elements I think it’s going to last a good long while!

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BONUS QUESTIONS:

Helpless (A relationship you were pulling for from the very start): I can’t think of any that I didn’t think were going to eventually get together. But I really liked Kate and Curran from the Kate Daniels series immediately, and shipped them, even though they are both kinda jerks at first.
Ten Duel Commandments (Favorite fight scene): Any of the duels in Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner, but especially the opening chapter.
Say No To This (Guilty pleasure read): I don’t believe in guilty pleasure reads. I read them and love them or I don’t. But I think manga is the thing I get the most side-eyes for reading, and I know I’ve had to justify Fruits Basket more than once (even though it’s one of the best comic series, period, ever written).
What Comes Next (a series you wish had more books): The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, or Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (there are 2 sequels but I want more, obviously).

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Right Hand Man (Favorite BROTP): Sherlock Holmes and John Watson from Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories.
What’d I Miss (a book or series you were late to reading): I’m late to EVERYbook, let’s be real. I just recently read The Oresteian Trilogy by Aeschylus and that party has been around for over 2000 years…

Fall Into Books: Recs

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Happy Autumn!

I am a pumpkin disguised in human skin, and it should come as no surprise that fall is my favorite season and September/October are my absolute favorite months. There are a few books I love rereading this time of year, whether because they’re school-themed or Halloween-themed or are plain good and cuddly like a spicy latte. Since I am a scifi-loving pumpkin, the recommendations below are all on the speculative fiction/SF&F side of things.

Grab a bouquet of newly-sharpened pencils and enjoy the new school year at one of these magical schools:

 

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“Magisterium” series by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

“Magisterium” started a couple years back and is still ongoing – it’s definitely part of a wave of books reacting or responding to the Harry Potter series, even though that finished years ago. The first book, The Iron Trial, manages to smash in everything I wanted from Harry Potter but didn’t get, and the authors aren’t afraid to push the envelope in storytelling, diversity, etc.

Girl goes to knight school, is picked on by all the boys, kicks ass, becomes ass-kicking lady knight….I can’t imagine why I would love “Protector of the Small” series by Tamora Pierce. But even besides the ass-kicking, Kel, the protagonist, is such a GOOD character and is constantly looking out for those smaller or weaker than herself. It’s fun watching her slowly form her group of besties and supporters, and seeing her bring out the best in other people. Also, yeah, the kingdom of Tortall is a really fun world to read in, as there are lots of knights, monsters, magic, drama, etc.

 

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“Chrestomanci” by Diana Wynne Jones

I have to mention “Chrestomanci” because it’s Diana Wynne Jones, but the school in it is much smaller and more elite than most fictional magical schools. DWJ does dysfunctional family relationships like no one else, but the characters always survive and grow and change in spite of it, and form their own crazy families if need be. The first published book in the series, Charmed Life, is hilarious and dark and features SO MANY DRESSING GOWNS.

 

Prepare for the scariest night of the year with these chillers:

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I love vampire stories where the vampire is in fact a terrifying clever evil monster, and Dracula is the best at it. This classic by Bram Stoker also has a great cast of non-vampire characters and a slow-build mystery plot. We are also doing a readalong of this one
Honestly Frankenstein by Mary Shelley makes me uncomfortable and sad, but it’s really well-done if you want a horrifying tragic psychological mad scientist fairy tale from hell.
thegraveyardbook_hardcover_1218248432I don’t always love Neil Gaiman but I do consistently love his kids books (see also: Coraline, Odd and the Frost Giants, etc ). The Graveyard Book is based on Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Books, except it’s set in a graveyard and the boy has been raised by ghosts. It’s the perfect mix of heartwarming and terrifying.

All Hallows Eve by Charles Williams  is a weird book. The primary protagonist is a ghost woman who has just passed away, but there are other sections from the point of view of characters still living, and all the stories overlap, whether they are taking place in the afterlife version of London or in the physical, “real life” London. There’s a plot to do with some occult plotters, too. IT’S A WEIRD BOOK, OKAY, but really very good.

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It’s my favorite.

My ultimate favorite fall-related read is The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope.
I reread this book every Halloween because it is ridiculous and fun and magical. It’s historical fiction set right before the reign of Elizabeth I in England, about one of Princess Elizabeth’s ladies-in-waiting, Katharine. Katharine gets sent into exile to an isolated estate and proceeds to get in trouble with the locals, the lord, his staff, and the mysterious people from under the hill. There’s a lot of banter and a surprising amount of Thick Tawny Golden Hair. It’s an excellent remix on the Tam Lin legend, too.

 

I focused on speculative fiction for these recommendations, but rukbat3pern on Twitter pointed out that Persuasion by Jane Austen is the perfect autumn book (and is also one of my favorite books of all time).