Thursday, May 20, 2010

Paul Cartledge's "Ancient Greece"

I found this book disappointing. Cartledge comes across as an expert but he writes in a condescending, cryptic way that academics love to take on when they feel they are forced to deal with the unwashed, uncouth, uneducated crowd. The book is full of cryptic bits that surely indicate a wealth of knowledge, but is useless to the ordinary reader because the hint isn't developed into anything meaningful.

My fundamental problem with this book is that it has no "theme" other than a romp through brief histories of eleven ancient Greek cities. Clearly there is a lot to tell and wonderous things to examine. But Cartledge disdains to more than glance at bits and pieces in a distractedly erudite manner. Why bother? This book is useless for an expert because it doesn't dig deep enough and present real information that a true scholar could get his teeth into. It certainly doesn't present enough of a "tale" to fascinate an ordinary reader. The book mystifies me. Who was it written for? It could be a coffee table book, but its puny size and poor illustrations would shame any home that had the audacity to pretend that this book would lend status and prestige on a coffee table.

This blurb on the book's back cover is a wretched joke: "Telling the grand story of the Ancient Greeks through in-depth portraits of eleven great city-states is a brilliant approach." Josiah Ober, Stanford University.

Give me a break! There is nothing "in-depth" about this book. It isn't a "brilliant approach" because Cartledge himself admits that he follows in the steps of Kathleen Freeman's 1950 book Greek City-States. So why is Ober calling this a "brilliant" approach. It is nothing new. Maybe it was done better, but I seriously doubt it. Cartledge talks of his memory of Freeman's book 40 years later. I seriously doubt whether anyone 40 years from now will admit to having ever heard of Cartledge's book and they certainly won't be calling it "brilliant".

This book should never have been written. It is an insult to the reader. It reinforces my disdain for academics who see no need to communicate with the wider world.

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