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Book Review: The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories Edited by Robert B. Strassler

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Herodotus is well known as the “father of history”. As the first writer to use the Greek “historie,” meaning an inquiry, when speaking of examining the events of the past, his seminal work The Histories has never seen such a comprehensive, modern treatment as it has received in The Landmark Herodotus.

Long a favorite of budding historians wanting to dig into primary source documents of the Greek and Persian war rather than the regurgitations found in history textbooks, Herodotus has at the same time remained somewhat intimidating and inaccessible to those without a scholarly background in the classics. If there’s a copy of The Histories sitting on your shelf that you’ve always meant to read, or wanted to assign to your students, but have given up due to confusion, pick up a copy of The Landmark Herodotus.

Andrea L. Purvis’ new translation is accessible, easy to understand, and well footnoted and documented when variations and translation choices must be explained. A total of 127 historical maps set Herodotus’ inquiries into history, culture, geography, and the natural world, firmly into space.

The extensive footnotes, side note summaries, page headings, and wealth of appendixes help modern readers – lay readers in particular – delve into Herodotus’ work with the many helps that keep us immersed in cultural context and background details as needed. This is truly the Herodotus for beginners.

The index is a work of beauty – nearly 100 pages in total. If you ever find yourself thinking, “I know I’ve read this excerpt from Herodotus somewhere,” and would like to read it in context, you’ll be ecstatic!

Reprinted in 2009 as a paperback, this 1024-page volume, thickly padded with detail, is better suited as a hardcover. The 2007 original volume will hold up better to the massive weight of this tome.

Whether for your own background reading, or for the use of your high school student, this masterful volume is hands-down the best modern version of The Histories to see now available today. It’s truly difficult to see how Strassler could have improved this edition. There is more than enough fascinating detail included to lose yourself in the history of ancient Greece, Persia, and the surrounding nations.

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