Herodotus - where would we be without him? The fifth-century Greek writer is known as the Father of History, and although the sophistication of writing history has certainly changed in the intervening centuries, the overall shape and method have not. Herodotus is a landmark in the history of civilization.
Herodotus was the first (at least in the West and as far as we know) to systematically collect documentary materials to form the basis of what he wrote and to arrange those materials in a narrative that captures the readerís imagination. He even made some effort to verify his sources, a practice that led more or less directly to the rigors of the modern academy. In The Histories, Herodotus also set another standard: history is to be written by the winners.
That last bit has changed, thankfully, in recent decades, as historyís underdogs and losers get their day in the sun and in court. That Herodotus set a history-writing habit that lasted twenty-five hundred years is no mean feat. Still, itís easy to be captivated by the story he tells about the Greco-Persian Wars that ended (around 480 B.C.) when Herodotus was at most ten years old.
The story of those wars is fascinating because the Persians, with their mighty armies capable of eclipsing the sky for minutes at a time with their showers of arrows, were defeated repeatedly by the weak and fractious Greeks. As Jared Diamond points out, the mountainous landscape of the Greek peninsula, with its population-separating barriers, is a natural breeding ground for city states. The alliances necessarily formed by the wily Greeks in order to beat the Persians, and the battles themselves, form the warp and weft of the historianís weave.
So much for background on a name every serious reader already recognizes. What makes The Landmark Herodotus great is that it is a landmark; the book is so thick it would likely be instantly recognizable in satellite photos of your bookshelf. And itís not fat that bulks this book up to the size of a well-fed satrap. Itís the maps and useful annotations that illustrate and elucidate every step of the way that make this book a heavyweight.
Herodotus is not easy going, and he flings names of people and places around like candy to kids at a parade. What a boon to have maps, at long last in one volume, to put a face on the place. With editor Strasslerís annotations and Purvisís lucid translation, Herodotus at last becomes accessible to and referenceable by the average serious reader. (Strassler, by the way, already hit a home run with his Landmark Thucydides, the latter being another big-warmongering ancient Greek historian.)
There are a Saganís number (ďbillions and billionsĒ) of translations of Herodotus available, and some are slim enough that you really can curl up with them. But the problem with less comprehensive volumes is that your divan or bed is soon covered with secondary books in order to understand the skinny one youíre intent upon. The Landmark Herodotus is a serious, and seriously affordable, piece of work worthy of any readerís reference collection.