The Virtues of War: A Novel of Alexander the Great by Steven Pressfield

It’s been said that to read a biography of Alexander the Great is ruin yourself for all fiction, such is the caliber of the tale. If this is so, is there no room for historical fiction that puts the reader up close and personal, being told the story by the man himself?

A caveat to those who read historical fiction for history… Steven Pressfield states up front that he has taken considerable liberties with the known facts, and he explains where and how. The point of the story is to explore the heart and mind of a warrior, less through the context of honor in the way the historical Alexander might have understood, and more as we do today with concepts such as chivalry, which would have been alien to the Macedonians. Because we are told up front what to expect, it’s somehow easier to simply let the story unfold. It’s not that Pressfield didn’t understand his subject. It’s that he is inviting us to understand Alexander as he does, through means we can identify.

The story itself is told, as I say, through Alexander’s first person perspective. The thoughts and strategies of the man are examined in detail, his feelings made known. Pressfield takes pride in the idea of this man as the noble warrior that myth paints him to be. Much like with many of the author’s other works, the way it’s written appeals to the most primal qualities of man without apology, but does so in a way that separates the warrior from the brute thug. It also really makes me crave a good juicy steak, the bloodier the better.

4 stars

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