Review: Marathon, Richard A. Billows

Marathon: The Battle that Changed Western CivilizationMarathon: The Battle that Changed Western Civilization by Richard A. Billows
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Far more than a book on the ancient battle, this novel details the story of Greece for the preceding centuries as well as how Persia and Greece came to a contest of wills in the first place. As such, it is a decent overview of both the cultural and military backgrounds of the two peoples as well as making a decent inroad into separating the fact from fiction.

It is a regrettable consequence of the author’s stated wish to create an accessible book that he does not address the majority of the public opinion in his numerous claims of “The accepted opinion is that, but I believe this instead”. Very often, this leads to claims which are insufficiently supported by facts and where the author would have done better by choosing a road which brings in more of the academic debate. It is my belief that he could have done so quite nicely as Mr Billows’s style is generally good and readable though he also has a bit of a tendency to repeat certain turns of phrase.

Coming back, however, to the question of the myth as opposed to the reality it was quite good fun to read the mythology created by Roman historians and utilised by de Coubertin — as is typical of these events, the truth of the march of Marathon (marathon?) and the run of Philippides from Athens to Sparta (to Athens) both far surpass that described in the legend of a singular run of approximately 42km.

I’ll finish with the note that there is a lot of unexpected information in this book, and I found most of it really enjoyable. People solely hoping for an account of people killing each other will be disappointed, however; people looking for an account exploring potential reasons for why things happen will be pleased.

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