The story of Persia vs the Greeks is one that has told many times over the centuries. Part of this is because we have some very good Greek sources about the conflict, so that we know more about these wars than nearly anything else before it (other parts are the high drama, and Ancient Greece’s place in the foundation of Western thought).

Tom Holland’s Persian Fire tries, and largely succeeds in expanding the Persian point of view. He starts out with the rise of Persia, and how it took over from Media and Assyria. This section is very well done, and well worth the price of admission if you already have all you need of the later parts with Darius and Xerxes. He then proceeds through the histories of Sparta and Athens in turn, showing just how they had evolved from somewhat typical Greek city-state beginnings to the distinctive forms that we are used to hearing about.

From there, discussions of Marathon, Thermopylae, and Salamis are a bit more typical, but there is still effort to see just what was going on in the heads of the principles, especially Xerxes. However, the writing in the entire book is very good, so even if you’re very familiar with the subject, this telling is very well done. He also does a good job with Platea, though I thought it was lacking compared to other parts of the book. Also lacking is his analysis of what kept Persia from coming back for round three, though he does talk about it some.

Overall, I’m very happy to have picked up yet another book on this subject. Holland does a very good job at the overview, and widens the scope of his gaze just a bit more to make this the best ‘lighter’ book you’re likely to find on the two Persian invasions of Greece.