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Gates of Fire

A book by Steven Pressfield

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  • Nov 1, 1998
This book is one of the best historical reads I've stumbled across in a long time. The "voice" is right, never once slipping into anachronistic modernisms and supplying a truly "transparent" medium, easily accessible to moderns, which yet conveys the immediacy of historical time and place. The tale is not plotted in any formal sense but proceeds in flashback, a hackneyed but effective mechanism here as we see the story unfold, both on the level of a life remembered and through the eyes of the Persian court in the midst of their final Greek campaign. The battle scenes are redolent with the misery and gore of real warfare, too, yet reverberate with the mystery of transcendency -- the real stuff of living and, of course, of dying. There is both an earthiness and a metaphysical element to this finely told tale of heroism in the face of overwhelming odds in a place and time which changed the flow of history as we know it. The characters are as real to us as the flesh and blood we see burning and wallowing in death upon the fields of Thermopylae. And we care about them, which, in the end, is what a book like this must be about. This one's nearly as good as Hope Muntz' THE GOLDEN WARRIOR, which yet remains, in my experience, the best of all historical novels to date. But this is a mighty close runner up. Pressfield has my admiration.

author of The King of Vinland's Saga

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About the reviewer
Stuart W. Mirsky ()
Ranked #230
I'm a retired bureaucrat (having served, most recently, as an Assistant Commissioner in amunicipal agency in a major Northeastern American city). In 2002 I took an early retirement to pursue a lifelong … more
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About this book


Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by, that here obedient to their laws we lie.

Thus reads an ancient stone at Thermopylae in northern Greece, the site of one of the world's greatest battles for freedom. Here, in 480 B.C., on a narrow mountain pass above the crystalline Aegean, 300 Spartan knights and their allies faced the massive forces of Xerxes, King of Persia. From the start, there was no question but that the Spartans would perish. In Gates of Fire, however, Steven Pressfield makes their courageous defense--and eventual extinction--unbearably suspenseful.

In the tradition of Mary Renault, this historical novel unfolds in flashback. Xeo, the sole Spartan survivor of Thermopylae, has been captured by the Persians, and Xerxes himself presses his young captive to reveal how his tiny cohort kept more than 100,000 Persians at bay for a week. Xeo, however, begins at the beginning, when his childhood home in northern Greece was overrun and he escaped to Sparta. There he is drafted into the elite Spartan guard and rigorously schooled in the art of war--an education brutal enough to destroy half the students, but (oddly enough) not without humor: "The more miserable the conditions, the more convulsing the jokes became, or at least that's how it seems," Xeo recalls. His companions in arms are Alexandros, a gentle boy who turns out to be the most courageous of all, and Rooster, an angry, half-Messenian youth.

Pressfield's descriptions of war are breathtaking in their ...

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ISBN-10: 0385492510
ISBN-13: 978-0385492515
Author: Steven Pressfield
Publisher: Doubleday

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