A War Like No Other: How the Athenians & Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War

ISBN: 0812969707
ISBN 13: 9780812969702
By: Victor Davis Hanson

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About this book

Provocative military historian Victor Davis Hanson has given painstakingly researched & pathbreaking accounts of wars ranging from classical antiquity to the 21st century. Now he juxtaposes an ancient conflict with modern concerns to create his most engrossing work to date, A War Like No Other. Over the course of a generation, the Hellenic poleis of Athens & Sparta fought a bloody conflict that resulted in the collapse of Athens & the end of its golden age. Thucydides wrote the standard history of the Peloponnesian War, which has given readers throughout the ages a vivid & authoritative narrative. But Hanson offers something new: a complete chronological account that reflects the political background of the time, the strategic thinking of the combatants, the misery of battle in multifaceted theaters & insight into how these events echo in the present. He compellingly portrays the ways Athens & Sparta fought on land & sea, in city & countryside, & details their employment of the full scope of conventional & nonconventional tactics, from sieges to targeted assassinations, torture & terrorism. He also assesses the crucial roles played by warriors such as Pericles & Lysander, artists, among them Aristophanes, & thinkers including Sophocles & Plato. Hanson’s perceptive analysis of events & personalities raises many thought-provoking questions: Were Athens & Sparta like America & Russia, two superpowers battling to the death? Is the Peloponnesian War echoed in the endless, frustrating conflicts of Vietnam, Northern Ireland & the current Middle East? Or was it more like America’s own Civil War, a brutal rift that rent the fabric of a glorious society, or even this century’s “red state—blue state” schism between liberals & conservatives, a cultural war that manifestly controls military policies? Hanson daringly brings the facts to life & unearths the often surprising ways in which the past informs the present. Brilliantly researched, dynamically written, A War Like No Other is like no other history of this important war.

Reader's Thoughts

Stella ☢FAYZ☢ Chen

He really didn't have what I wanted. There were parts from this book that really helped my research but overall, he went off topic way too often!Would loved for it to be more relevant and to the point. Your fancy comparisons were boring to read. But like I said, I got some cool stuff out of this book.


I am definitely on a Greek history kick and I liked this book but if you feel like reading just one read Lord of the Seas - it is much more interesting and easy to follow. This one jumps around and if I hadn't read Lord of the Seas I would have been pretty lost on the timeframes.But so interesting how the Athenians went to war with other city states to promote democracy, and it was their ruin in the end due to the expense, among other things. Sound familiar anyone?

E Stanton

This was an excellent history by one America's best classicists. Helps to have read Thucydides first. Would recommend to anyone who enjoys history at all, not just ancient or military history


I dont always agree with his op-eds and hoover institution creds, but he's a good friend of one of my favorite ugrad professors - both of whom are meticulous scholars and excellent writers. This book tackles the Peloponnesian war from a unique categorization of the kinds of tactics/technology/institutions available to both sides. Thucydides serves as a guide, but the book is written in a way where the reader will not get lost in an avalanche of names and places that makes thucydides' version an instant headache. Vivid depictions of battles, individuals and societies. This book brings the classical world to life for lay readers.


Hanson has crafted a history of the Peloponnesian War which breaks form the traditional, chronological storyline. Instead, Hanson has broken down the conflict into the types of warfare and the whole book is essentially detailing the evolution of Greek warfare into the tactical juggernauts of Thebes and later, Macedon. Basically, Hanson contends that the Peloponnesian War exerted such stress on the Greek city-states, over twenty-seven years, that the old politics of pitched hoplite battles and open sea engagements, a la the Persian Wars, were too ineffective and inefficient. Sparta's armies were preeminent on the field of battle and Athens' fleets ruled the seas without equal, until the final stages of the war. Because of their absolute dominance in their respective fields, the real fighting took place elsewhere: in nightfighting, sieges, the novel use of auxiliaries who attacked with ranged weapons (javelins, bows, slings), a newfound appreciation for the cavalry wing and the impact of the plague on Athens. Hanson's book falls short of the elusive 5-stars because his style sometimes dragged. However, this is a clear, concise, well-researched and well-written analysis of a war that changed everything in the eastern mediterranean, opening the power vacuum for Thebes and Macedon.

Bookmarks Magazine

Victor Davis Hanson, military historian turned Op-Ed rabble-rouser, holds firm to his belief that there are important lessons to be learned from the past. He has written extensively on the subject (The Western Way of War; Carnage and Culture; Between War and Peace). As a "modern Machiavelli" (Daily Telegraph), he has bent the ears of policy makers all the way up to the West Wing. Critics are impressed by Hanson's ability to bring all the machinations of the Greeks alive in his thematic chapters. They are equally intrigued by his cogent theory that finds similar strains of pride, militarism, and democratic evangelicalism in both the Athenians and Americans.This is an excerpt from a review published in Bookmarks magazine.


This is a great book on the Peloponnesian War, because it is different than other texts. Most texts approach the war from a chronological perspective. This one instead approaches it from the perspective of military technology and tactics and effectively leverages modern analogies to similar issues. It covers how the ancient greeks employed infantry, cavalry, fortified and besieged cities, used terror tactics and fought asymmetrical war, triremes. One thing from the infantry chapter that was helpful was a very detailed description of how hoplite warfare in a phalanx was really like and how it was intimately tied to civic virtues: discipline to stay in formation and trusting your neighbors to protect you. Thucydides has been studied by generals and heads of state for 1000's of years and the lessons appear to be eternal. This is a nice companion to reading Thucydides.


I enjoy reading classical Greek and Latin literature of all sorts: drama, poetry, and history, as well as books about these topics. So it was with the anticipation of something good that I sat down to read Hanson’s “A War Like No Other”. Hanson is a noted author, historian and classicist, so what could be more interesting than his take on the Peloponnesian war? A lot of things, actually.Not that “A War Like No Other” is bad. Hanson, as has been noted in many reviews, departs from the typical linear presentation of the war, taking instead a topical approach. In each chapter he examines the war as a whole through the lens of a particular aspect of the war. In “Armor”, he focuses on the life of the Greek Hoplite soldier, the main Hoplite battles, and how the nature of those battles changed radically from the opening to the closing of the war. Likewise in “Walls” he investigates the ancient Greek practice of siege warfare. Naval battles are discussed in “Ships”, cavalry in “Horses”, and so on. As he examines these topics in detail he also touches on several recurring themes, chief among them the cost of the war in material treasure, human lives, and the way the Peloponnesian war changed Western concepts of war forever. All of this is fascinating.The issue I had was not with the information presented, but how it was presented. The topical approach simply did not work for me. It was too fragmented and disjoint. I felt like I was reading the same story over and over again. True, each chapter varied from the last in topic, but too many of the events and characters were repeated. The narrative thread provided by a linear history was disrupted as those characters and events lost their normal place in a timeline. It did not help that this was my first reading of a book on the Peloponnesian war. Perhaps if I had already read Thucydides, “A War Like No Other” would have been more accessible. On the whole, Hanson’s book is worthwhile, but I cannot recommend it to a newcomer to the war between Athens and Sparta. Start with Thucydides. I intend to make him my next stop.


This book brilliantly threads the line of popular history, avoiding being either too scholarly (with name-checking of the sort, "As Heyman Roberts brilliantly explicated in his influential study of Greek horses...") or too pandering (with invented scenes like, "Brasius's eyes widened in terror as he spied the dreaded red plumes of the Spartan infantry.") Instead, it is a thoughtful, intelligent look at how "the first civil war in Western history" radically transformed Greek society and the culture of warfare generally.Hanson's decision to tell the history of the war thematically rather than chronologically keeps the focus on what the war was like. (This book is definitely focused on the strategic instead of the tactical, and major events like an Athenian coup are mentioned only in passing.) You learn how infantry fought and how armadas fought, and also why there were so few infantry battles (two in the entire 27 year history of the war) and how projecting naval force could bankrupt a city-state. You get a feeling for how primitive Greek warfare was at the beginning of the conflict, and how it became ripe for a major arms race by the end. Hanson peppers the book with analogies to other conflicts throughout history, making it clear how the Peloponnesian War influenced Western warfare for centuries.The only flaw with the book, which cost it a star for me, is how repetitive Hanson can be. Sometimes that benefits a non-chronological telling: by always calling it "the disaster at Sicily" rather than "the Sicilian campaign", he makes it clear he's talking about the same campaign (but from different angles) in different chapters. But sometimes it's totally gratuitous: do we really need to be told 5 times that Plato was an arch-conservative who hated the rise of the Athenian Navy? But that's a relatively minor quibble in a fascinating and surprisingly engrossing work.


As an enthusiast of ancient history, I was excited to start this book, that being said, it wasn't in a style that I enjoyed. Hanson broke down the war, not into stages, or years, but into the different styles of warfare. A lot of back and forth through history, and at times repetitive. I found Hanson's analysis of the political situations behind the military operations to be cursory and left much to be desired.

Bryan Reed

Rather than a straightforward history of the Peloponnesian War, Hanson breaks the book down into sections based on different facets of the war. Moving from the Long Wall of Athens and the horrible plague during the Spartan invasion of Attica to the few massed hoplite battles and finally to Athens' downfall in the naval battles in the Aegean the history, politics and technology of the war are discussed in great detail. I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn more about this unique bit of history.

David Donnelly

Military themes such as guerrilla warfare, etc used as a device to show development of the art of war during the wars between Athens and Sparta. Though the book follows a timeline narrative within the aforementioned themes, it may be helpful to start with one of Kagan's more traditionally structured narrative works before diving into this much breezier account. There appears to be a corpus of work built up around Athenian topics in the last couple of decades. There was a great deal of interest from Neo Conservatives, as Athens came to be regarded as a model for America's role in the world as we embarked on our various misadventures in the Middle East.

The American Conservative

'Now Hanson’s newest project, A War Like No Other, drags one of my heroes, the great Greek military historian Thucydides, into his seedy propaganda campaign. A War Like No Other is Hanson’s retelling of Thucydides’ great story of the Peloponnesian War, the grim 30-year struggle between Athens and Sparta. That’s a pretty conceited project, even for Hanson. After all, this is Thucydides we’re talking about, a genius who practically invented the genre of military history. Hanson retelling Thucydides’ story is like Penny Marshall trying to remake “Raging Bull.”But this book is even more confused than most of Hanson’s work. It doesn’t make sense at any level, from sentence to overall argument. What’s weird is that nobody seems to have noticed. I’ve read a lot of reviews of this book from big papers like the New York Times and they all treat Hanson like he’s beyond criticism. Seems all you have to do is sound like a professor and fill up pages and everybody thinks you’re the Xenophon of Fresno.'Read the full review, "It's All Greek to Victor Davis Hanson," on our website:http://www.theamericanconservative.co...


I started this book under the impression that this would be a conservative's take on the Juan Cole Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East model of history- an extended analysis of America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan told through the lens of another historical incident. Despite signaling in this direction in his first chapter, Hanson actually hews closely to the historical material at hand. The organization of the narrative by common war experiences (fire, disease, armor, horses, walls, ships) served very well at the beginning although it did make the end a bit of a slog as characters and battles discussed previously would be dredged through again under the framework of a following chapter. Hanson is a strong writer who makes the life of an average Athenian or Spartan surprisingly accessible given the intervening years.

Sam Choi

This is a very engaging, highly detailed book about the war between Athens and Sparta (ok, the Peloponnesian states, as many other cities were involved). I'm a bit out of my element, so I can't comment on the actual originality of the work or where it stands in relationship to the other work ... but, from a layman's perspective, I found it very informative. There is a little strain between the narrative and analysis, where he begins a narrative, but interrupts it for analysis, or vice verse. So, for someone not familiar with events, it can be a little disconcerting at times when he 1) starts on a narrative portion, 2) then stops to offer an analysis, 3) and makes use of examples in the analysis that he has not yet narrated. Finally, Hanson often makes contemporary comparisons, such as the cold war, WWII, etc. to the ancient situations, and they're often enlightening ... though, at times, I wonder if a classical scholar would agree on the accuracy of them. Still, very entertaining, and, for a non-expert, very interesting.

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