The Genius of Alexander the Great Book Review

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  • Topic: Alexander the Great, Chandragupta Maurya, Darius III of Persia
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  • Published : February 28, 2013
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The Genius of Alexander the Great
Alexander III of Macedon, widely known as Alexander the Great, is opinioned by some people to have been a ruthless man who only had a thirst for conquest , but according to others he was a man of intellect and “statesmanlike vision” (Hammond Preface). In N.G.L. Hammond’s book The Genius of Alexander the Great, as stated in the preface, he tries to refrain from writing based on his own opinion of Alexander, and instead analyzes the few surviving narratives on Alexander’s achievements in an unbiased manner. He portrays the conquests, struggles, and greatest achievements of Alexander’s career, such as the building of his empire that stretched from the eastern Mediterranean coast through Asia Minor and the Indus Valley (Hammond Preface). Hammond’s main goal is to evaluate the life of Alexander and to write an account of him which is as close to the true facts of his profession as one can achieve. Hammond claims that Alexander did more than any other individual to shape the history of civilization, which led to the title of his book. (Hammond preface) But what was it that made Alexander the Great so ‘great’? In the early years of his life, he wanted to achieve glory and excellence, and that dream stuck with him until his death. His ability to establish his positions and to forge an empire like no other led to the creation of his legendary name.

Alexander overcame hardships, such as nationalism and racism, to build his kingdom using intellect and personality. Even at a young age he showed independence and courage when he tamed the wild stallion Bucephalus (Hammond 2). And that was only the beginning of him proving his worth and his leadership qualities. He was an admirable public speaker (Hammond 27), and he showed great amounts of courage and independence in his life time. At his first battle, the battle of the river Granicus, the Persians placed “their excellent cavalry 20,000 strong on the level ground facing the river and their 20,000 Greek mercenary infantry on the hillside above the level ground” (Hammond 65) as a defense mechanism that could not be turned on either side (Hammond 66). This battle proved his characteristic speed and courage when he formed a line for frontal attack which included Greek Calvary, Thracian cavalry, archers, Paeonian cavalry, the lancers, and the Hypaspists (Hammond 66) and attacked the Persians, prevailing due to his “strength, experience, and lances of cornelwood against javelines” (Hammond 67). He was a military genius, and it was because of this that he was victorious at that first battle. In Hammond’s opinion, Alexander’s “immediate grasp of the tactical situation, his coordination of all arms in a coordinated attack, and his ingenuity in combining the initial assault with the extension of his line upstream to the right were all brilliant” (Hammond 68). But how had he learned to become so ‘brilliant’ when it came to military? According to the text, he became educated in his military matters when he turned fourteen and attended the School of Royal Pages in 342 B.C.E. (Hammond 4). He took a four year course where he learned liberal arts, horsemanship, and basic subjects of school until he graduated on his eighteenth birthday (Hammond 5). It is because of this education that he received the start of his admirable career. Hammond provides multiple points in his book that show Alexander’s ‘greatness’, such as the Balkan campaign, where he broke through the Haemus Pass, crossed the Danube, and led his army through Wolf’s Pass without losing a single man (Hammond 39); the revolt and capture of Thebes, where his march into Thebes was “so swift that the Thebans did not know of his approach” (Hammond 44); and the battle of Gaugamela, where he defeated Darius III Codomannus and afterwards was acclaimed ‘King of Asia’ by the Macedonians (Hammond 110). During 340 B.C.E., Alexander commanded the Macedonian forces and defeated the Maedi in the Strymon Valley...
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