William Shepherd, The Persian War (Osprey Publishing, 2019)
(Reviewed by Dom Sore)
In The Persian War, William Shepherd sets out to cover that conflict through the liberal use of Herodotus’ work interspersed with other historic sources. That results in a book some 511 pages long consisting of twelve chapters, bibliography, and index. There are also two sections of photographs, archaeological artifacts, terrain, and modern takes on ancient technology, and a section of maps. Of those, the two maps in the initial section are basic but include a very handy index of places to help you visualise where the forthcoming action takes place. The main text is nicely laid out in chronological order, making it much easier to follow what is happening. After the Introduction, the next two chapters deal well with the rise of the Persian Empire and Athens respectively. Further maps are interspersed amongst the text where necessary, mainly to aid battle descriptions, and provide useful visuals. William Shepherd does a good job of fleshing out Herodotus with the other sources available to generate a more coherent narrative that more matches the reality as we know it.
The use of large sections of Herodotus is laudable; however, it does somewhat interrupt the flow of the narrative as a whole. The principal method of the book is to use those parts, though cutting them down a little would have helped the reader appreciate them more. This is especially notable when compared to the author’s own writing, which has a great flow to it. This is a book more useful for reference than an enjoyable read. It is also neither an examination of Herodotus nor a straight history of the Persian War. What is does is provide you with the information you need to start examining parts of the war in greater detail, points you to the other sources you may wish to reference, and if all you need is an overview, gives you enough knowledge to understand what happened. It is therefore a welcome, if somewhat frustrating, addition to my library.