The First Clash
The First Clash
The Miraculous Greek Victory at Marathon and Its Impact on Western Civilization
By Jim Lacey
Bantam, Hardcover, 9780553807349, 272pp.
Publication Date: March 29, 2011
Marathon—one of history’s most pivotal battles. Its very name evokes images of almost superhuman courage, endurance, and fighting spirit. But until now, the story of what happened at Marathon has been told exclusively through the narrow viewpoint of specialists in antiquity. In this eye-opening new book, acclaimed journalist Jim Lacey, both a military historian and a combat veteran, takes a fresh look at Marathon and reveals why the battle happened, how it was fought, and whether, in fact, it saved Western civilization.
Lacey brilliantly reconstructs the world of the fifth century B.C. leading up to the astonishing military defeat of the Persian Empire by the vastly undermanned but determined Greek defenders. Using the seminal work of Herodotus as his starting point, Lacey reconstructs the tactical and strategic scenario of the battle, including how many combatants each side might have used and who actually led the Greeks. He also disputes the long-repeated myths of Athenian inexperience and effete Persian arrogance.
With the kind of vivid detail that characterizes the best modern war reportage, Lacey shows how the heavily armed Persian army was shocked, demoralized, and ultimately defeated by the relentless assault of the Athenian phalanx, which battered the Persian line in a series of brutal attacks. He reveals the fascinating aftermath of Marathon, how its fighters became the equivalent of our “Greatest Generation,” and challenges the view of many historians that Marathon ultimately proved the Greek “Western way of war” to be the superior strategy for fighting—and winning—battles to the present day.
Immediate, visceral, and full of new analyses that defy decades of conventional wisdom, The First Clash is a superb interpretation of a conflict that indeed made the world safe for Aristotle, Plato, and our own modern democracy. But it was also a battle whose legacy and lessons have often been misunderstood—perhaps, now more than ever, at our own peril.
"On the occasion of the 2500th anniversary of the battle of Marathon, defense analyst James Lacey has not only offered a fresh appraisal of the battle, but in a larger sense demonstrated how the Athenian victory established a precedent of Western military advantage for subsequent millennia. With a fresh eye to tactics, strategy, and military organization, grounded with direct experience with troops on the battlefield, the result is not only new understanding of how the Athenians managed to win, but also a greater appreciation of the beginning of a long tradition of Western military dynamism that we take for granted today."—Victor Davis Hanson, author of Carnage and Culture and The Western Way of War
“With a soldier’s eye, Jim Lacey recreates the Battle of Marathon in all its brutal simplicity. This compelling and provocative read makes a potent contribution to an enduring debate.”—Barry Strauss, author of The Battle of Salamis and Professor of History, Cornell University
“A lively and readable account of the battle of Marathon and its significance. Jim Lacey’s experience as a professional soldier gives it an added dimension, especially his ability to see the military situation from both sides.”—Donald Kagan, author of The Peloponnesian War
Military historian Jim Lacey says the battle of Marathon, where the vastly outnumbered Greeks defeated the Persian army, had a profound impact on Western civilization, and opened an East-West political and cultural divide that shaped the ancient and modern worlds. More at NPR.org
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