The Last Will and Testament of Alexander the Great: The Truth Behind the Death that Changed the Graeco-Persian World Forever – David Grant

grantThroughout history, rulers and conquerors have left their mark on the world with legacies that remain intact to this day. Alexander III of Macedon (356-323 BC) was only thirty-two years of age when he died. But in his short and extraordinary life, he ruled an empire that changed world history. In mainstream culture, he is known as Alexander the Great and in his era, the mention of his name evoked fear across territories threatened by the Macedonian empire. Yet for all of his power and accomplishments, he died intestate, having failed to clarify his wishes as he faced death. Whether it was due to procrastination, sickness or paranoia is lost to history. But what we do know is that following his death, the interactions between his former generals became dark and deadly. And before the violence was over, multiple participants had been dispatched to Hades. Strangely, there is no official cause of death for the legendary ruler. There are rumors of possible poisoning or a deadly illness such as typhoid, but the different accounts of his final days add more confusion to the mystery. Author David Grant dissects the known diaries of events that purport to contain the truth about Alexander’s death in an effort to resolve the matter.

Readers without prior knowledge of Alexander’s life may find value in first watching a documentary about him or reading articles online. I say this because in the wake of his death, key figures once under his command take on various roles and each having their own agenda. There are names in the book that will stand out easily such as Aristotle (384-322 BC) and Cleopatra (357-308 BC). But they play minor roles in the story which focuses heavily on the former generals and their actions. As I read, I found keeping track of the figures slightly challenging as the story moves from place to place. However, I recommend getting familiar with each character as you make your way through the discussion. Essentially, two major factions appear after Alexander’s death, one side led by Perdiccas (356-321) and Eumenes (362-313 BC) who are loyal of Alexander’s line of success and the other by Meleager (d. 323 BC),  Antigonus I Monophthalmus (382-301 BC), and Antipater (397-319 BC) who see the power vacuum as a chance to consolidate power.  Added to the mix are the roles and rights as heirs of Alexander’s sons Alexander IV from wife Roxana (340-310 BC) and Heracles (327 -309 BC) from wife Barsine (363-309 BC). The story is deeply intricate with alliances and double-crosses, and the author did an exceptional job of researching the events and composing this account that examines the known facts. But complicating the task are the various accounts of Alexander’s death.

The name of Eumenes will be seared into reader’s minds for multiple reasons. He becomes a prominent figure in the book due to his account of how Alexander died. His explanation is not beyond suspicion, and historians have questioned its authenticity. Grant also questions its accuracy and provides compelling reasons why it cannot be trusted entirely as the definitive account of the Alexander’s end days. Despite its questionable contents, Eumenes was a witness to Alexander’s final days and would have included truths in his account. They may stand in contrast to the story presented by the Royal Diaries which found subscribers in historians Arrian of Nicomedia (86-160 AD) and Plutarch (46-119 AD). The Royal Diaries, sometimes referred to the Journal, are accepted as authentic. But with other aspect of Alexander’s final days and the deadly power struggles that ensued, questions remain about the source material used to explain those events. And as the author explains in the book’s conclusion, the authenticity of any alleged “wills” is subject to scrutiny due to events that transpired and their participants. But that examination should not take away from the facts that are known and other truths we may never know.

Between 322 and 275 BC, Alexander’s former generals engaged in the Wars of the Diadochi, a conflict that spanned several decades and led to the collapse of Alexander’s empire. The author refers to them, when necessary, but the book is not a discussion of the multiple wars. However, they are relevant to the story as they show the deception and greed to be found in the wake of Alexander’s death. The plots are intricate and some sections might need to be revisited for clarification, but the venom between parties was intense and everyone seemed to have a role to play including Alexander’s mother Olympias (375-316 BC) who was determined to maintain the line of succession. Grant pulls no punches and brings the past to life as enemies plot ways to have each other killed. The amount of blood spilled during these wars is unimaginable. Olympias proves to be a formidable threat and she has her own story in the book and her fate becomes tied to the actions of Antipater’s son Cassander (355-297 BC). This is one part of the story that reaffirms the savagery of the ancient world. The tragic truth is that the wars were both deadly and costly, and erased any chance for Alexander’s line of succession to continue.

This book is not light reading by any means but it also an invaluable tool when examining Alexander’s demise. There are no happy endings in the story. And whether the cause was typhoid fever or poison, Alexander’s death at the age of thirty-two remains one of history’s biggest conspiracies. But whether there actually was a conspiracy is still unsolved. Voltaire (1694-1778) once said, “to the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth”. Grant seeks the truth about Alexander’s will and so do we. I can say that reading the book resulted in me further researching the historical figures. And having done so makes the story easier to digest. If you love ancient Greek history, this book is must read.


The Six Day War: The Breaking of the Middle East – Guy Larson


On May 14, 1948, Israel was formally declared an independent state with David Ben Gurion (1886-1973) being appointed as the first prime minister. Over the objection of both diplomats and officials in the military, the administration of President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) gave its support that same day. This historical event set in motion a chain of events that has resulted in a political and social divide across the Middle East that culminated with the Six-Day War in June 1967 in which Israeli armed forces launch strategic and coordinated attacks against several Arab nations. The conflict was brief but it changed the Middle East and heightened tensions between Israel and many of its Arab neighbors. Prior to the conflict tensions had been brewing between Israel and the Arab world with war hawks on both sides pushing for military action. But the questions remains, was the war preventable? And what exactly did happen to kick off the battle that last only six days? Author Guy Laron addresses those questions and many others in this spellbinding investigative account in the battle that broke the Middle East.

Though I continue to learn the history of the Middle East, I sometimes feel that there is much about the region lost to the west. American intervention in Middle Eastern affairs was at times sorely misguided as I learned in the book. The story of the war begins many years prior to 1967 and Laron assembles the pieces of the puzzle. And to dissuade readers from any idea that the war was a “total victory” he explains somberly that:

“The Six-Day War seemingly ended in one of the swiftest victories in modern history; in reality, the new post-1967 lines created new war zones, especially along the Suez Canal, where the warring sides were conducting a six-year trench warfare, which ended only with a bold assault by the Syrians and the Egyptians in 1973.”

Essentially, the conflict produced a domino effect that has never been resolved. The author provides a thorough and informative discussion on Middle Eastern history but only as far back as needed to set up the remainder of the book. And the country that takes center stage is the nation of Egypt under the leadership of Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918-1970). This part of the story I found highly fascinating due to the discussion regarding Egypt’s relationship with the United States. Similar to Vietnam, decisions made in Washington could have changed history had another course of action been taken with regards to foreign policy. I felt a chill run down my spine as I learned of the deterioration in relations between Nasser and Washington. The refusal to support Egypt’s goal of becoming a major player on the world stage is regrettable and I believe it is a lost moment that quite possibly could have altered the course of history. Readers may find themselves staring in disbelief at the treatment Egypt received from its American ally. Nasser himself also felt the chill and realized that Egypt could not depend on Washington in the long run.

On the other side of the spectrum, the relationship between Washington and Israel is scrutinized allowing readers to learn of the actions behind the scene that help propel Israel towards the military campaign in 1967. Similar to Egypt, war hawks had been read for some time to launch an offensive against the Arab nations. Despite the pressure in place by hawks, the call for attack had been resisted by the fairly moderate Prime Minister Levi Eshkol (1895-1969) who was not overly anxious to ignite a major conflict in the Middle East. Further, Washington had refrained from giving its support while signaling it would not interfere. America was playing both sides while at the same time keeping its eye on the Soviet Union whose entry into world affairs was always a concern. Although the conflict was not an extension of the Cold War, its presence can be felt at times. And the picture that emerges in the book is one of multiple parties all playing their own games while a major conflict hangs in the balance.

Behind the scenes, the discussions between Washington and Israel were not as fluid as one may believe. In fact, more than once, the allocation of funds had been reduced and two presidents had threatened to severely reduce financial aid should war break out. As the mantle passes from Truman to Dwight Eisenhower (1890-1969), the tone from Washington becomes sterner. Eisenhower had seen the effects of war up close was had no desire to take part in the ignition of a major conflict. His successor, John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) had even less desire and made it clear that Israel was to take part in the nuclear arms reduction plan his administration had set in place. This part of the book caught my attention because it is a part of the Kennedy presidency that receives very little attention. Prior to his death in November 1963, Kennedy had been applying pressure on Ben Gurion to open the Dimona nuclear facility for inspection. Israel had stalled forcing Kennedy to threaten to reduce financial aid in an attempt to get Tel Aviv to fall in line with his arms reductions plan. To illustrate just how heated the issue became, Laron explains that:

“Kennedy persisted and in mid-May 1963 sent Ben-Gurion his toughest letter yet, making clear that he would not budge and allow an Israeli nuclear bomb to jeopardize his administration’s campaign against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. A month after receiving that letter, Ben-Gurion stepped down as prime minister.”

After Kennedy’s death, the Dimona reactor never became an issue and the new president, Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) had his eyes and thoughts focused elsewhere, in particular the growing crisis in Vietnam. There are no conspiracy theories in the book about Kennedy’s murder but the issue of Dimona is a crucial part in understanding who would have benefited from Kennedy’s removal. I leave it to the reader to take it from there.

The story picks up in pace under Johnson’s administration. Tel Aviv realized that the new president was not following Kennedy’s course on several major issues. One of them was the growing tensions between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Indochina had begun to consume Johnson who was also pushing forward on the domestic front with his Great Society programs. However, his actions with regards to weapons hardware across the Middle East are equally as surprising as the events surrounding the Gulf of Tonkin. I could not believe what I was reading and wondered to myself what Washington’s endgame really was because it helped set the stage for what was to come in 1967. It soon becomes apparent that Israel has more freedom to carry out its own plans under Johnson’s watch. And the incident involving the USS Liberty still remains one of the more puzzling of that year. Laron does not go into the story extensively but does mention the attack. Egypt also fared differently under Johnson but certainly not in the way it would have desired. In fact, Laron explains that:

“As for Nasser, he seemed to have realized that the game was no longer worth the candle. Eisenhower and Kennedy had allowed Egypt to pay for US wheat with its own currency, which it could print at will. Johnson, however, insisted on Egypt paying in dollars, which it lacked due to its severe economic situation.”

Johnson was in no rush to nor had the desire to appease the Arab world. His main goal was the defeat of Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969) and the North Vietnamese government. Tel Aviv is keenly aware of this and plans are set into motion for the ultimate offensive. But was the attack a surprise? Laron reveals a lot of interesting facts about Egyptian operations prior to the conflict that produce more questions than answers. Further, the most crippling part of the Egyptian defense network comes across as one of the simplest components that should have been addressed but was not. Had it been, the war might have ended differently or never have taken place. The glaring inadequacy reveals fundamentally different aspects between Israeli and Egyptian society that highlights the importance of military intelligence.

More than fifty years have passed since the Six-Day War but its effects are still being felt today across the Middle East. The Gaza Strip remains a hotbed for clashes and only time will tell if true peace and a solution will become a reality. Anyone seeking to understand the region will find this book to be invaluable. It is a step back in time during a decade when political upheaval was occurring around the globe. War and conflict were constant reminders of the savageness of man that would have to be addressed for future generations. However old wounds must be addressed and allowed to heal before humanity can truly move forward. This book is a definitive account of the Six-Day War and its profound effect on the Middle East. Highly recommended.


A Little History of the World-Ernst Hans Josef Gombrich and Clifford Harper

World HistoryCan you imagine several thousand years of world history compressed into three hundred four pages? Before reading this book, I certainly did not and I believe the same applies to many others.  However,  that is exactly what Ernst Han Josef Gombrich (1909-2001) has done in this history book that came into existence as a result of challenge issued to the author to write a better history book than the one he was editing at the time.  The book was written in 1935 and subsequently re-published bringing it up to date with modern history events. Gombrich never intended for the book to replace all of the history textbooks in use by teachers and professors.  However, the book does serve as a complement to dozens of study aids used by students across the globe.  Interestingly, the book is geared towards the ages of seven to nine years but I think that readers of all ages will find it to be quite informative.

The pace of the book is fast and once we get started with the history of the world we know before Christ, we embark on a ride that does not slow down.  In fact, if there is one thing about the book that I felt detracted from it, it is that the pace is sometimes too fast leaving out critical information about various topics.   One example in particular is the huge lack of information on Genghis Khan, who is mentioned in passing.  Additionally, the majority of the focus is on the Middle East and Europe thereby excluding North America, Central America, Southeast Asia, South America and the majority of the continent of Africa.  I do not fault Gombrich for the focus of the text.  If he had written about all of those places, the book would have spanned several volumes.  To appreciate what he has done here, the reader should approach the book as a quick reference guide as opposed to a sole source of historical information.

In spite of its few shortcomings, the book is a good read that is engaging, informative and contains just enough information to give it substance while warding off boredom.  Gombrich was born in Austria, lived through the rise of Adolf Hitler and left Germany  in 1939 before World War II plunged the world into anarchy.  His comments and recollections about the Third Reich are an added but small bonus.  But what is undeniably clear, is that he is a part of world history and to this day, considered one of the world’s best historians.  His only child, Richard, is currently an Indologist and scholar of Sanskrit, Pāli, and Buddhist Studies and was once the Boden Professor of Sanskrit at the University of Oxford.

After I finished the book, I was surprised at how much material Gombrich did cover over the span of three hundred pages.  Compressing the text must have been a tedious job for even the best of editors.  Furthermore, there always exist the question of how much to add or leave out.  Perhaps no matter which way the book had gone, something would not have made the final cut.  I do believe it would have been more beneficial to have included more history about the west, Southeast Asia and Africa.   Undoubtedly it would have increased the number of pages but come much closer to a history of the world even if it is “little”.  Nevertheless, Gombrich did a more than sufficient job of taking us back in time.   And even if you are well-versed in world history, I feel that you still might enjoy this short but engaging read.  For those who have children, they might appreciate this gift more than you think.  Gombrich did not write the definitive book on world history but he did create and leave us with a valuable addition to any library.  But as the title says, it truly is a little history of the world.

ISBN-10: 030014332X
ISBN-13: 978-0300143324

The West on Trial: The Fight For Guyana’s Freedom-Cheddi Jagan

JaganMarch 6, 1997- Cheddi Jagan, the former Premier of British Guyana and President of Guyana, dies in Washington, D.C., after suffering a severe heart attack nearly a month earlier.  Jagan, born in Port Mourant, had risen to become a leading voice in the Guyanese movement for independence from Great Britain.  This is his story about his life in Guyana and abroad and the long struggle faced by the Guyanese people in their quest for freedom.  As a son of Indian immigrants who never owned a pair of shoes until the age of 12,  his transformation into the future leader of Guyana reminds us that with focus, passion and dedication, life can be a most unexpected journey full of unimaginable surprises.

This phenomenal account of Guyana, reveals the dark and complex cycle of exploitation resulting in the formation of racial tensions that divided the country and nearly caused its destruction.   Further divided along sharp political lines,  the battle to control the course of Guyana’s future unveiled the hidden motives of the British and U.S. governments.  And these motives, helped promoted a civil war that is the most violent in the country’s history.  The United States, caught in a grip of paranoia about  the possible Communist influence in Central and South America, purposely meddled in the affairs of British Guiana.  The actions and non-actions of the United States are an example of the misguided and nefarious foreign policy advocated as a result of the Cold War against the Soviet Union and the developing conflict in Southeast Asia.  Guyana’s independence in 1966, was the first step in a long road the country faced in social, economic and political reformation.  Guyana, is just in a long list of countries, that had been subject to foreign influence for far too many years.  Jagan was ahead of his time and his vision and efforts for independence for Guyana remain a lesson to other nations also in the fight for their own political, economic and social freedom.

ISBN-10: 9768163089
ISBN-13: 978-9768163080

History of the People of Trinidad & Tobago- Eric Williams

51vyww6savl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Last week, Trinidad & Tobago had its annual carnival celebration, the world renown party that pays tribute to Trinidadian heritage.  Attended by travelers from all over the globe, the carnival celebration is the most popular in the world and second to none.   Last September I visited the famed country to see for myself the history and culture that makes up Trinidad & Tobago.   The country is a surreal blend of several cultures and elements of Spanish, British, Chinese, French and Indian cultures permeate the island giving the visitor a sense of enchantment unique to Trinidad.  The food is something to be had and I indulged in as much as I could during my brief stay.  I certainly will return to Trinidad one day and hope to see carnival in person  and experience first hand the biggest and best carnival celebration.

Eric Williams, the first prime minister of Trinidad & Tobago from 1962 to 1981, brings to us this investigative account of the history of the mythical and unique nation.  Tracing its origins back to the voyages of Christopher Columbus, the reader can see first had how the foundation for the modern-day nation was laid through occupation, invasion, colonization and finally independence on August 31, 1962.   As someone who has close friends from the small Caribbean nation and a late relative born in Port of Spain,  the information in this book combined with my visit to the island, proved to be an invaluable experience in understanding its deep and sometimes violent history.

Recently, Trinidad has seen a rise in violent crimes as the police force struggles to maintain composure and control in the face of corruption and escalating drug wars between rival factions across the island.   Still a major tourist destination, especially during carnival,  the government faces a growing problem without a clear solution.   It is hoped that change will occur and heal the island from the afflictions that currently plague the country.  For anyone interested in the history of Trinidad & Tobago or those who are of Trinidadian heritage looking to learn more about the country they call home, this book is a good place to start.

ISBN-10: 161759010X
ISBN-13: 978-1617590108