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The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece (2015)

av Josiah Ober

MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygDiskussioner
1843150,936 (4)Ingen/inga
"Lord Byron described Greece as great, fallen, and immortal, a characterization more apt than he knew. Through most of its long history, Greece was poor. But in the classical era, Greece was densely populated and highly urbanized. Many surprisingly healthy Greeks lived in remarkably big houses and worked for high wages at specialized occupations. Middle-class spending drove sustained economic growth. Classical wealth produced a stunning cultural efflorescence lasting hundreds of years. Why did Greece reach such heights in the classical period--and why only then? And how, after 'the Greek miracle' had endured for centuries, did the Macedonians defeat the Greeks, seemingly bringing an end to their glory? Drawing on a massive body of newly available data and employing novel approaches to evidence, Josiah Ober offers a major new history of classical Greece and an unprecedented account of its rise and fall. Ober argues that Greece's rise was no miracle but rather the result of political breakthroughs and economic development. The extraordinary emergence of citizen-centered city-states transformed Greece into a society that defeated the mighty Persian Empire. Yet Philip and Alexander of Macedon were able to beat the Greeks in the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BCE, a victory enabled by the Macedonians' appropriation of Greek innovations. After Alexander's death, battle-hardened warlords fought ruthlessly over the remnants of his empire. But Greek cities remained populous and wealthy, their economy and culture surviving to be passed on to the Romans--and to us. A compelling narrative filled with uncanny modern parallels, this is a book for anyone interested in how great civilizations are born and die. This book is based on evidence available on a new interactive website. To learn more, please visit: http://polis.stanford.edu/"--… (mer)
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Visar 3 av 3
A mixture of fascinating and frustrating. I liked the quantitative approach to Greek history, the data Ober presented about the size of Greek poleis and their economies, and the nature of their constitutions. But after 3-5 pages of fascinating data you'd inevitably reach the end of what could be stated with confidence and come to a sentence like, "We can guess that..." followed by an extensive section based on a supposition.

This book expanded my knowledge of classical Greece, but I don't think I can recommend it as a standalone book. It's a good supplement if you already have a solid knowledge base about the period, to be able to take its facts apart from its speculation. (And I don't object to its economic-political science approach to classical history, though I imagine some people might not like reducing the period to numbers and rational choice theory. Frankly I wish the book had gone further with this approach — or recognized that the data didn't support going further and refrained from extrapolating based on theories.) ( )
  dhmontgomery | Dec 13, 2020 |
Fairness warning: my rating is unfair. I'm just trying to correct for all the equally unfair five star reviews. This is a solid three star book. My review is more negative than it should be, only because others have been too positive.

The three stars are due to the impressive attempt to study the actual material conditions of an ancient society. Two cheers! My two negative stars were caused by i) the book's neo-liberal triumphalism, and ii) its extremely shoddy historical thinking, which claims causation where there is maybe, kind of, sort of, perhaps, some correlation, but also just ignores historical events that can't be reduced to numbers.

i) Little more needs to be said. The point of this book is that Classical Greece was Great because it was more or less a modern, neoliberal state; all such states, we can assume, are, in turn, great. This is transparently false (e.g., they had slavery and we have capitalism; also, we are not great). I hesitate to say that Ober's book caused Trump's election victory, but one might think its success was a sign that certain portions of the American population were at least a little bit out of touch with reality.

ii) If you have the book in front of you, you might like to have a look at figure 4.3, on page 99. This is Ober's summary of his data. It is supposed to show that 'core Greece' reached an exceptionally high level of wealth because of democracy. A quick check will suggest that core Greece's ascent started around 1000 B.C., reached a plateau during around the end of the Athenian and Spartan empires, and then rapidly descended back to historical norms. I would have thought this suggested that imperialism, rather than democracy, was the driving force behind Greece's wealth (and, if I were a good Stanford classicist, I would then immediately hint that something similar might be true of the modern West). But I would only say that because I have no Panglossian wish to pretend I live in a post-imperialist, democratic utopia, or that anyone else ever does or has, for that matter. ( )
  stillatim | Oct 23, 2020 |
This is that rare thing: a history of Classical Greece that brings a fresh perspective to a much-studied era. The influence of the Annales School is on every page and while the source material is not nearly as rich as was available to Braudel in his histories of the late medieval and early modern Mediterranean, the statistical estimates of demographics, trade, and the economy in this book are more rigorous and reap the benefits of fifty years of scholarship. Ober uses these statistics to test several hypotheses regarding the source of the dynamic culture that arose from the balance of cooperation and competition between the over 1000 poleis that formed the political units of Greek civilization. While Herodotus, Thucydides, and Aristotle all make appearances, Ober places them in the context of a long-term evolution from the ruins of the Mycenae-era kingdoms to the "Greek efflorescence" of Classical Greece, an efflorescence that Ober shows survived the deprivations of the Peloponnesian War, the Macedonian invasion, and even the Roman conquest. ( )
  le.vert.galant | Nov 19, 2019 |
Visar 3 av 3
Once upon a time scholars talked without embarrassment about the ‘Greek miracle’. Then post-colonialism and the critique of Eurocentrism from the 1970s onwards forced scholars to rethink the Greek peculiarity and how to explain it. The dominance of Finley’s views on a static ‘ancient economy’, in which nothing changed for over a millennium, long discouraged scholars from seeking economic explanations of the ‘Greek miracle’.

Ober’s new book argues that the classical period should be seen as a major economic and cultural efflorescence: classical Greece housed the largest and wealthiest Greek population of any period before the twentieth century. Classical Greece was characterised by an ecology of hundreds of city-states and the absence of centralised mechanisms (monarchies, bureaucracies, temples) for organising and directing economic, political and cultural activities: any explanation of the Greek efflorescence must start from this peculiar environment. Finally, we should use our explanations in order to rewrite narratives of Greek history from novel perspectives and abandon older accounts focused on traditionalist histoire événementielle. This is a laudable agenda, and it should have made a wonderful book; unfortunately, in my view Ober’s book fails on all counts: theory, argumentation and execution. I shall provide a brief overview of contents, before discussing its various problems.
 
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"Lord Byron described Greece as great, fallen, and immortal, a characterization more apt than he knew. Through most of its long history, Greece was poor. But in the classical era, Greece was densely populated and highly urbanized. Many surprisingly healthy Greeks lived in remarkably big houses and worked for high wages at specialized occupations. Middle-class spending drove sustained economic growth. Classical wealth produced a stunning cultural efflorescence lasting hundreds of years. Why did Greece reach such heights in the classical period--and why only then? And how, after 'the Greek miracle' had endured for centuries, did the Macedonians defeat the Greeks, seemingly bringing an end to their glory? Drawing on a massive body of newly available data and employing novel approaches to evidence, Josiah Ober offers a major new history of classical Greece and an unprecedented account of its rise and fall. Ober argues that Greece's rise was no miracle but rather the result of political breakthroughs and economic development. The extraordinary emergence of citizen-centered city-states transformed Greece into a society that defeated the mighty Persian Empire. Yet Philip and Alexander of Macedon were able to beat the Greeks in the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BCE, a victory enabled by the Macedonians' appropriation of Greek innovations. After Alexander's death, battle-hardened warlords fought ruthlessly over the remnants of his empire. But Greek cities remained populous and wealthy, their economy and culture surviving to be passed on to the Romans--and to us. A compelling narrative filled with uncanny modern parallels, this is a book for anyone interested in how great civilizations are born and die. This book is based on evidence available on a new interactive website. To learn more, please visit: http://polis.stanford.edu/"--

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