The Last King of Lydia

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The Last King of Lydia

The Last King of Lydia

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and made offerings to Greek shrines, especially *Delphi; anecdotes attest his friendliness to Greek visitors and his wealth. Fortunately, the book does go in a slightly more inventive direction once we get past the traditional Croesus narrative. He also plays with Plato a bit, offering up a philosopher-king who becomes more of a philosopher as his station falls in life, resulting in the greatest insights arriving concomitant with his enslavement. Croesus, at least in this telling, provides an interesting example of how suffering derives not just from privation, but from excess as well.

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I will only discuss general aspects of the book rather than specific plot points and therefore consider it a spoiler-free review. Like any good philosopher, Leach doesn’t give definitive answers to the big questions he asks, but his exploration and hints are the more interesting as a result. It is, instead, a book that examines deep, sometimes philosophical issues such as the lust for power, wealth, happiness, immortality and freedom. I think, if I’ve interpreted correctly, Leach suggests that life itself, the long stretch of days, might gain one or both of those but then again might not. The first chapter gives a strong sense of what's to follow: The guards had long since learned the way to make a royal prisoner docile.

Leach's narrative is largely derivative of the ancient sources, but he adeptly weaves them together and keeps the pacing engaging. This book is both a look at the history of the final days of and empire, and a small story about one man. It was a fascinating read, a great story very well told, and makes me keen to read more about the ancient world. I also feel that the language is quite light; I found myself going from page to page quite fast, when what I really wanted was to savor each page, to delight in the rich descriptions of an ancient world. He remembers the time he asked the old Athenian philosopher, Solon, who was the happiest man in the world.

Power is transient, fleeting when compared with the vast sea of history, yet rulers are prepared to condemn thousands to misery in the hope of gaining more and more of it. I particularly enjoyed the relationship between Croesus and Cyrus, the Conqueror and the conquered in an uneasy alliance. The philosophical tone is set early on when Solon, the famous wise man of Athens, comes to visit Croesus.

Like any good philosopher, Leach doesn’t answer the big questions he asks, but his exploration and hints are the more interesting as a result. He does some dreadful things, but is at times oddly innocent, at least in how he thinks about the world.If you absolutely hate anything remotely like spoilers, you might want to stop reading now, although I don't think these will qualify as plot revealers. We hear tell of his famously interrupted execution by being burned alive (possibly true, if exaggerated).

I thought this was a really wonderful modern retelling of Herodotus' account of Croesus, written in a simple but beautiful style that maintains a suitably classical feel while also importing some modern touches. I can't claim any expert knowledge on the historical accuracy and I suspect Leach occasionally allows a few modern perspectives to infiltrate the minds of his characters, but for me that is forgivable. He is depicted as a naive and inexperienced military strategist, which he certainly was not because he conquered Ionian cities (Ephesus, etc. Regular readers of this blog will know I tend to only review books I have enjoyed and think other people will enjoy as well.As a big fan of all manner of historical fiction I would highly recommend this book both for its writing but also how it explores a period not often seen in the genre. Important events are seen from the perspective of unexpected characters which gives the book so much more depth. The ancient world is so distant from us that at times it feels like fantasy - kings, gods, sacrifices, oracles, mountains of gold, lost cities, myth. Croesus is not a man one might aspire to be like or be with, but his journey through life is a deep, varied and intimate one which I really enjoyed. Equally, it often feels like the author is using the philosophical element to push a certain moral on the reader when, let's be honest, we *know* that wealth isn't everything (although it does help if you have at least some money so you don't starve).

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