I’ve always read a lot of books. In the municipal primary school I was a great fan of J. R. R. Tolkien. Later, in high school, I became very fond of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Umberto Eco. These are all writers of fiction, a genre which I obviously enjoyed and enjoy to this day.
However, a few years back I started getting into biographies. I’ve read biographies on personalities as diverse as Bill Clinton, Benazir Bhutto, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Søren Kierkegaard, Saddam Hussein, Richard Branson, Lenin, Mærsk McKinney Møller, Niels Bohr among others.
This list obviously contains people who I greatly admire (along with a mass murdering thug and a ditto commie bastard). While all these people have certainly all made some significant achievements, deserving at least the amount of my time that it took me to read their respective biographies, the biography which has made the deepest impression on me is Peter Green’s “Alexander of Macedon, 356 – 323 B.C. – A Historical Biography“. I breezed through its 600 pages in a weekend, enthralled by the story of this absolutely phenomenal figure. If you’ve never read a biography, let alone a historical biography, considering such books dull compared to fiction, I strongly encourage you to pick up Peter Green’s book. The story of Alexander The Great surpasses even the most lively and action-packed novel:
In 336, aged 20, Alexander ascended the throne of Macedonia after his father, King Philip II, had been killed (some historians speculate that Alexander’s mother, Olympias, had a part in the ploy killing Philip). In the mere 12 years from his ascent to his death from illness in 323 B.C. Alexander conquered most of the world known to the ancient greeks: his campaigns ranged from Macedonia and the city states of Greece across what is now Turkey, Iraq and Iran to Pakistan, Afghanistan and the borders of India. That’s an absolutely insane area to conquer on foot and horseback in only 12 years!
Much of Alexander’s success stems from his use of satraps and his taking on of the customs of the cultures he conquered. He truly was The Prince, masterfully reigning through equal measures of kindness, tactfulness and awe striking terror and determination. The way he treated his brothers in arms and played on the old grievances of the Greeks and the myths which had already sprung up around his persona continue to be a source of inspiration for managers even today.
Even though Alexander adds another mass murderer to the list above, I’ll readily admit that I admire the guy deeply. After all, it’s been more than 2000 years and I’m ready to forgive and forget. Alexander is rightly counted among the greatest strategists and commanders who ever lived and he continues to teach those who study him valuable lessons. Fortunately, we’ve got great accounts of his life and actions. The amount of detailed information known to us about Alexander is vastly greater than you would expect for a person who lived and died more than 2000 years ago. In fact, he was among the first commanders to bring scholars along on his campaign, thereby providing us with contemporary sources.
At the moment, the next biographies I’ve got lined up are on Genghis Khan, Isaac Newton and Georg Cantor. We’ll have to see how they rank with Alexander The Great.
N.B.: If I’ve piqued your curiosity with respect to Alexander The Great, you should choose Green over Robin Lane Fox’ “Alexander The Great” (which admittedly isn’t a bad book per se). If you want a very short introduction to Alexander the Great but you’re too lazy to read Green’s book, don’t even consider Oliver Stone’s dim-witted “Alexander”, which I accidentally bought last week. Instead, let Iron Maiden tell you the story. They’ve captured the appropriate pathos, which is so sorely missing in Stone’s movie.