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The Last King of Lydia

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This book is both a look at the history of the final days of and empire, and a small story about one man. He comes to realize that his power has limits because "It's a difficult thing, having one's happiness depend on those one cannot control" -- like his son's guaranteed well-being. His subsequent relations with the Greeks were not unfriendly; he contributed to the rebuilding of the Artemisium at *Ephesus (Hdt.

Counterpoint to this is the attitude of Croesus’ slave, Isocrates, for whom happiness is ‘when nothing changes’. They were veterans of many wars of conquest, and they knew that a king bled and died like any other man. Later, as a slave, he lives in fear over the rumors that the Persian general Harpagus killed his brother-in-law and wants to add Croesus to the count.Only Isocrates, Croesus' slave, and his wife appear to be invented for the novel, and they add a level of novelty for the reader who knows his Herodotus. It's a book of philosophy as much as history, about what we can and should do to be happy, and perhaps a little about second chances to bring happiness to others. The Last King of Lydia is well worth reading, whether you know the historical period or not, and I think this is an author who may be worth following.

Having "known" how the story line would progress beforehand, I found the early part of the plot to be quite bland and unexciting. Characters talk out their motivations, their longings, and their regrets, and it is these conversations that are the heart of the story, despite the epic conquests and and empire-spanning travels that serve as the backdrop. I wasn't sure what to expect from this book but I found it to be a compelling story of the ancient world. Lots of interesting things happen; wars are fought, lives are saved, great wealth accumulated, and almost all of it is done because it makes a powerful man happy. He is entirely isolated from real life and the necessities of rule, living like a pampered and passive child with his servants and commanders taking the role of parents.

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. As a book for young children I’d judge this book better, but I wouldn’t really recommend it to an audience older than that. 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.

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