Book Review:  The Greeks: A Global History by Roderick Beaton

This book is relatively new, having been published in 2021. It was recommended to me by one of my sons; soon afterwards I found out that another of my sons was also reading it. In short, it is a superb book, well-written and fascinating through and through. It begins in 1500 BC and follows the story of Greek-speaking peoples all the way through to the present, concluding with the effect of the COVID pandemic in Greece.

There’s a lot to tell. Greece only began to become an independent nation in 1821, and it didn’t assimilate all of its present geographical territory until 1947. However, when Beaton refers to the Greeks, he is not speaking merely of those who have inhabited the land mass of present-day Greece, but rather the people who preserved the Greek language and culture wherever they lived. For centuries Constantinople was the center of the Greek world, first under the Roman Empire, then under the Byzantine Empire, and then under the Ottoman Empire. Throughout most of Greek history, the Greeks were subjugated by one foreign state or another. Yet despite their troubled past, they managed to introduce the alphabet, the epic poetry of the Iliad and the Odyssey, drama, written history, and the concepts of the independent city state, politics, and democracy. Christianity was spread throughout the western world through Greek speakers and the New Testament, which was originally written in Greek. To attempt to summarize all the intriguing bits of information on Greek history and achievements that this book imparts in this brief review would be an overwhelming task. There’s no option but to read it for yourself; you won’t be disappointed.

This book was particularly enjoyable for me because so much of my past life is caught up with Greece and Greek people. I hitchhiked around Greece and visited some of the islands as a hippie traveler in the mid-1970s. Later, I married a Greek woman and we raised our five sons in Greece as bilingual Greek-Americans. I lived in Greece for almost twenty years. We spent a few years in Athens, but most of the time we were in Thessaloniki. For fifteen years I taught English as a second language in private language schools. I learned to read Greek, and I could speak it if I needed to shop or ask for directions, but it’s a tough language to learn. My wife and kids always had a good laugh if I would try to say something complex. My sons, though, spoke English at home but went to Greek-language elementary schools and high schools. They all live in the States now, but as dual nationals they have the elite privilege of getting the best of both cultures.

As for my own adventures in Greece, you can read all about them in my book After the Rosy-Fingered Dawn: A Memoir of Greece.

But back to Beaton’s book. If you are American or from any country in Europe or the Middle East, a lot of what you have been taught about philosophy, history, politics, logic, drama, art, and other subjects can be traced back to the ideas of Greek thinkers. There are large Greek communities in many parts of the world, including the United States, Australia, Great Britain, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, and many parts of the former Soviet Union. And even if you are one of the few people in the world who have never been touched by Greek influence, you will find this a stirring, intriguing, entertaining, and illuminating read.

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