The Death of Alexander the Great: What-Or Who-Really Killed the Young Conqueror of the Known World?

Paul C. Doherty, Author
Paul C. Doherty, Author Basic Books $25 (288p) ISBN 978-0-7867-1340-0
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Alexander of Macedonia, student of Aristotle and conqueror of an empire that reached to Asia and Persia, vacillated often between cynicism and superstition. While distrustful of many of his companions, he believed that most of his misfortunes during the last decade of his life were ""caused by the anger of the god Dionysus who wished to avenge the total destruction of his favorite city"" of Thebes. It soon becomes clear from this analytical examination of Alexander's path to death, however, that the conqueror committed many merciless acts that may have angered the gods--and several of his own acquaintances--to the point of revenge. Doherty (The Mysterious Death of Tutankhamun; The House of Death) starts out by giving readers a detailed lesson on Alexander's life, and spends the latter half of the book examining whether or not it was the gods or royal competitors such his general Ptolemy or Macedonian co-regent Antipater who poisoned Alexander. In 323 B.C., Alexander fell ill during a feast in Babylon and, according to the varying historical accounts, died either from too much wine, too little rest or too many enemies. The latter seems to be supported by the bad omens Alexander received during his campaigns in India, where he faced mass mutiny among his troops, and in Persia. Doherty's account of the young warrior's day of reckoning reads like a dry mystery, expertly researched but written more like the summaries found in a detective's case files than an engrossing yarn. He does a fine job, however, revising the statesman-like image of Alexander propagated by 19th-century historians and thoroughly reconstructing Alexander's final nights.
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