cover image Alexander at the End of the World: The Forgotten Final Years of Alexander the Great

Alexander at the End of the World: The Forgotten Final Years of Alexander the Great

Rachel Kousser. Mariner, $35 (432p) ISBN 978-0-06-286968-5

“The last years of Alexander were not just the sordid aftermath of a once impressive career; they were in fact what made him ‘Great,’ ” according to this beguiling biography. Historian Kousser (The Afterlives of Greek Sculpture) argues that, during Alexander’s “quixotic” push eastward after his defeat of the Persian empire in 330 BCE, he experienced a string of “failures” that tempered and matured his outlook. These included his poor handling of mutinies, conspiracies, and the deaths of beloved companions; strategic blundering in response to enemies’ guerilla tactics; and a brush with death on the battlefield. Kousser portrays these setbacks as feeding into Alexander’s larger struggle “com[ing] to terms with a world far more complicated than the one in which he was born” as he traveled, and governed, farther from home than people of his era typically ventured. In so doing, Alexander gained an unprecedented glimpse of the way in which human culture varies across vast distances, which altered his political philosophy, Kousser argues; he developed a “hard-won understanding of his enemies and a willingness to compromise” that led to his empire’s most significant legacy, the forging of an “interconnected Hellenistic world” that promoted a new kind of democratic pluralism. Kousser’s novelistic account, with its emphasis on personalities and intrigues, makes for compulsive reading. The result is a fresh and propulsive take on an ancient figure who grappled with how to govern a diverse society. (July)