Looking for a good read? Here is a recommendation. I have an unusual approach to reviewing books. I review books I feel merit a review. Each review is an opportunity to recommend a book. If I do not think a book is worth reading, I find another book to review. You do not have to agree with everything every author has written (I do not), but the fiction I review is entertaining (and often thought-provoking) and the non-fiction contain ideas worth reading.
Reviewed by Mark Lardas
February 11, 2024
“The Killing Ground: A Biography of Thermopylae,” by Myke Cole and Michael Livingston, Osprey Publishing, February, 2024, 304 pages, $35.00 (Harcover), $24.50 (E-book), $18.00 (Audiobook)
The pass of Thermopylae is best known for the doomed stand of King Leonidas and the 300 Spartans. Less known is that this was just one battle at that spot. Over a span of 2500 years at least 27 military actions were fought over that patch of ground.
“The Killing Ground: A Biography of Thermopylae,” by Myke Cole and Michael Livingston recounts the known actions fought there, from the 6th century BC to World War II. It examines the terrain over which these battles were fought and what is known of each action.
They open the book with an exploring the battlefield and its geography, including its changes over 2500 years. Geography explains why that patch of Greece is so blood soaked. Thermopylae, along with the adjacent Oti Pass, are gateways to Central Greece and the Peloponnese beyond. Going north or south you must cross them. Hold both and you bar passage. The authors show the path is porous, with many passages. They spend time showing how flanking any one position is easy.
They next examine each battle’s details – to the extent possible. At times, especially in ancient an medieval dark ages, information is sparse. Sometimes the only account of the battle is a few lines in an obscure history stating a battle was fought there. Despite that they do a first-rate job explaining each action, showing what happened (or probably happened) the likely battle and its results.
The books longest account is of the famous battle fought by Leonidas. It offers an explanation of why the battle was fought. They feel it was an accidental meeting action. Leonidas left the Oti Pass, the easier passage, completely uncovered.
They believe Leonidas was hiding at the Middle Gate of Thermopylae, waiting for the Persians to cross the Oti Pass. After they crossed, Leonidas intended to occupy the Oti Pass, cutting Persian communications, trapping the Persian Army between Leonidas’s men and a Greek army marching north.
Instead, the Persians followed the coastal path through Thermopylae, to maintain communications with their fleet. Leonidas had to fight there. He was trapped after the light forces he sent to guard his rear were brushed aside by heavy Persian infantry sent over the Kallidromo Mountain.
This is typical of the thoroughness with which the authors explore each battle. “The Killing Ground” is a magnificent and meticulous account of the military history of a storied piece of ground.
Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.