Alexander and the East, by A.B. Bosworth, Oxford, $60.
The subtitle of this book, The Tragedy of Triumph, tells it all, and if you are looking for book-length substantiation of Victor Davis Hanson’s article “Alexander the Killer” in our Spring issue, you could do no better. Bosworth, an Australian scholar, focuses on the last five years of Alexander’s life, 32925 b.c., when the Macedonian conqueror ravaged through what is now Iran, Afghanistan, and the Punjab. Alexander and the East is not an essay that will find favor among those who see him as a great civilizer. It is a portrait instead of a savage brooder, a man unable to control his own bloodlust. “My theme,” Bosworth writes, “is the underside of victory.” In his view, “the history of Alexander is the history of waste–of money, of forests stripped for siegeworks and navies, and above all of lives.” Wholesale death was at the core of the conqueror’s military revolution, and his famous battles all ended in an orgy of killing. Politics became an extension of battle; state-sponsored terror held his empire together. The royal hunts Alexander led, always conducted with a chilling tactical brilliance, inevitably had human quarry. Opposition of any sort invited destruction, which his apologists have long justified as the suppression of stubborn rebels: “As so often, the victims become the culprits.” For those unfortunates, Hellenism was just another word for nothing left to lose.