Alexander The Great Books

Alexander the Great in the temple of Jerusalem

As an undergraduate student studying Ancient History, I always find the usefulness of books varies greatly. On the subject of Alexander the Great books, I thought I would share those that I have on my personal bookshelf and those that I have found useful.

Please post a comment if you can recommend any others!

#1 Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 B.C. : A Historical Biography

by Peter Green

Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 B.C. by Peter Green

A biography that portrays Alexander as both a complex personality and a single-minded general, a man capable of such diverse expediencies as patricide or the massacre of civilians.

Written by Peter Green, this book is quite lengthy but told in the usual colourful language of Peter’s other books. The language makes it quite easy to read and entertaining at the same time (as if you were reading a fictional novel).

There is a comprehensive appendix that will point you to the underlying sources for the narrative and some detailed maps.

It ranks in position #1 for Alexander the Great books as the best entry point for a comprehensive narrative that remains accessible to those new to the subject.

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#2 Conquest and Empire: The Reign of Alexander the Great

by A. B. Bosworth

Conquest and Empire by A. B. Bosworth

An exploration of the process and consequences of the campaigns of Alexander the Great of Macedon.

Written by A .B. Bosworth, it covers Alexander’s life in entirety, contains extensive on-page referencing and has a number of  thematic chapters.

In particular, the thematic chapters cover the following areas:

  • Mainland Greece in Alexander’s reign
    • Alexander and the Corinthian League
    • Agis III of Sparta and the war for Megalopolis
    • Athens under the administration of Lycurgus
    • Athens and the advent of Harpalus
    • The Exiles’ Decree and its effects
  • Alexander and his empire
    • Satrapal government
    • Financial administration
    • The new foundations
    • The Greeks of Asia Minor
  • Alexander and the army
    • The invasion of army of 334 B.C.
    • Evolution and reorganisation: 333 B.C. – 323 B.C.
    • The use of oriental troops
    • The structure of command
  • The divinity of Alexander
It ranks in position #2 for Alexander the Great books as the best resource for assembling essays and finding primary sources (due to the extensive on-page referencing and thematic studies).

#3 The Campaigns of Alexander

by Arrian

The Campaigns of Alexander by Arrian

Discusses Alexander’s violent suppression of the Theban rebellion, his defeat of Persia and campaigns through Egypt and Babylon – establishing new cities and destroying others in his path. This title presents an objective portrait of a man of boundless ambition, who was exposed to the temptations of power.

A major extant source for Alexander written by Flavius Arrianus Xenophon, a Roman aristocrat writing  in the early second century AD (some 400 years after the death of Alexander).

It is generally understood to be the best overall surviving narrative and is therefore a worthy addition to this list of books on Alexander the Great.

It ranks in position #3 for Alexander the Great books as the best major extant source we have.

View on Book Depository

#4 The Age of Alexander: Nine Greek Lives

Plutarch - The Age of Alexander

Includes textual and historical notes that supplement a segment of Plutarch’s “Lives” which covers the rise of Macedonia.

Written by the 1st century A.D. biographer Plutarch, this book encapsulates nine lives from the Alexander timeline.

It is the major source for the small amount of information we have on Alexander, the centrepiece of the book being a biography on Alexander himself.

It ranks in position #4 for Alexander the Great books for the biography it contains.

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#5 The History of Alexander

by Quintus Curtius Rufus

The History of Alexander by Quintus Curtius Rufus

Alexander the Great (356-323 BC), who led the Macedonian army to victory in Egypt, Syria, Persia and India, was perhaps the most successful conqueror the world has ever seen. Yet although no other individual has attracted so much speculation across the centuries, Alexander himself remains an enigma.

Written by Quintus Curtius Rufus in the mid first century A.D., this book comes down to us incomplete (it begins at book 3, is missing book 10 and parts of books 5-6). Despite these flaws, it is a major source for piecing together a view on the life of Alexander from the limited sources we have.

It ranks in position #5 for Alexander the Great books as it contains a major source of ancient material on the life of Alexander.

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#6 The Army of Alexander the Great

by Stephen English

The Army of Alexander the Great by Stephen English

Stephen English investigates every aspect of the Macedonian forces, analysing the recruitment, equipment, organisation, tactics, command and control of the fighting arms (including the famous pike phalanxes, elite Hypaspists and incomparable Companion cavalry). Some of Alexander’s most famous battles and sieges are described in detail to show the army in action.

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#7 The Sieges of Alexander the Great

by Stephen English

The Sieges of Alexander the Great by Stephen English

Stephen English narrates the sustained drama of each of Alexander’s sieges, analyzing tactics and technical aspects, such as the innovative and astoundingly ambitious siege engines used.

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#8 The Field Campaigns of Alexander the Great

by Stephen English

The Field Campaigns of Alexander the Great by Stephen Alexander

This book will combine a narrative of the course of each of Alexander’s campaigns, with clear analysis of strategy, tactics, logistics etc. This will combine with Stephen English’s The Army of Alexander the Great and The Sieges of Alexander the Great, to form a very strong three-volume examination of one of the most successful armies and greatest conquerors ever known.

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Scott McCulloch
Scott is a web programmer, author and ancient history student. He is the founder of Ventrian - a provider of DotNetNuke Modules and Ancient Life - an Ancient Greek & Roman history blog

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7 Comments on "Alexander The Great Books"

  1. Scott, this is a great idea for a post. I absolutely love Peter Green’s biography. He is a colorful author who knows his sources. I always consult that book when studying Alexander.

    To answer your first question about Alexander’s military logistics, I have found Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army by Donald W. Engels to be invaluable.

    To add to your list, The Landmark Arrian edited by James Romm is, in my view, the new definitive version of Arrian’s text. The book is full of maps and footnotes on every person, place, or uncommon term. If someone is going to own one book on Alexander, I now recommend this one.

    On the more obscure side is Justin: Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus. This is a Roman history from roughly 200 AD, I believe. The work covers a wide range of history including Philip and Alexander’s rise to power and conquests. While the work does not necessarily provide anything new, it does provide divergent views of events. Whether these differences are due folklore or not, is the open question. The author certainly relied on a wide range of sources for composing the text.

  2. Thanks Scott! I might amend the original post to include these suggestions.

    Not long after posting this I found that logistics book, I think it was from 1978, so I wasn’t sure if it was a little dated, but definitely looked like the right information.

    I’m just about to order The Landmark Arrian, thanks for the tip! As a relatively new student to this area of study, the context, places and people can seem quite difficult to put together from the ancient sources alone. I did quite enjoy conquest and empire for how it tied everything together.

    Justin is another good recommendation, I remember some of the passages well. One concerned the staff headquarters for the invasion of Persia looking ‘more like the senate of some old-time republic’, to which I assumed meant that Alexander owed a debt to the elder generation for his ascension to King and that he truly was in debt to his father for the military legacy he had left behind (all those experienced generals).

  3. Scott, I am glad this is helpful. The logistics book is a little older, but no one has provided a better analysis. There are few quibbles here and there about distances, but these are one-off instances. The basic premises are timeless, like the speeds at which infantry march, how many miles oxen can move in a day, and how much food horses need.

  4. Dwight says:

    Thanks for the discussion. Having just finished The Landmark Arrian it’s interesting to get additional flavors on such a compelling figure. (Have you had a chance to check it out yet?) I definitely want to work through Bosworth’s book since it looks like it covers some of the practical aspect on running the empire. Thanks again.

    • I haven’t received “The Landmark Arrian” yet, it was on backorder when I ordered it from bookdepository (still waiting!)

      I give Bosworth a big thumbs up, especially to those studying at university.

  5. The Landmark Arrian came today – it is awesome :)

    Thanks Scott!

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