Book Review: Athens: City of Wisdom


by Bruce Clark

New York: Pegasus Books, 2022. Pp. x, 614+. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $35.00. ISBN: 1639363645

A City and its Legacy

In Athens: City of Wisdom, journalist Bruce Clark seeks to give the reader a broad sketch of the history of a great city. Athens is a city that I have a strong personal connection with, and have visited several times. For the most part, Clark succeeds in giving us the highlights of Athenian history, and its importance to Greek and Western civilization.

The narrative swings from the mythical beginnings of the city, through the highs of the Classical period, then followed by the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman eras, before it concludes in the modern history of Athens. Important historical figures including Hadrian, resistance hero Manolis Glezos, Melina Mercouri, King Constantine of Greece, and of course First Son of the city, Pericles, are given their due in the text.

The book benefits from Clark’s extensive knowledge of Athens, a result of years that he spent there as a correspondent for the Reuters news service. He makes good use of various Greek historians, archaeologists, and politicians he came to know. These experts provide the bones of the narrative, giving the best scholarship on the interpretation of various historical events and more than a few controversies that are debated to this day.

A center of the story is the Acropolis as a symbol in Athenian history. Starting from its beginning as the main fortress for Athens, Clark takes us through the construction of its Classical buildings, the Parthenon, Erechthion, Propylea, and the Old Temple of Athena. Clark presents us with the current scholarship on the symbolism of these ancient temples. The Acropolis thereafter pops up over and over, whether as a symbol of Greek nationalism, or as a prize for various Empires, from the Romans to the Venetians. The appropriation (as a Greek, I would call it theft) of the Parthenon Marbles by Lord Elgin also gets a long section.

One failing I did feel in the book was Clark’s tendency to make analogies between Athenian and modern history, which fell flat in my opinion. A comparison between Pericles’ Funeral Oration, arguably the greatest political speech ever made, and the jingoistic War on Terror speeches of George W. Bush seemed particularly inappropriate to me.

Still, Clark redeems himself for these early errors in his later chapters where he is able to draw on his personal experiences of Athens to take the reader through the evolution and expansion of the city since the Second World War. As with all great, historical cities, Athens will continue to draw many visitors to its streets, seeking a bit of that history, wanting to walk the same roads that Pisistratis, Pericles, or Winston Churchill did. Athens: City of Wisdom allows the reader to travel there from their couch. It’s a book for a reader who’s looking for a way into the history of Greece.


Our Reviewer: Dr. Alexander Stavropoulos received his Ph.D. in History from the CUNY Graduate Center in 2013. Currently an Adjunct Professor at Kingsborough Community College, CUNY, his previous reviews include Prelude to Waterloo: Quatre Bras: The French Perspective, Braddock's Defeat: The Battle of the Monongahela and the Road to Revolution, Italy 1636: Cemetery of Armies, In the Name of Lykourgos, The Other Face of Battle, The Bulgarian Contract, Napoleon’s Stolen Army, In the Words of Wellington’s Fighting Cocks, and Chasing the Great Retreat.




Note: Athens, City of Wisdom is also available in e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: Alexander Stavropoulos   

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