Restoring Thucydides: Testing Familiar Lessons and Deriving New Ones

by Andrew R. Novo and Jay M. Parker

Description

*This book is in the Rapid Communications in Conflict and Security (RCCS) Series (General Editor: Geoffrey R.H. Burn).

Few books have had a wider sustained impact than Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. More than 2,500 years after it was written, Thucydides is still read by academics, students, and policymakers looking for enduring lessons into everything from grand strategy to domestic politics and human nature. Yet, like many great books, this work by Thucydides is more often quoted than read. Even when read, Thucydides is read incompletely. Too often, his work is approached through the lens of synthesis and oversimplification. Readers are presented with a quote here and a generalized lesson there in a manner that disregards both the wider context of the book itself and the broader context of the period in which Thucydides lived.

While many studies have attempted to derive lessons from Thucydides or apply lessons to international politics today, few works have tested the validity of those lessons or unpacked the deeper context of Thucydides’ work and his time. Like many great books, Thucydides is often read in the search for predetermined lessons derived from preselected excerpts. These lessons come to us as little more than bromides, as immutable as they are oversimplified. Both academics and policymakers use phrases like “Thucydides’ Trap” without accurately referring back to the text and its context. The clichés generated by current approaches do not help us understand the particular causes, conduct, and conclusion of the conflict between Athens and Sparta any more than they provide insights into the challenges of our own time.

This book examines the use and misuse of historic evidence. It addresses the persistence of historic fact that has been surpassed by legend as well as the absence of consistent, diligent interdisciplinary scholarship. The authors Andrew R. Novo and Jay M. Parker demonstrate how rigor cannot be credible without some degree of richness. Standard conclusions are challenged based on the evidence within his work and the broader historical record. New lessons with modern relevance are drawn from a richer, fuller understanding of Thucydides.

Restoring Thucydides: Testing Familiar Lessons and Deriving New Ones is an important book for the teaching of “classic” texts to students of politics, history, and international relations. It is valuable for students, academics, and general readers with an interest in the application history and theory to modern day challenges as well as those exploring the link between historical evidence and contemporary themes in international relations.



 

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