by Steven Pressfield
dramatizing the story of the Battle of Thermopylae
. Similar to I, Claudius
in tenor, though the story is far more compelling.
In a nutshell, a massive Persian army, led by Xerxes, comes to subjugate Greece. The Spartans, led by King Leonidas, send out a suicide force to stall their progress at Thermopylae (lit. 'hot gates'), a narrow mountain pass in the north.
The story is told through a captured Spartan squire, Xeones, who recounts not only the tale of the battle, but of the training and events leading up to it. It is this rich, vivid imagery, of massed phalanxes, noble Spartan women sending their sons and husbands to die without tears, and the mix of honor and cruelty in their training exercises that makes the book live.
I couldn't put the book down, stopping only for food, work, and sleep.