The Iliad is still the greatest poem about war that our culture has ever produced. For a hundred generations, poets and thinkers in the West have pored over, retold and argued about the events described in this martial epic, even when direct knowledge of it was lost. Various empires have admired it as a book that in telling the story of the siege of Troy also extols the warrior ethic, and teaches the young how to die well.
Yet the figure at the heart of the epic, the consummate warrior Achilles, is a brooding, controversial hero. He is a fierce critic of those who have started this war and allowed it to drag on, consuming soldiers and civilians alike. Disconcertingly, The Iliad portrays war as a catastrophe that destroys cities, orphans children and wrecks whole societies.
Caroline Alexander's extraordinary book is not about any of the traditional concerns that have occupied classicists for centuries. It is simpler and more radical than that. In her words, 'This book is about what the Iliad is about; this book is about what the Iliad says of war.'