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Knopf, 2004 - History - 496 pages
Beginning beneath the walls of Troy and culminating in 1930s Europe, a magisterial exploration of the nature of heroism in Western civilization.
Our need for heroes is a timeless phenomenon; from ancient Greece to September 11, we have always looked to great figures for inspiration and leadership. In this riveting and insightful cultural history, Lucy Hughes-Hallett brings to life eight exceptional men from history and myth whose outsized accomplishments made them heroes of their times.

Alcibiades was Athens’s most dazzling citizen but an incorrigible traitor. El Cid was an invincible but self-interested warlord. Albrecht von Wallenstein terrified both enemies and allies in the Thirty Years’ War. Despite their flaws, all three were celebrated as superhuman paragons of virility. We see them in contrast to heroes of a different kind: Cato, the stubborn opponent of dictatorship; Sir Francis Drake, who used wit instead of might to defeat the Spanish; and Giuseppe Garibaldi, the gallant revolutionary and international celebrity. Framing these six men are the two paradigmatic Homeric heroes: Achilles, who sacrificed his life for glory, and Odysseus, who lied and cheated and stole, doing anything to survive.

As Hughes-Hallett vividly re-creates these extraordinary lives, she illuminates the attractions and dangers of hero worship. This is a fascinating book about dictatorship and democracy, seduction and mass hysteria, politics and culture, and the eternal tension between the Achillean glorification of death and the Odyssean affirmation of life.

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User Review  - publiusdb - LibraryThing

I didn't actually read the whole thing, just the chapter on Cato...but that's really all I checked it out for, anyway, and it served that purpose adequately. Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - Meggo - LibraryThing

This is not so much a book about heroes, but a book about anti-heroes. Deeply flawed and in many ways extraordinarily selfish, the "Heroes" of the title are not your usual list. For example, the book ... Read full review



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About the author (2004)

Lucy Hughes-Hallett is a critic for The Sunday Times (London) and the author of Cleopatra: Histories, Dreams and Distortions. She lives in London with her husband and daughter, and is at work on a book about Gabriele d’Annunzio and the origins of Italian fascism.

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