The Ancient Greeks in 100 Facts
Paul Chrystal
Paperback, £8.99

As Paul Chrystal points out, ancient Greece was never one single identifiable nation – rather, its various city-states were independent entities that went their own way, argued among themselves and only collaborated when they ganged up on each other, or when the Persians arrived in force. Whether geographically, politically, socially or economically, the history of ancient Greece is not straightforward, so to simplify the task of getting to grips with it, Chrystal breaks the subject down into 100 bite-sized chunks of one or two pages each, which certainly makes for easy reading. Although Chrystal tells the story of ancient Greece from the Bronze Age through to the time it was vanquished by the Romans, you can pick up The Ancient Greeks in 100 Facts and dip into it as the mood takes you – depending on what aspect you want to explore, from the birth of democracy to the nature and questionable habits of their gods, from their military and naval struggles and triumphs to the great literature they produced, from their major philosophers through to their sex lives (there seems to have been an awful lot going on in this category).

There are sections entitled: The Greek Alphabet Was Derived from the Phoenician Alphabet; The Gods Started the Trojan War; By 650 BC Sparta had Become the Dominant Military Land-Power in Ancient Greece; Euripides: the Most Tragic of Poets and The Gymnasium was the Place to Go. Overall, through Chrystal's coverage of this wide range of subjects, we are given a full picture of the sometimes tumultuous history and great achievements of this remarkable people and their world. He gives us plenty of factual material, interesting quotations and tantalising titbits that you may not find in more conventionally presented works.

'Accessible' may be an overused word, but this book certainly makes the history of the ancient Greeks easy to tackle and presents plenty of information in entertaining snapshots. Chrystal makes his subject come alive with his robust, easy style in a simple format. He reminds us that as we celebrate the enduring legacy of the ancient Greeks, so remote from us in time, we feel a great affinity for them too.
Diana Bentley