Sunday, November 01, 2009

Ancient Athens on 5 Drachmas a Day

As much as I love big, thick history books bursting with facts and details, it's always good to return to the basics. Which is why I enjoy Phillip Matyszak's "Ancient Athens on 5 Drachmas a Day".

Divided into IX sections, the book teaches history through the guise of a travel log. You'll read about the best way to get to Athens(thus learning about ancient roadways and destinations), where to stay (which discusses dwellings and lifestyles), what to do (a good way of introducing readers to ancient entertainment like the symposium), who to meet (which features men like Pericles and Thucydides) and what to buy (which covers everything from the local monetary system to what items can be found in the Agora). There are even maps of the city, pictures of famous people and sightseeing recommendations.

I really enjoy Matyszak approach. Instead of weighing you down with a myriad of facts all at once, he takes his cue from modern travel books and presents information in bite-size pieces. He also includes amusing stories to make sure the reader is engaged. The book is a bit stiff in price (it's nearly $20) but the upside is that it's easy to navigate and provides a few fun gems that can be mined from its pages. Here are a few fun facts right from the source:

1) The word economy comes from the word oikos nomos or "the organization of the household"

2)The famous Academy was originally a hero shrine

3) In prehistoric times the Piraeus was an island

If you are looking for a fun way to be introduced to or get re-acquainted with Ancient Athens, I highly recommend this book.