Robert Strassler Strikes Again


I know, I know. You have never heard of him. Bear with me. You see, I think of Bob Strassler as something of a hero. Bob majored in history at Harvard. He took one course in ancient Greek history with a retired modern history don from Oxford who knew something of the field, then went off to Harvard Business School before joining his father’s turn-around business.

So what, you say. Well, he made a bundle in that business and retired in 1983, at the ripe old age of 46. Six years later, out of boredom, he returned to the lass with whom he had flirted as an undergraduate: ancient Greek history – and that is where it all began.

Strassler found Thucydides hard to follow – and so, in his spare time (which was plentiful), he set out to do something about. It took him seven years to finish the job, and in 1996 the Free Press published a book that twelve other presses (including six prestigious university presses) had turned their noses up at. Entitled The Landmark Thucydides, it included adding 114 maps (located on or near the page where the pertinent event was described); explanatory footnotes keyed to the maps; marginal notes; headers indicating the date, the location, and the events being described; an introduction by Victor Davis Hanson; a highly detailed index; and eleven appendices on technical questions arising within the text, written by Hanson and other classical scholars armed with the requisite expertise.


It sold like hotcakes – more than 30,000 copies in hardback and an additional 40,000 in paperback – and there is no reason to suppose that it will ever go out of print. The reason is simple. It made an acknowledged great work accessible to everyman. As I wrote in a review of its sequel, “No one in his right mind, teaching a course in Greek history, would employ any other edition. No casual reader would be well-advised to look elsewhere. The maps alone are worth ten times the cost of the book. With their help, the narrative becomes intelligible to the non-expert reader for the first time. Put simply, Strassler’s maps are to the study of Thucydides what wheels are to luggage. Once they are added and one sees the result, one is aghast that no one had the wit to see to their addition at an earlier time.”

You would think that Strassler’s success – though he bore all of the production costs himself, he did well with the book – would inspire imitation. Classicists are an impecunious lot, and they lust for lucre. The number of ancient texts crying out for similar treatment is numerous; and one could easily imagine enterprising editors at Oxford University Press, at Cambridge or Harvard, jumping at the opportunity he had opened up. But years passed. No one stepped forward, and so he decided to do the job himself. In 2007 Pantheon books brought out for Strassler The Landmark Herodotus, constructed on precisely the same model:


Then, in 2009, the same press published The Landmark Xenophon’s Hellenika:


And now, hot off the presses, we have The Landmark Arrian:


For those of you uninitiated into the esoterica of ancient history, what that means is that one can follow the campaigns of Alexander the Great with great precision. And in two more years, if all goes well, Pantheon will bring out The Landmark Polybius so that you can trace the rise of Rome and its long struggle with Carthage.

It all goes to show that those of us who teach never know what effect we are going to have on students.

There are 15 comments.

  1. Robert E. Lee Member


    • #1
    • January 17, 2011, at 6:04 AM PDT
    • Like
  2. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor

    What do you mean, “We’ve never heard of him,” Paul? This is Ricochet. Bet you most of us have heard of him.

    Am I right?

    • #2
    • January 17, 2011, at 6:33 AM PDT
    • Like
  3. outstripp Inactive

    I hadn’t heard of him. Thanks for the tip.

    • #3
    • January 17, 2011, at 6:43 AM PDT
    • Like
  4. Emily Esfahani Smith Inactive

    What a fabulous story!

    • #4
    • January 17, 2011, at 7:12 AM PDT
    • Like
  5. Liver Pate Inactive

    I’ve been a Robert Strassler groupie longer than a Nicole Gelinas or Claire Berlinski groupie.

    • #5
    • January 17, 2011, at 8:16 AM PDT
    • Like
  6. Robert Bennett Inactive

    I’ve heard of him, but did not know Hellenika and Arrian existed. Only Thucydides and Herodotus. I see those in book stores all the time, but not the more recent ones.

    • #6
    • January 17, 2011, at 9:12 AM PDT
    • Like
  7. Profile Photo Member

    Would that I had been able to use these in my 400 level history courses all those years ago.

    Thanks for the heads-up, Professor!

    • #7
    • January 17, 2011, at 9:55 AM PDT
    • Like
  8. Margaret Ball Inactive

    I hadn’t heard of him. Thanks for the tip! My husband is interested in classical military history and has been complaining that he’s out of things to read, so I’ve just ordered him The Landmark Arrian.

    • #8
    • January 17, 2011, at 11:15 AM PDT
    • Like
  9. Lash LaRoche Inactive

    I first heard of Robert Strassler ten years ago when I bought a copy of The Landmark Thucydides, and subsequently spent several weeks reading the volume along with its included essays. It is indeed mystifying that the academic presses would not attempt to replicate this successful model, but then again academia is an odd place where common sense often does not apply.

    This is, however, the first I’ve heard of The Landmark Arrian. I’m definitely putting in an order today.

    • #9
    • January 18, 2011, at 1:47 AM PDT
    • Like
  10. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe Post author

    Bob Strassler e-mailed me that The Landmark Julius Caesar is on the way and that he is thinking about doing Xenophon’s Anabasis — which is what I urged him to do next when he came to Hillsdale last year to give a talk.

    • #10
    • January 18, 2011, at 2:52 AM PDT
    • Like
  11. Liver Pate Inactive
    Paul A. Rahe: Bob Strassler e-mailed me that The Landmark Julius Caesar is on the way and that he is thinking about doing Xenophon’s Anabasis — which is what I urged him to do next when he came to Hillsdale last year to give a talk. · Jan 17 at 1:52pm

    Edited on Jan 17 at 01:52 pm


    I have the Wayne Ambler translation of the Anabasis by Cornell University Press. What do you think of it?

    • #11
    • January 18, 2011, at 2:59 AM PDT
    • Like
  12. Aaron Miller Member

    Thanks, Paul.

    And thank Strassler for me, please.

    • #12
    • January 18, 2011, at 3:09 AM PDT
    • Like
  13. Lady Kurobara Inactive
    Paul A. Rahe: Bob Strassler e-mailed me that The Landmark Julius Caesar is on the way and that he is thinking about doing Xenophon’s Anabasis — which is what I urged him to do next when he came to Hillsdale last year to give a talk.

    I love Anabasis. A Landmark version will be sublime.

    It is worth noting that Anabasis inspired Sol Yurick’s novel The Warriors (1965), in which the story is transplanted to the youthful gang scene in modern New York City. In 1979, Tony Scott and Walter Hill turned the novel into a modest movie that eventually became a wildly popular cult film. As a nod to the source, some of the characters in the movie are given names like “Ajax,” “Cleon” and “Cyrus.”

    • #13
    • January 18, 2011, at 6:56 AM PDT
    • Like
  14. Jimmy Carter Member

    You can sell a book, Professor.

    I just spent My B & N gift card for Thucydides.

    I’m excited and look forward to the others as well.

    • #14
    • January 18, 2011, at 7:02 AM PDT
    • Like
  15. Zhuchka Inactive

    The Landmark Arrian was under my Christmas tree. I await the forthcoming volumes with much anticipation. All the Landmark editions are truly outstanding.

    • #15
    • January 19, 2011, at 12:30 PM PDT
    • Like