Gates of Fire recounts the famous Battle of Thermopylae. Thermopylae was the only access point to Greece for the invading Persian army in 480BC. Its geographic location was key: it was a bottleneck for the invading army with a sheer mountain on one side and a cliff on the other. The vastly outnumbered Greek army was led by 300 Spartans and it was their skillful fighting that held the Persians at bay while the Greek army fell back, regrouped and eventually defended their homeland.
The book is told from the perspective of the one Greek survivor of the Battle, a Spartan helot. He is captured after the battle and saved by Xerxes I, leader of the Persian Empire. The survivor recounts the details of Spartan life, battle techniques, and what happened leading up to and during the Battle of Thermopylae. The Spartans, as you may recall, invented the term ‘hard core.’ You definitely see it in this book. One aspect I found fascinating was the description of wounds and the treatment thereof. At one point someone’s scalp is sliding off! No worries though, he was definitely hard core so he slid it back into place and got on with business.
Another memorable part of the book for me was learning about the helots and how they were used in battle. Sometimes the importance of supply lines and well-kept equipment completely escapes my brain when I'm reading this type of thing and the helots really brought that home for me. And on another note, it reminded me of those poor bastards in the third Matrix movie that had to wheel a buggy of ammo out to the super cool manned-gun-shooting-machines (machines to fight machines, ah, irony! btw, do those things have an official name?). However, unlike in the The Matrix Revolutions there actually was a point to having a supply guy on the front lines.*
Gates of Fire is very well-crafted and the story well-told. I was engaged throughout and I also felt like the author did his best to represent a true account of the battle. Yes, it's written in the style of a novel but the author gained my trust in his representation. In fact, it's been a few years since I first read the book but my first thought way back when was, I need to read some more Pressfield immediately. I have no idea why but I still haven't read any of his other books. Any Pressfield fans want to suggest another title for me?
And while we're here, 300 is the name of a graphic novel by Frank Miller (not to be confused with Frank Miller) depicting these events. A movie was also made from the graphic novel. I haven’t read the graphic novel or seen the movie. Should I?
rating: 4 of 5 stars
*Every time I see those ammo toting guys in The Matrix Revolutions I get so irritable. Besides the fact that those stupid buggies would never get anywhere due to spent shells and all the unexplained paraphernalia lying about (they are be-wheeled after all and you would have to lift them over all that shit), this is clearly a time of technical innovation. No one could come up with the very simple idea of conveyor belts underneath the platform where the super cool manned-gun-shooting-machines are located? That platform was thick, plenty of room for automated ammo delivery. Did we love that skinny kid so much that he needed a crazy macho moment of getting in the super cool manned-gun-shooting-machines after having dying words with the captain? Maybe, but it still could have been better. That plot hole just drives me nuts. When I am freed from the matrix (though in truth why the crap would I want to be? it’s awesome in here and I get to watch movies like The Matrix) and defending Zion from squid machines that function without water, I will use super cool AUTOMATED-gun-shooting-machines