the guardian Fri 14 August 2009
With the concept of a classical education left exposed on the hillside of the national curriculum, Charlotte Higgins's joyful pop history attempts to bring ancient Greece back in from the cold. Helpfully listing "the 10 essential Greek quotes", she includes "Gnothi seauton" ("Know yourself") - a significant mission statement for a book eager to reveal the underpinnings of western culture to the general reader. Unafraid to use The Matrix or 300 as Hollywood grist to her improving mill, she also revels in jocular analogies (Mount Olympus as the royal box at Wembley stadium) and gentle humour (a travel itinerary written in the style of Herodotus if he ran Swan Hellenic cruises). A modern audience is also targeted with her unstinting enthusiasm for Homer ("I don't think I'm physically capable of reading Iliad book six without weeping"). Yet Higgins is clear that ancient Greece is ultimately an unknowable, savagely strange culture that will always, thrillingly, retain an "incompleteness at its heart".