Cyrus The Great



Cyrus the Great
by Harold Lamb
ISBN:  0523239084
Copyright 1960
I am currently reading Cyrus the Great to my children who are now aged 15 and 12.  I'm enjoying it for the most part and so is my 15 year old son.  My 12 year old daughter is finding it tedious and isn't getting much out of it.  I suppose that would mean that this book is most appropriate for high schoolers and adults.  It could easily be considered dry, but if you're interested in Cyrus the Great or early Persia (550 B.C.), this is a good read.  It seems to be fictionalized, yet the delineation on the spine indicates that the book is "non-fiction."  It definitely reads like a novel, but it's obviously predominantly based on historical fact.  Besides the interest level being an indicator of age-appropriateness, the content is also more appropriate for adults.  While not graphic, some content is for mature readers.
It's taking a lot of time to read it aloud; just over 7 hours so far, and we're only on page 98 of 268.  It looks like that it will take us about 19 hours to read this book.  I'm thinking that it would be much better to read this book silently since that would take less time.  However, we are truly getting to know Cyrus.  He will be almost indelibly marked in our memories.  This book actually reminds me of the few books by G. A. Henty that we've read--they're excellent for getting a feel for the time period and the characters involved, but they take too long to read aloud.
So far we've learned that Cyrus the Great followed his father Cambyses to the throne of the Persians.  He then defeated Astyages of Media to become the king of the Medes and the Persians (c. 550 B.C.).  Overcoming Nebuchadnezzar is next on his list after attacking Lydia, I believe.  We're learning lots of little tidbits of information and other bits are being reviewed--hanging gardens of Babylon, Tyre and purple dye, Philistines and fancy glass, King Croesus, Oracle at Delphi.
There are many countries and cities in the Middle East that we aren't familiar with.  Since these places are mentioned over and over again in the book, we've found that it's handy to have a historical atlas nearby so that we can easily look them up.  Many of the locations listed in the book can't be found in a regular world atlas.  This can be frustrating when trying to figure out the locations of Parsagard, Lydia, Elam, Ecbatana, Hyrcania, Cappadocia, etc.  We have the Rand McNally Atlas of World History.  It's now out of print, but the Oxford Atlas of World History, the Hammond Atlas of World History, or the DK Atlas of World History are all still in print.  Any one of them will serve your homeschool well through the years.  They are a fairly big investment, but if it sits out in the living room, it will get plenty of use.
So, why would anyone want to study about Cyrus?  Who was Cyrus the Great?  Well, he was one of the great kings of a huge world empire in the Middle East--Persia, known today as Iran.  He conquered another ancient world empire, Babylon.  Have you heard of the Cyrus Cylinder written in cuneiform?  The Foreword of this book says, "Of the many mysteries of ancient history, this man, Cyrus, remains perhaps the most baffling mystery.  The secret of the unknown Hittite people has been at least uncovered; the lost Minoan civilization has taken form as it existed on the Great Sea, the Mediterranean.  What came after Cyrus the Achaemenian has been detailed and written into the records, but not the man himself.  He emerges from nowhere, yet leaves behind him the first ordered world state.  He brings with him a new idea--if not ideal--and somehow upsets the course of history to make an end of the ancient world of Ur of the Chaldeans, for Pharoahs, Assur, and Babylon.  [He ruled the areas of Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan.]  Why and how did he do this, and for what purpose?  What means did he possess, and who aided him to utilize them?  Above all, what kind of a man was he in reality?"  The book gives us reasonable answers, based on historical evidence.
Harold Lamb authored many books--even a couple of Landmarks!  Harold Lamb was also a screenwriter, working on Cecil B. DeMille's Samson and Delilah.  If Cyrus the Great isn't your cup of tea, Harold Lamb also wrote the following historical books.  Maybe one of them sounds interesting to you.  They are all out of print, but they are well researched and written.
ADDENDUM:  We finished the book.  I would read another one of Lamb's books to my children.  Overall, it was a positive experience, but then we usually enjoy long read alouds.

Other historical books by Harold Lamb
These are all out of print, but a used copy can be bought from Amazon MarketPlace,, or Powell's.
Alexander of Macedon (Alexander the Great) reign 336-323 BC
Hannibal c.247-183 BC
Theodora and the Emperor AD 527-565 
Charlemagne reign 771-814
Omar Khayyam c.1050-1123 possibly fiction 0-52340-2732
The Crusades:  The Flame of Islam c.1096-1204
Genghis Khan and the Mongol Horde c.1162-1227
Tamerlane c.1336-1405
Suleiman the Magnificent reign 1520-1566 0-52340-2279

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Joojeh Kabobi