Saturday, October 30, 2010

Virtues of War by Steven Pressfield

The book is told from Alexander’s perspective to Itanes about his own conquest of his mighty empire, about himself, his companions and the lessons he learnt while leading his men in the battles. This is one of the books that I enjoyed a lot. The audio book reader Mr. John lee was brilliant beyond any measure.

We all know that Alexander is one of the greatest conquerors the world has ever seen. In virtues of war, it can easily be seen why Alexander is Alexander the great.

Loves and respects the enemy.
Gives his companion and his relationship with them the highest priority.
Keeps everymen in his army under control.
Celebrates a lot.
Inspires his men every time the spirit goes down.
Understands his men and the enemy alike.
Gives credit to the contributors.
Does anything that it takes to achieve his goal.
Takes complete responsibility of his and his army’s action.
Communicates his command and intentions clearly.
Loves his companion Bucephalus.
Attacks than defend.
Extremely strategic and visionary.
And the most important: Why he fights the wars.

The storm and the sea

On a meeting with Alexander, Porus (porus is a title like raja/king, actual name being Amritatma) insists that Alexander is not a king, but a mere conqueror and that he should learn to be a king from Porus. He adds the analogy of this difference between the storm and the sea.

Storm is always brilliant and terrifying, shows its complete power on its path and passes on. The sea remains calm, eternal and deep, absorbs thunders unmoved. This makes Alexander and his men angry; when they are about to leave with fury, porus insists the same saying – return to your lands you have conquered, make your people free and happy, render each man lord over his own household and sovereign over his own heart.

Sheer brilliance – this broke my misconception on what being a king really is – he does not rule by terror and compulsion; leading/ruling by terror and compulsion is a state in which his ingenuity has been utterly reduced.

I outs have led Alexander

On the banks of Hydaspes, Alexander and his men decide to divert the course of the river in order to avoid crossing it. He consults his architects and his men on this. Throughout this process, he sets a vision, clearly communicates it and inspires his men towards it.

The labor required to divert the river is simple – just dig and shore – once the head of the river is turned, the river takes care of the rest. The most interesting thing he does while his men dig and shore the banks is this: he strips his splendid clothes and join in the labor. This absolutely inspires the men to see their king toiling at their shoulder and perhaps who will not boast – “I outs have led Alexander”.

He is a king!

Alexander wanted to seize the ultimate glory by killing Darius, the lord of Asia, by himself personally. On the battle of Issus, Alexander closes in on Darius with his ‘cover and uncover’ principle. Minutes before he captures Darius, Darius goes missing. Alexander’s men tell him that the king has fled.

Alexander is completely struck with outrage, not because the enemy king has stolen his glory by fleeing, but that he could flee at all! Do you understand? He is a king! He is a king, he must stand and fight! Further, Darius abandons the valiant hearts of his army, men who bleed and die even now in his name and for his honor.

And again - Alexander is completely struck with outrage, not because the enemy king has stolen his glory by fleeing, but that he could flee at all!
In addition to the above, how Philotas announces in public his misbelieve on Alexander has perished, how each time Alexander takes no material but the glory at the end of every battle are indeed truly inspiring. I’m sure to watch the movie on Alexander and a 3 hour documentary on tracing his entire path to glory from Macedonia to India – the one I reserved to watch after this book.

Quotes garden
  • Because a thing has never been done, gentlemen, is no reason to say it cannot be. And, in my view, no reason not to try.
  • "How do you wish to be treated?" I asked Porus when I had caught up in person. "Like a king," he replied, and like a king we honored him.
  • Bucephalus lay on his right side. I saw at once that his great heart beat no more. A thousand times in imagination I had rehearsed this hour, which I knew must come.
  • An army needs something grand to capture its imagination. In Pericles' phrase, “Mighty deeds and mighty works."
  • What drives the soldier is cardia, "heart," and dynamis, "the will to fight." Nothing else matters in war. Not weapons or tactics, philosophy or patriotism, not fear of the gods themselves. Only this love of glory.
  • Men are hard in my country and women harder.
  • Only one thing keeps Hephaestion from being my equal. He lacks the element of the monstrous. For this I love him.
  • He who would wake must cease to dream
  • The commander's options? In the end, he may lead his army only where it wants to go.
  • One thing your victories have taught us, lord, is to see all foes as potential allies.
  • That the enemy are better men than me only enlarges my pleasure.
  • But we must do more, brothers, than overcome the enemy by might. We must show him that we are better men. Let no one dishonor himself in victory.
  • What we show, we will not do. What we don't show, we will do.
  • He had doubted my daimon and doubted my destiny. For this, I could never forgive him.
For review on this book see .


  1. Fond memories of the book! Hope you had a good time reading it! :)

  2. Elayabharath

    I certainly enjoyed the book, a lot! :)