book reviews

Book Review: Gates of Fire

<a href=Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae

by Steven Pressfield

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

View all my reviews

Gates of Fire retells the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, an epic tale of patriotism, the power of belief in one’s country, in one’s self, and the need to succeed despite insurmountable odds. Persia mounted a vast army, one that far outnumbered the indigenous Greeks and threatened to overrun their City States. Sparta led Greece’s counter-charge, living up to their historic reputation as warriors, imbued with lifelong military training, and inhabitants of a tyrannical society thankfully out of step with the Greek belief in democracy.

That is the drama of the story, but it takes Pressfield half the book to get there. If he hadn’t been an established author, some by-the-book agent would have tossed his manuscript as unpublishable. Pressfield follows none of the usual action-thriller rules–even those for historic fiction (the official genre of Gates of Fire). Where I wondered for the first one hundred pages whether it was worth it, by the middle, I understood his reasoning. His character development, plot back-story, setting detail are so authentic and engaging, by the time the battle arrives, you are right there, with the noble Spartans and the Loyal Greeks, desperate for a miracle that arrives too late.

When you finish this book, you will forever remember the Battle of Thermopylae, the noble warriors and the roots of man’s need to fight the good fight, no matter the cost. In fact, Pressfield’s battle depiction is so memorable, it is still included by the Commandant of the Marine Corps on his official reading list.

If you’d like to read more reviews on this spectacular book, check out Dear Author’s prosaic review and Historical Novel who includes lots of related resources (I wish I’d done that).

If you would like to purchase this from Amazon, click the link below:

 Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae

More historic book reviews:

8 Tips for Historic Fiction Writers
Killer Angels
Horse Soldiers
Killing Lincoln

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. In her free time, she is  editor of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.

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26 thoughts on “Book Review: Gates of Fire

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  7. Your review of this book reminds me of Red October. So much of the first part of that book explained the submarine. Yet, once I got past that part, I could understand why it needs all of those prior pages.


    • Interesting observation. It explains that 25% rule–the first 25% of a book is to set the stage. It’s allowed to be warm-up, backstory, teeing the plot up–as long as it’s still interesting. Gates of Fire was over half, but it’s purpose was as much to share how Spartans became those rough men as to discuss the battle.


  8. This is a very interesting review because it highlights the patience sometimes needed for the first part of some books, but which is normally only given to established authors. We live in such an impatient age, that sometimes we will not give things time to grow, whether they be plants or plots !


    • You’re right, Peter. I believe a book like this would never get selected by an agent–and the world would be a lesser place for it.

      One of the many reasons I’m an advocate of self-pub.


  9. I used to read a book from start to finish no matter how hard it was because I figured something good must be waiting to be discovered. As well, I thought the author wrote the darn thing, I must not disrespect the work by tossing it.
    Nowadays, I’ll give a book a couple of tries before tossing it. This sounds like something I may or may not have stayed with. Many a good book make you wait before the big payoff.
    With your recommendation, I would try reading this one but am not much for blood and guts.


  10. I wonder why you gave this book 5 stars when your impression for the first half was ambivalent? You later understood Pressfield’s decision, but was there another way to construct the book that would have engaged you at the beginning? Perhaps this post is a plea for patience – that could be a good thing.
    I reread your post about writing historic fiction – thank you – another good thing.


    • Here’s what happened: While I was plowing through, my subconscious (apparently) was cataloging information. When that plot tipping point arrived, all the information was there in my memory to make the story fantastic.

      I guess it’s like when you are ambivalent about a person at first, then get to know them and find they’re one of your best friends. Has that ever happened to yo?


      • You opened the door on an old memory. When I was a kid I met a girl at summer camp who irritated the heck out of me. Forced together for 4 weeks, I grew to watch and listen to her more carefully and realized that she was intelligent and creative. We became very close friends for years. So, Harriet Silverstein, if you’re reading this, I still admire you.
        OK, 5 stars it is!


  11. I think I’ve put many good books–good based on reviews–down because it seems to take forever to get to the meat or action of the story. Sometimes it is worth sticking with a book, though.


  12. I probably wouldn’t get to the battle then. I am now one of those people who will put a book down if I’m not enjoying it. There are so many books waiting to be read, I won’t waste my time on a book that I’m not enjoying. Whereas in the past I used to hate putting a book down. I saw it as a failure.


    • Agreed–that’s me, too. I persevered because of the personal recommendation, and it was so worth it.

      And still, I judge within 50 pages. Not interesting enough, I move on. I didn’t learn a thing!


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