My Greek friends will have to forgive me, but don’t we all feel a bit Greek? Since Greek culture is an essential part of world culture, you simply can’t escape it! It’s everywhere and so relatable. That’s probably the country’s biggest asset: instead of claiming their genius, Greeks are happy to share. When it comes to literature, the Greeks once again excel. They have penned some of the oldest texts on earth (ok, these without a pen), to modern-day masterpieces. To us, the following are the best books about Greece. We cover history, mythology, architecture, art, and of course, travel.
- 1 Best Books About Greek History
- 2 Best Books on Ancient Greece
- 3 Best Books About Greek Mythology
- 4 Best Greek Mythology Books for Kids
- 5 Best Travel Books on Greece
- 6 Best Fiction Books and Novels Set in Greece
- 7 Best Greek Art and Architecture Books
- 8 Best Books About Crete
Best Books About Greek History
A Concise History of Greece
Author Richard Clogg
A Concise History of Greece is by Richard Clogg, arguably one of the world’s authorities in contemporary Greek history. The guy is so good that the Greeks awarded Clogg with the Order of Honor in 2002. Take note that it covers the last 200 years or so of the country. What I loved about it is that it centers on objective facts, but it is very easy to read. You don’t need to be an expert to enjoy it. Though this is not a travel book, I guarantee you that you will remember it when traveling around Greece. This one is one of the best books about Greek history ever published.
Greece: Biography of a Modern Nation
Author Roderick Beaton
What I enjoyed about Greece: Biography of a Modern Nation is how it connects Greek recent history to geopolitical forces around the world. Once again, the author describes the last 200 years of the country’s history. For instance, I couldn’t believe how small Greece led the independence movement that spread around the world. The chapters on the population exchange between Turkey and Greece are riveting. Though Roderick Beaton has written one of the best books about Greek history, his prose is so good that the book reads more like a novel.
Best Books on Ancient Greece
The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome
Author Susan Wise Bauer
The History of the Ancient World is part of a bigger collection of the different centers of culture that shaped the world throughout ancient times. As the title says, it ends when Constantine converted to Christianity and united the Roman Empire. Therefore, it is not only one of the best books on ancient Greece. However, the sections on Greece, and others that connect to the country, are pretty thorough and well documented. What I found interesting is that the author considers a couple of biblical characters as true historic figures! As far as I know, there’s no scientific evidence that Moses and Abraham ever existed. In any case, the book is a pleasure to read.
The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World
Author Catherine Nixey
Since I moved to Greece, I’ve always wondered how Greeks went from fascinating polytheism to boring Christianity. Being honest, I have to admit that I consider Greek mythology and Greek philosophers as a peak of human intellect and creativity. So, what happened? You will find all the answers in this incredible book. The Darkening Age begins in one of my favorite places in the entire world: the city of Palmira in Syria. What follows is a gripping tale of destruction, greed, and cultural annihilation. You could think everything is fiction, but no, everything is real and documented.
Best Books About Greek Mythology
Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes
Author Edith Hamilton
A very famous book first published in 1942, Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes is still the one to beat. We are talking about a big book, over 500 pages long. However, you will have trouble putting it down. The book includes all of the major mythological stories, as well as some minor but equally fascinating ones. Besides, you don’t need to know a thing about the topic. I gather that you can go into endless detail on each myth, which some of us could find boring. Though Hamilton’s book is quite thorough, it reads fast and is suitable for all readers.
Probably the most famous Greek book of all time, the ever-present The Iliad by Homer does for sure deliver. The Iliad is one of those books about Greek mythology everybody talks about. Who hasn’t heard of the tale of Troy, Achilles, Agamemnon, Odysseus, and Helen? However, how many of us have actually read the thing? As you know, the book is a poem. Honestly speaking, poetry is not my thing. That’s why I was so surprised that I found this book easy to read. Homer’s poems are not overly done nor adorned. Go ahead and learn the real story directly.
Best Greek Mythology Books for Kids
D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths
Author Ingri and Edgar D’Aulaires
D’Aulaires’ book of Greek Myths is a classic in print since 1967. When we were growing up, my youngest brother was obsessed with Greek mythology. He spent hours reading in his room. This was his favorite book, a copy of which he still keeps. I have to admit that the drawings are works of art. Obviously, it includes the major Greek myths, but minor ones too. My brother is reading it again with his daughter and, according to him, re-living all the fun. Yes, my brother is a nerd. The latest edition includes new pictures and photos of the authors.
Athena the Brain (Goddess Girls Books 1-4)
Author Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams
A friend of mine’s daughter recommended Athena the Brain. Her favorite Greek god is actually a goddess: Athena. According to her, the stories resemble her group of friends and their perils at school. She could tell me which of her friends was exactly like Artemis, Poseidon, Aphrodite, Persephone, Pandora, and Medusa! Though the book is one of the best contemporary Greek mythology books for kids, it does tell the original stories. The pictures and drawings are pretty cool too. The one thing I disagree with my niece is that it’s not a book for girls. Boys will enjoy it for sure!
Best Travel Books on Greece
The Colossus of Maroussi
Author Henri Miller
A fantastic book by one of my favorite writes, The Colossus of Maroussi by Henri Miller, is a travel book on Greece, a novel, a political manifesto, and a fantastic read. Before World War II began, Miller left Paris and traveled nine months around Athens, Delphi, Crete, Corfu, Poros, and Hydra. As he wrote: The light of Greece opened my eyes, penetrated my pores, expanded my whole being. The book is quite different from his most famous ones. Miller’s philosophical prose is uplifting and full of hope. I liked how he intertwines the country’s scenery with ancient mythology. This one is a must!
Lonely Planet Greece (Travel Guide)
Author Group of Authors
Though nowadays everybody seems to be publishing one, to me, the best is the Lonely Planet Greece travel guide. Maybe I’m biased because I’ve been using them for decades, but the rest don’t come close. I always read the first sections about the country’s history and current situation. It helps me understand where I’m going. The maps are very accurate and easy to understand, especially the detailed small ones. When it comes to attractions, the list is comprehensive and covers different interests. Finally, the size and format make it easy to use when traveling.
Best Fiction Books and Novels Set in Greece
Author Nikos Kazantzakis
The Christ Recrucified is one of the best books set in Greece ever. Actually, in Lycovrissi, a village in Anatolia under Turkish rule. Once again, Kazantzakis takes us there. Everything is so alive and vivid that it’s hard to believe the plot is fiction. Actually, this may be one of the best fiction books about Greece, but the questions it ponders are universally human. It’s a story that takes you across the basics of humanity: love, greed, envy, hatred, life, and death. You can’t help but wonder what you would have done under the same circumstances. Likewise, since the characters are Greek, you learn a lot about the country’s customs and its intertwined history with the Ottoman empire. I simply loved it!
The Last Temptation of Christ
Author Nikos Kazantzakis
There’s a persistent rumor that Kazantzakis’ most famous book got him kicked out of the Orthodox Church. Though not true, the church did hate The Last Temptation of Christ and tried to ban him from the country. The same happened with the 1988 movie. I can’t fathom why so much hatred? I’m not religious, so I know I might be missing something, but the book made me think. Jesus and God are so human and relatable; the story so real and full of humanity, you can’t help but wonder if it’s not the real testament. This book is a beautifully written work of art that will linger in your mind long after you close it.
Best Greek Art and Architecture Books
The Greek Vase: Art of the Storyteller
Author John H Oakley
Probably my biggest love and hate relationship with a book. The Greek Vase is based on the collection inside the British Museum and the J. Paul Getty Museum, endowed with the biggest art trust fund in the world. I mean, the museum is beautiful and holds half of the world inside (Most stolen)! What would you prefer: the Parthenon, under a roof, in a crowded place, with artificial light, and no context; or presiding over Athens, where it belongs? How can one US billionaire buy so much stuff? Let’s leave it there. In any case, this is one of the best Greek art books every published. The pictures are probably the best in the world, and the text comprehensive, clear, and well documented.
Vitruvius: Ten Books on Architecture
A book as old as the bible, but full of science and truth, this book is a must. The author is the guy that inspired Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man. Though the Ten Books on Architecture has technical information on buildings, you don’t need to be an architect to enjoy it. It’s full of fascinating stories and references to philosophy, physics, art, politics, and everyday life. Indeed, amongst its pages, you’ll read about Anaxagoras, Alexander the Great, Epicurus (my personal favorite), Aristophanes, and Archimedes. Take note that not everything is strictly about Greek architecture, most books discuss Greco-Roman architecture. Hard to believe humans knew so much so long ago.
Best Books About Crete
Zorba the Greek
Author Nikos Kazantzakis
Zorba the Greek is quite popular, mainly because of the 1964 movie. Not that the movie is bad, but it pales in comparison with the book. All I can say about the plot is that Zorba leaves from the port of Piraeus in Attika and goes to Crete. The book begins describing gorgeous Mount Juktas presiding over Iraklion. Kazantzakis prose brings every character into life, and in his world, Crete is a character. While reading, you feel you are there, going through all the perils and joys of Zorba. Besides, the book may be one of the best novels set in Greece, but the story is universal. We all can relate. Even if you have watched the film, you will enjoy this book.
Freedom and Death
Author Nikos Kazantzakis
The original title of the book is Captain Michalis. The words Freedom and Death were added in a later edition and is now the novel’s name in English. During the war of independence against Ottoman rule, Greek rebels used the expression Eleftheria I Thanatos, which means freedom and death. The plot follows Cretan rebels during the war. What’s more, Kazantzakis uses Cretan words and customs to bring to life characters that are unmistakably Greek. Of course, it features the Turks too. Regardless of the fantastic specifics of the war, the book resonates with every single culture. It may be one of the best books set in Crete, but it makes you wonder if cultures do exist.
NAFPLIO: BIOGRAPHY OF A GREEK TOWN by Matt Stanley is not only an excellent and comprehensive story of Greek’s first capital, it is the only one currently available.
Thanks for the tip. Will have to get that one soon!