The Poison King

  • by Adrienne Mayor
  • Narrated by Paul Hecht
  • 15 hrs and 50 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

A National Book Award finalist for this epic work, Adrienne Mayor delivers a gripping account of Mithradates, the ruthless visionary who began to challenge Rome’s power in 120 B.C. Machiavelli praised his military genius. Kings coveted his secret elixir against poison. Poets celebrated his victories, intrigues, and panache. But until now, no one has told the full story of his incredible life.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

A mythic & complicated life of a charismatic King

A fascinating piece of Persian/Roman/Asia Minor history/biography. Mithradates makes almost every other challenger to the status quo seem inept, uncreative and not really committed. He isn't, however, a warrior king/leader you can completely admire. His methods for removing the Romans from Asia Minor were not even remotely reasonable ('Kill them all and let Zeus sort them out' wasn't tolerable even in 88 BC). However, his life was mythic. He was a brilliant linguist, military commander, scientist, and absolutely machismo to boot. He wasn't interested in playing a minor character on the world stage. He wanted to be a Darius or an Alexander the Great type of leader and for much of his life he was. The Romans were terrified of him. He fought them using terror, direct action (both naval and military), statecraft, and asymmetric warfare. He was rich, charismatic and ruthless.

The shortcoming of this book is one that would probably be the shortcoming of any historical biography of Mithradates: the lack of complete records. So much of Mithradates life is shrouded in rumor, speculation and second and third-hand sources. Those materials that exist are often biased because they were written by Romans. So Mayor is stuck, she can either try to sort out the fact from the fable and sometimes get a little loose with her narrative, or she can write a book that no one but Classical Historians would probably want to read. She chose readability, and the book was VERY readable, but it did come at a cost. The "what ifs and alternate endings and he might haves" get to be a little too much, or at least enough that I couldn't see giving this biography five stars.
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- Darwin8u

Rip Roaring Read

There are very few audiobooks that can hold my attention the way this presentation did. I listen to each four hour section at one go; with a small break in the middle. The history flows and the story moves at such a furious pace that is hard to break away.

Adrienne Mayor delivers a history that dashes along like a best selling novel. The story is absolutely riveting. The biography has an arc that is cinematic, and in a good way. In the right hands I can see this history becoming a Hollywood blockbuster.

Granted some of the biography is speculative, a what if scenario. But Mayor always warns you when hard history ends and where speculation begins. Mayor is ever the helpful tour guide, and Counter-factual History does add depth to a history lacking in primary sources.

Mayor does an excellent job of dealing with the issues of Ancient History in general and how they deal with the subject of the book, Mithradates. The primary sources are lacking and what few have survived suffer from the biases of the Roman authors. Recasting these ancient histories for a modern audience is real minefield for any serious author. Mayor deftly navigates this mine field, and delivers a gem of a narrative for the lucky listener.

A word or two on the actual narration. Overall it is solid. It is a well delivered journeyman performance. The performer never gets carried away. He never laps into monotony either. He lets the story tell itself, getting out of the way of narrative as much as possible. Pacing is spot on. The actual presentation is buttoned down and pitched properly.

This audiobook is a triple threat, if you are lover of ancient history, this is your audiobook. If you are lover of biography, this is your audiobook. Finally if you are a lover of finely crafted literature, of the Novel, this is your audiobook. The audiobook has love, betrayal, murder most foul, slaughter, dark experiments, glittering riches and a central character many times lager than life. And its all true; it is story of real man who lived in a real time, and did real (sometimes awful) things. It is a worthy addition to any listeners collection.
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- James

Book Details

  • Release Date: 01-28-2011
  • Publisher: Recorded Books