Greece: Recommended Books and Movies

By Rick Steves

To learn more about Greece past and present, check out a few of these books and films.

Books: Nonfiction

  • Alexander the Great (Paul Anthony Cartledge, 2004). Alexander's legacy comes to life in this engaging history.
  • Apology (Plato, 390 B.C.). This is a classic for a reason, opening up a window into the Greek mind and soul.
  • The Cambridge Illustrated History of Ancient Greece (Paul Anthony Cartledge, 1997). Offered in large format, Cartledge's history is packed with gorgeous illustrations.
  • Colossus of Maroussi (Henry Miller, 1941). Miller tells a sometimes graphic account of his down-and-out sojourn in Greece in the late 1930s.
  • A Concise History of Greece (Richard Clogg, 1986). For an overview of the 18th century to modern times, this history is surprisingly succinct.
  • Dinner with Persephone (Patricia Storace, 1996). This book is more than a memoir about living in Athens — it's one writer's critical look at modern Greek culture and family life.
  • Eleni (Nicholas Gage, 1983). Gage tells the riveting account of his quest to uncover the truth behind his mother's assassination during Greece's civil war.
  • The Greeks (H. D. F. Kitto, 1951). Considered the standard text on ancient Greece by a leading scholar, this decades-old work is still quite accessible.
  • The Greek Way (Edith Hamilton, 1930). Hamilton introduces the world of ancient Greece to the 20th century.
  • Inside Hitler's Greece (Mark Mazower, 1993). This shocking account of the Nazi occupation of Greece details the background for the country's civil war.
  • Lives (Plutarch, 100). Written at the start of the second century, Lives is an epic attempt to chronicle the ancient world through biography.
  • Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese (Patrick Leigh Fermor, 1958). This is the definitive book on the "forgotten" side of the peninsula.
  • Mediterranean in the Ancient World (Fernand Braudel, 1972). Braudel gives a marvelous overview of the ancient Mediterranean.
  • Mythology (Edith Hamilton, 1942). Along with The Greek Way, this is a must-read tome on classic myths and cultures.
  • The Nature of Alexander (Mary Renault, 1975). This biography from a famous novelist provides insight on Alexander the Great.
  • The Parthenon Enigma (Joan Breton Connelly, 2014). Connelly uses the temple's dramatic frieze — depicting, she says, human sacrifice — to go deep into the history of the Acropolis.
  • Persian Fire (Tom Holland, 2005). Holland offers an excellent history of the fifth-century B.C. Persian conflict.
  • Republic (Plato, 380 B.C.). In this classic, Plato captures the words of Socrates from Golden Age times.
  • Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter (Thomas Cahill, 2003). Cahill astutely probes the relevance of ancient Greek culture to today's world.
  • The Spartans (Paul Anthony Cartledge, 2002). This history chronicles the rise and fall of the Spartan warriors.
  • The Summer of My Greek Taverna (Tom Stone, 2002). An American expat recounts his experiences in Greece while running a bar on the island of Patmos.
  • A Traveller's History of Greece (Timothy Boatswain and Colin Nicolson, 1990). This compact, well-written account covers the earliest times to the present.

Books: Fiction

  • Corelli's Mandolin (Louis de Bernières, 1993). This novel about ill-fated lovers on a war-torn Greek island was made into a 2001 film starring Nicolas Cage and Penélope Cruz.
  • Deeper Shade of Blue (Paul Johnston, 2002). Detective Alex Mavros leaves Athens for the island of Trigono to find a missing woman.
  • Fire from Heaven (Mary Renault, 1969). The most renowned author of historical novels about Greece offers the dramatic story of Alexander the Great.
  • Gates of Fire (Steven Pressfield, 1998). Pressfield re-creates the Battle of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans held back the Persian army — for a while.
  • The Iliad/The Odyssey (Homer, 850 B.C.). This classic epic follows the hero Odysseus through the Trojan War and his return home.
  • The King Must Die (Mary Renault, 1958). Renault reimagines the Theseus legend in this exciting tale.
  • The Last Temptation of Christ (Nikos Kazantzakis, 1953). Kazantzakis' literary reinterpretation of the Gospels is hailed internationally as a masterpiece.
  • Little Infamies (Panos Karnezis, 1903). This fine collection of short stories looks at the lives of Greek villagers with magical realism.
  • The Magus (John Fowles, 1965). An Englishman plays psychological games with a wealthy recluse on a Greek island.
  • Middlesex (Jeffrey Eugenides, 2002). An American author of Greek descent explores the Greek immigrant experience in the US, as well as sexual identity.
  • Stealing Athena (Karen Essex, 2008). The Parthenon plays a pivotal role in the lives of Pericles' mistress, Aspasia, and Lord Elgin's wife, Mary.
  • Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture (Apostolos Doxiadis, 1992). A Greek genius is obsessed with trying to prove one of mathematics' great theories.
  • The Walled Orchard (Tom Holt, 1990). Amusing and well-researched, this novel is the pseudo-autobiography of comic playwright Eupolis.
  • Zorba the Greek (Nikos Kazantzakis, 1946). A wily old rogue teaches life's lessons to a withdrawn intellectual.

Films

  • 300 (2006). Based on a graphic novel, this is a highly fictional and stylized account of the Battle of Thermopylae.
  • 300: Rise of an Empire (2014). Also based on a graphic novel, this movie tells the tale of the final naval battle of Salamis after Thermopylae.
  • Alexander (2004). Colin Farrell plays the military genius who conquered the known world.
  • Boy on a Dolphin (1957). A beautiful sponge diver on Hydra, played by Sophia Loren, becomes aware of her cultural heritage.
  • Clash of the Titans (1981). Featuring an all-star cast including Laurence Olivier, Claire Bloom, and Maggie Smith, this adaptation of the Perseus myth is a classic.
  • The Guns of Navarone (1961). A team of English commandos tries to take out a WWII German artillery battery.
  • Mamma Mia! (2008). Filmed in the mainland region of Pelion and on the islands of Skiathos and Skopelos, this musical uses ABBA songs to tell the story of a young woman trying to find her father.
  • My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002). Hilarity ensues when a Greek-American woman tries to plan her wedding while contending with her large and boisterous family.
  • My Family and Other Animals (2005). This film follows the adventures of an English family relocated to Greece in 1939.
  • Never on Sunday (1960). Melina Mercouri stars as a Greek prostitute who is pursued by an American scholar with classical ideals.
  • Secrets of the Parthenon (2008). This NOVA episode, free to watch online, documents the restoration of the Parthenon.
  • Stella (1955). A young Greek woman must decide between falling in love and retaining her freedom.
  • The Trojan Women (1971). Euripides' classic tragedy of Troy's female aristocracy in chains features Katharine Hepburn, Vanessa Redgrave, and Irene Pappas.
  • Troy (2004). Brad Pitt stars as the petulant warrior Achilles in this adaptation of Homer's epic.
  • Z (1969). This thriller follows the assassination of a crusading politician — and the rise of the Greek junta — in the 1960s.

Books and Movies for Kids

  • Ancient Civilizations: Greece (Eva Bargallo I Chaves, 2004). Kids can brush up on ancient Greece, including history, art, government, and mythology.
  • Ancient Greece! 40 Hands-On Activities to Experience This Wondrous Age (Avery Hart and Paul Mantell, 1999). With this book, learn how to make traditional foods, build a model temple, and put on a play.
  • Greece (Changing Face of...) (Tasmin Osler, 2003). This nonfiction book weaves first-person accounts from modern Greeks with a summary of today's challenges.
  • Greece in Spectacular Cross-Section (Stephen Biesty, 2006) Kids and grown-ups alike will enjoy these cut-away diagrams re-creating ancient sites.
  • Hercules (1997). This animated Disney film is loosely based on the hero of Greek legend, Hercules, son of Zeus.
  • If I Were a Kid in Ancient Greece (Cricket Media, 2012). Kids can put themselves in the sandals of a young Grecian in this fun series.
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians (Rick Riordan, 2005). A young boy learns that he is the son of a Greek god in this clever and amusing young adult series. Two Percy Jackson films bring the books to life (2010 and 2013).
  • The Random House Book of Greek Myths (Joan D. Vinge, 1999). Greek gods and goddesses are highlighted in this illustrated primer on Greek mythology.
  • This is Greece (Miroslav Sasek, 1966). Reissued in 2009, Sasek's classic picture book captures the essence of ancient and modern Greece.