Greece: Recommended Books and Movies

By Rick Steves

To learn more about Greece past and present, check out some of these books and films. (And see our similar lists for elsewhere in Europe.)

Books: Nonfiction

  • Alexander the Great (Paul Anthony Cartledge, 2004). Alexander's legacy comes to life in this engaging history.
  • Apology (Plato, 390 BC). 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 BC Persian conflict.
  • Republic (Plato, 380 BC). 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 BC). 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.

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.