The Last King of Lydia, Paperback
4 out of 5 (2 ratings)


A defeated king stands on top of a pyre. His conqueror, the Persian ruler Cyrus, signals to his guards; they step forward and touch flaming torches to the dry wood.

Croesus, once the wealthiest man of the ancient world, is to be burned alive.

As he watches the flames catch, Croesus thinks back over his life.

He remembers the time he asked the old Athenian philosopher, Solon, who was the happiest man in the world.

Croesus used to think it was him. But then all his riches could not remove the spear from his dying elder son's chest; could not bring his mute younger son to speak; could not make him as wise as his own chief slave; could not bring his wife's love back; could not prevent his army from being torn apart and his kingdom lost.

As the old philosopher had replied, a man's happiness can only be measured when he is dead.

The first coils of smoke wrap around Croesus' neck like a noose...




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Review by

Beautifully and poetically written novel about Croesus, the "last king of [the country of] Lydia". In his war with Persia he is defeated and reprieved from death by fire. Before the war, we first see him speaking with a philosopher. What is the purpose of life? death? and what is happiness? These questions occupy his mind all through his life. He becomes a slave and advisor to Cyrus, the Persian king. These questions are never really given definitive answers. Through his life he sees what his failings as king had been and humbly learns from Isocrates, formerly his slave in Sardis, now also slave to Cyrus. The dreamlike manner of narration of events fits the story of Croesus, a historical/mythological figure. The last part set in Babylon was poignant. Money has not bought Croesus happiness, just as power satisfies Cyrus temporarily, then bored, he searches for other lands to conquer.

Review by

An impressive debut novel centred on the famously rich king Croesus of Lydia. On one level a page-turning romp through the ancient world, on another it is a moving reflective human story full of ideas on the nature of happiness, fulfilment and life itself. I can't claim any expert knowledge on the historical accuracy and I suspect Leach occasionally allows a few modern perspectives to infiltrate the minds of his characters, but for me that is forgivable.