While my academic interests have run (since college) towards the Ancient Greeks, I have to confess to not being terribly interested in Sparta. I'm always a sucker for literature and the Spartans didn't really produce much (Tyrtaeus and Alkman). However, Sparta is the second most attested Greek polis in the ancient sources. That means that if you want to study "Ancient Greece" and have it mean anything more than just "Ancient Athens," you have to deal with Sparta. So, helping me come to grip with those laconic Lakonians are Paul Cartledge's The Spartans and Spartan Reflections.
The Spartans is an introduction for a popular audience to the world of the ancient Spartans. It's well laid-out, covering in an efficient and pleasant manner the relevant political history, key figures, and key questions in Spartan studies. Spartan Reflections is a collection of Cartledge's essays on Sparta running up to the early oughts. That makes it a little dated, but a wonderful way to go deeper and get into the scholarly controversies surrounding Greece's famed warriors. Both books have been enjoyable reads and Cartledge's interest in his subject is infectious.
So, do I plan on sticking with Spartan studies? No. I think it will be back to Homer after I wrap up Spartan Reflections. Still, the time has been well spent and I feel like I've shored up a few points that were getting dangerously shaky after all those years away from college. So how about you? Ready to try a little "Lakonizing"? If so, then Paul Cartledge may have just the book you're looking for.