Steven Pressfield’s The Lion’s Gate: On the Frontlines of the Six Day War
By Greg “RU Twisted” Drobny
Steven Pressfield is no stranger to most members of the US Military, especially in the combat arms. I saw so many copies of Gates of Fire that at one point I started wondering if it was being issued as mandatory reading in Basic Training.
His books on Alexander the Great’s conquests, Virtues of War and The Afghan Campaign, were both equally as compelling as Gates of Fire and furthered his standing as a favored writer in the military culture. The Warrior Ethos cemented that status as a permanent one and is possibly one of the most quotable books for anyone who understands the bonds created in war.
In his latest venture, however, Pressfield sets out on a new path. Though the work, like his past efforts, focuses a great deal on personal accounts of the battlefield, it uses interviews with real people from an event which occurred during the lifetime of many who will read it. This is not historical fiction or a work on creative philosophy like The War of Art. It’s the story of a battle in recent history as told by those who were there.
That being said, The Lion’s Gate is also different than any history book you’ve ever read. Pressfield himself is very open and honest about this, stating in the intro that it is what he calls “hybrid history”—because it is by no means a comprehensive look at the Six Day War and it employs various writing techniques, many of which would not be considered historical at all.
It is the blending of methodology that makes the book so interesting. What sets it apart is what has always set Pressfield’s work apart from others and is best described in his own words:
“What fascinates me is the subjective immediacy of the event. I want to be in the cockpit, inside the tank, under the helmet. What is important to me is the event as the man or woman experienced it.”
In his desire to capture exactly that, Pressfield is well aware that details will be lost or even altered and warns the reader of that very thing. “Memory fades,” he writes. It “contains gaps and blank spots” that recall things differently from others who were part of the same event and, as a result, questions the reliability of any given personal account.
And if the intent of the book was to make an argument for or against this war, or what kind of impact it had on geopolitics both then and now, then the approach would be utterly dishonest and akin to committing academic suicide. Anecdotal stories of singular events does not a good history book make.
But, as stated above, that’s not his intent at all. His goal of capturing the human element in war is what makes this a very unique piece of literature and well worth your time to read.
Pressfield’s ability to capture the thoughts and motivations of warriors in various cultures across wide spans of time is truly a gift, and it shines through in The Lion’s Gate every bit as much as it has in previous works. Yet it carries a different weight here. It is constant reminder throughout that these are real people telling real stories to the author. They are not just reconstructed events using historical sources—they are the fears and triumphs of those who smelled the air on the battlefield and the memories they carry with them.
Whenever I do book reviews, I make it a point to be as brutally honest as possible. To do any less takes credibility away from this site and makes it less trustworthy in the future for these purposes.
With The Lion’s Gate, the honest part of the review comes in simply explaining what it is and what it is not. Like all of Pressfield’s work, you won’t be disappointed with the writing style or quality—that is never an issue. But, as mentioned above, this is a unique piece of literature and so it is important to know what you’re getting into.
In light of that, if you are looking for some overarching look at the Six Day War as a whole, why it happened, how Israel pulled out a victory against tremendous odds, or even some insight into Middle Eastern political relations, then look elsewhere. This is not the book for you, and the author confesses as much right up front.
However, if you are intrigued by personal accounts from the battlefield or by the human condition as it relates to war, then The Lion’s Gate deserves a spot on your shelf or a few megabytes of space on your eReader. You won’t be disappointed.