I just finished an enlightening journey through Victor Davis Hanson's A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War (Random House, 2005). Finally, a book that makes the war understandable. Really. I read the first 100 pages of Kagan's highly regarded one-volume work The Peloponnesian War (Viking, 2003), then gave up. The parties to the conflict all have three names, each has dozens of allies, the strategic aims of the whole affair are not immediately evident to the non-specialist, and the tactical goals of particular battles or skirmishes are even more obscure. It was like watching cricket: I know it's an athletic contest, but darned if I can figure out what they're doing running back and forth. Read A War Like No Other and you'll finally get it (the war, not cricket). Thank you, Mr. Hanson.
I won't attempt any sort of summary of the war: go read this, it has maps. What Hanson's book does is explain things like how hoplite infantry fought (eight ranks deep with lots of pushing but not that much dying); how lighter-armed auxiliaries became important (they were quicker and could catch and kill armor-burdened hoplites in the open field); how sieges worked before effective catapults (often they didn't); how triremes worked (there were three banks of rowers stacked on top of each other, and you didn't want to be on the bottom); the role of Alcibiades (he had his ups and downs); and how the themes of Greek drama and philosophy at Athens during and after the war incorporated the blunt and bloody experience of this war that wouldn't end. This would be a great Christmas present for the ex-military uncle or in-law in the family. Or you can always buy it and give it to someone else to give to you for Christmas (am I the only one who does this sort of thing?).