The city of Sparta dominated land warfare in Classical Greece, winning an impressive reputation in battles against Greek and Persian armies. After two centuries of dominance, Sparta suffered a series of defeats, and never really recovered. These defeats came at the hands of fellow Greek city states, and so can't be explained as part of the rise of Macedon or of Rome.
Rusch focuses on the period between 550 BC, when Sparta formed an alliance with Croesus of Lydia, and the Spartan defeat in the second battle of Mantinea of 362 BC. He examined Spartan culture, and the army that culture produced, the tactics the Spartans used in battle, the reasons for their years of victories and the way in which their own system played a part in their downfall.
Rusch uses his sources well. I was interested to read about the limited sources for some of Sparta's early wars - the First Messenian War appears to come from a reference in a later poem! It's also rather refreshing to read an account of the Great Peloponnesian War written from the Spartan point of view.
This is a very readable examination of Sparta's military history, with enough use of the sources to back up the text but that avoids getting bogged down in too many technicalities.
1 - The Race of Unconquered Heracles
2 - Leader of the Peloponnese, c.550-481
3 - The Great King Invades, 481-480
4 - The Fairest Victory, 480-479
5 - Messenians and Athenians, 479-431
6 - Defeat and Disgrace, 431-421
7 - Turn of the Tide, 421-413
8 - The Navarchs' War, 413-404
9 - Imperial Adventures, 404-395
10 - End of Empire, 395-386
11 - Nemesis, 385-371
12 - Decline and Fall, 371-362 and Beyond
Author: Scott M. Rusch