Rav Hool starts off by pointing that out traditional Jewish history and secular standard history contradict each other on a very important fact: how long did the Second Temple stand for? According to Seder Olam and various mephorshim it was around for 420 years. According to accepted secular history it was almost 600 years in standing. Which is correct?
I began reading the book with a cynical eye. After all, there is no shortage of books written by well-meaning rabbonim who try to disprove standard history or science in order to "preserve" the truth of a statement in the Talmud or Bible that conflicts with known facts. (cf. the famous Talmudic mud mouse) These books inevitably start by claiming that there is an obligation to believe the literal meaning of everything Chazal said, not just in halacha which is obvious, but in science, geography and other secular areas. Thus if modern science contradicts a Talmudic scientific statement then modern science must be wrong. All that's left is to present a highly selective assortment of statements by Chazal to prove that they were right.
This book is nothing like that. Rav Hool starts out by demonstrating all the evidence for the standard secular historical version. He then points out the inconsistencies or flaws in the historical record that are recognized by archaeologists and historians. His conclusion is the secular historical version of a 600 year Temple is workable and if it wasn't for our sources saying it was only 420 years he'd have no problem with it.
He then brings in the Jewish view on that history. His only references to the Bible or Talmudic-era sources are direct quotations from verses and chapters containing numbers of years in various areas. The assumption, naturally, is that these numbers are correct just as the assumption regarding the secular information was. This leads him to prove that there is a need to reconcile.
The way he does it is brilliant. According to secular history the Babylonian Empire was conquered by the Persian and Median empires. Persia, in turn was conquered in its entirely by Alexander the Great. Subsequent to his death the empire split into four kingdoms with the Seleucid and Ptoelmaic ones being the most relevant to us since they took turns ruling over Israel.
According to Rav Hool's information there is a fundamental error in the narrative. Using recent archaeological discoveries he brings convincing evidence that Alexander did not conquer the entire Persian empire, just a big chuck of its northwest. As a result Persia continued on in parallel to the Greek empire and subsequent kingdoms. This has the result of contracting history and shaving 200 years neatly off the secular version, bringing it in line with the Jewish accounting.
Again, this is not a book of Chareidi apologetics. The data Rav Hool brings is from the current archaeological literature, not Jewish speculative sources which allows a greater sense of reliability.
Using this data Rav Hool is able to suggest who Achashveirosh was in Persian history along with other historical events that occurred to our ancestors at that time as well.
I heartily recommend this book for folks with an interest in Jewish history. Despite getting tedious at times (Rav Hool loves his details!) it makes for a very interesting read overall and a new appreciation for events in that far off time.