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I don't know much about Susan Wise Bauer I must admit and this was my first 'experience' with her writing. And experience it was!
Before I begin to destroy the book (!), I suppose it is only fair to say that much of Ancient History, by whomsoever dares to write it, is conjecture. Until you get to about 1500 BCE, there are snippets here and there which can be substatiated reasonably well, after 1500 BCE it improves but not significantly so until we get to around 1200 BCE.
However, that being said, any author who wishes seriously to be taken as a historian, really CANNOT swing between history which uses as its source, archaeological finds and proven, documented transcriptions or transliterations of tablets, or pieces of tablets, and 'history' which uses as its source, The Bible (with no other sourcing whatsoever!). It is absurd! She attempts, for example, to 'prove' parts of her 'history' by citing what the Old Testament has to say in Genesis! I mean, truly, it is utterly absurd! Don't get me wrong, there ARE undoubtedly proven events which happened (and are well-sourced geographically, archeologically and historically) which are also mentioned in The Bible, but it is totally unacceptable to try to pass of vague Biblical references as hard-edged history.
She also notes that she is using BC and AD as she objects to the use of BCE and CE as they seem, to her, to be somewhat pointless (she makes a fair point that BOTH go from the date of Christ and so what is the point of using BCE or CE) but, on the other hand, as a historian myself (a real one!), I have always used BCE and CE as they are commonly internationally recognized and do not rely on 'dog latin' as AD, for example, does. She also claims her history is not just written from a Judeo-Christian standpoint - I take serious issue with this as someone NOT remotely schooled in the Judeo-Christian ethos of the West (which nearly all educative systems DO use to be fair, even in a completely non-religious sense). From my perspective, she writes ENTIRELY from a Judeo-Christian standpoint, as her bizarre willingness to accept Biblical stories as historical fact without question (she literally quotes them and then goes on to say things such as "of course, Abraham would have taken this route because of ... insert totally pointless and implausible reason here" (OK, I'm paraphrasing a bit!)
I do not know what her historical background is but the frustration of dealing with her determination to take The Bible as 'fact' sent me running to Google to find out. It seems she is not a historian at all really! But, hey, she does have some post-graduate qualifications from a theological college! So there you go, all is revealed!
On the other hand, I am not too sure how one goes about writing this tome of an epic in one book (or even three as she does!) as so much of this period really IS based on historians building up pictures of things based on tiny bits of broken tablets and so, to be fair, she isn't necessarily any more useless than some of the others.
But what REALLY annoys me, is that she does not make clear which bits are FACT and which bits are FAIRY TALE. If you are a historian with a reasonable knowledge of this era then you will spot them instantly, they stick out not so much as a sore thumb but more of a dislocated hand!!
I love John Lee's narration, he is one of my favorite readers. Even if he does have the slightly odd habit of sometimes pronouncing really common words wierdly (eg pronouncing primer (as in a Latin primer) as "primmer" (like a prim old lady!)! But he makes the best of this sometimes ridiculous book.
If you want a gentle romp through this period of Ancient History and can stomach The Bible standing in for history (I can't!), then you will love it. If, like me, you know something of this period and like proper sources, you will hate it.
As they say, you pays your money, you takes your choice.
242 of 272 people found this review helpful
If you could sum up The History of the Ancient World in three words, what would they be?
Colourful, In-Depth, Informative
Who was your favorite character and why?
Considering this book covers a vast portion of early human history it is impossible to assign particular value to a single character.
Which scene was your favorite?
Picking just one episode is difficult, but the most memorable to me was the exchange between King Croesus of Lydia and King Cyrus of Persia on the night the Persians looted the fabled wealth of the Lydians. Noting that the defeated monarch was quiet as his city burned, Cyrus asked how he felt about losing his wealth in this manner. "It is not my wealth they are stealing," Croesus replied. "It is yours." Valuable insight into the nature of conquest even today.
Any additional comments?
Although my field is 19th century Victoriana, I have an interest in many periods of history, in particular the Aegean Bronze Age and the early Celts in Europe. This book blends ancient historical accounts, myths, legends, religious texts to weave a tapestry of early human history, including civilizations as diverse as Mesopotamia, India, China and Europe. It is a massive undertaking.
I accept that accuracy is not always possible when the only texts available are those that have been translated, interpreted, and even deified. While experts may disagree on the finer points, the overall effort is worthy of credit. To keep all these many threads separate and clear is a mighty undertaking and I applaud the author for the attempt.
No historical account can be perfect as new discoveries come to light all the time, from archeological digs and manuscript finds to revisions of classic literature. If we waited for historians to agree on the details, no history would ever be written. And that would be a great loss. This is a fine historical overview and what it lacks in depth is more than made up for in breadth.
67 of 73 people found this review helpful
An Excellent Ancient History Review but would be better with Outline. maps and illustrations in PDF to accompany the great lecture and make it easier to follow and understand.
76 of 83 people found this review helpful