When I drive, I read... uhm listen. I like SciFi, Fantasy, some Detective and Espionage novels and Religion. Now and then I will also listen to something else.
The 'Joy of Ancient History' is a fruit salad of the best lectures from a vast array of courses on Ancient History by 'The Great Courses.' As an anthology it gives you a taste of everything, without expecting you to finish every fruit. Unfortunately this collection also suffers the shortcomings of anthologies in general. While a tremendous job was done to try and establish cohesion it didn't always work. Listening to the lectures I couldn't help to sometime wish that I could hear a previous lecture just to get into the picture. It spans a vast array of subjects, times and topics. That said, I am grateful for listening to it, because I was introduced to the Terracotta Army, and Prof. J Rufus Ferus' biographical sketches on Julius Caesar (from 'Famous Romans') and Solon (from 'Famous Greeks') made two figures I found boring come alive. Prof. Glen S Holland's lecture on 'Mesopotamian Creation Stories' (from 'Religion in the Ancient Mediterranean World') was very interesting. The lost civilisation of the Amazons introduced by Prof. Edwin Barnhart was absolutely fascinating.
You will have difficulty in not gaining something you never knew from these lectures. 36 of the best lectures by professors of the Great Courses is not something you should just pass by. While I didn't like one or two lectures and I felt it sometimes suffered continuity, I thought the choices was generally excellent, intriguing, gripping and awe-inspiring. A must have for anyone interested in some or other aspect of ancient history.
In his newest book on the ancient Aegean Professor Eric H Cline, Chair of the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages at the George Washington University in Washington DC, USA, transports Everyman in his time machine to the lands surrounding the Ancient Aegean and Mediterranean Seas during the Late Bronze Age.
Once again this active digger and the winner of three “Best Popular Book on Archaeology” Awards (2000, 2009 and 2011) brings archaeology to the public. In “1177 BC. The Year Civilization Collapsed,” he starts off with the enigmatic ‘Sea Peoples’ of which the Philistines of Canaan was part. He recasts them into victims instead of presenting them as the conquerors who overrun the Ancient Aegean and Near East. Sketching a truly and surprisingly situation of flourishing cosmopolitan trade routes and political interaction between important Late Bronze cities, he gives a fresh and important look at this important era. The traditional stance that describes that the ‘Sea Peoples’ invaded and overrun the Ancient Mediterranean and Aegean lands, through conquest and due to their advanced technologies - especially the use of iron is seriously challenged in this book.
Cline spins a web which not only illuminates the mysterious late Bronze Age, but at the same time serves his argument. What I liked most about his book, was how he applied the past and what we learned from it on today. I never thought one could learn much about economy and its pitfalls from the Ancient World. Cline has proved it possible.
The book is the first book in a new series, ‘Turning Points in Ancient History” by Princeton University Press. It consists out of five chapters, each highlighting something that is significant to the Sea Peoples and the year 1177 BC. In the final chapter Cline pulls the strings together in a convincing crescendo.
I wish Audible had a PDF file with the maps and illustrations that you find in the hard copy available. If you use Whispersync, it will probably not matter or if you have bought the hard copy. That said the Audible version of the book is much cheaper than the written word, probably because it comes without illustrations and endnotes.
A last thing, I enjoyed Andy Caploe’s reading of the book. He actually brought some life in hard facts. His pronunciation was generally good.
I cannot say if this book will earn prof. Cline his fourth “Best Popular Book on Archaeology” award, but it definitely could.
It has happened more than once that I had to consider either buying the ‘Audible’ audio version of a ‘Great Courses’ course or the downloadable video version of the same course. What was I thinking not buying this a course on writing in video format with an accompanying .pdf guide!? The content of Prof Marc Zender’s ‘Writing and Civilization: From Ancient Worlds to Modernity’ is so gripping, it left me spellbound. (That said, I do have a thorough background in Semitic and Classical Languages… but he was able to broaden my understanding of writing systems.)
He takes the listener through a journey of writing signs and systems in 24 lectures which are intricately connected and completely mesmerising! I think this course is probably one of the best structured courses I have listened yet. Starting with the basic concept of writing, dispelling myths surrounding Futhark (the runic alphabet), he proceeds to more difficult scripts such as that of the Chinese. Subsequently the listener is introduced to the decipherment of different ancient writing systems, such as Egyptian hieroglyphs, Cuneiform and later on Mayan hieroglyphs. By comparing the properties of different systems of writing, he is able to illustrate some fascinating universal aspects of writing. (He convincingly argues and illustrates that writing systems were invented at different times in different places, but also that some peoples borrowed their writings from others.) Prof Zender discusses failed attempts of decipherment, the reasons thereto, as wells as invented scripts and languages such as those of JRR Tolkien.
This course is a highly accessible as well as an excellent overview of writing over the ages. It is presented professionally. Yet I refrain from giving it 5 stars under ‘story’ and overall because not being able to see the examples that Prof Zender used, kept me an outsider to complete insights. While I do understand that Audible does not provide the accompanying .pdf guide to any of ‘The Great Courses’ not being able to follow the Mayan or Egyptian hieroglyphic examples in the course felt utterly frustrating. I believe that a shortened .pdf file without all the contents of the regular guide could be made available to give the listener the best value for his/her money.
All said, ‘Writing and Civilization: From Ancient Worlds to Modernity’ is a brilliant course, splendidly arranged, highly engaging, well presented and highly relevant for anyone interested in languages and its writing systems.