A lively and engaging narrative history showing the common threads in the cultures that gave birth to our own.
This is the first volume in a bold new series that tells the stories of all peoples, connecting historical events from Europe to the Middle East to the far coast of China, while still giving weight to the characteristics of each country. Susan Wise Bauer provides both sweeping scope and vivid attention to the individual lives that give flesh to abstract assertions about human history. This narrative history employs the methods of "history from beneath" - literature, epic traditions, private letters, and accounts - to connect kings and leaders with the lives of those they ruled. The result is an engrossing tapestry of human behavior from which we may draw conclusions about the direction of world events and the causes behind them.
©2007 Susan Wise Bauer (P)2013 Audible, Inc.
Colourful, In-Depth, Informative
Considering this book covers a vast portion of early human history it is impossible to assign particular value to a single character.
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.
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.
I grew up on Golden Age Radio, I love to learn about a great many things, and I enjoy a wide variety of genres. Me, bored? Never!
I find that in my studies of history, comprehensive and sweeping overviews are invaluable, both to help keep people and events in perspective, and to give me an idea of where I might want to dig deeper later on. I've gone through a number of such overviews over the years, though not one as ambitious as this one. From the mists of legend through to the fall of Rome as the title suggests, Bauer weaves together all of the broad strokes of human history in this time period. For the earlier accounts, history is extrapolated from mythology and archaeology, translating symbolism into human events. Another high point of praise is that most overviews like this will pick a single nation or perhaps a hemisphere. This covers East and West, putting the rise and fall of various dynasties on a timeline that allows the reader to compare and contrast in an way that I've not seen with such effectiveness. Bauer has similar titles for Medieval and Renaissance history, and I'm looking forward to connecting those stories as one larger tapestry.
Perhaps reading this would have been a better experience. It was hard (for me) to get a decent grasp of where we were in the overall storytelling. It just jumped around too much for me. Perhaps some transitional thoughts would have pulled things together...like "Meanwhile, in Persia....." or something.
t p prince esquire international-- Switzerland / USA --Author publisher of adult and children's literature.
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.
Most folks my age (mid fifties) who grew up in the States took their 'ancient history' class when they didn't talk about China or the Middle East (aside from Israel) at all. If I had a friend who never took the time to fix that blind spot in their education, I might recommend this book.
The ending was the Fall of the Roman Empire. Gibbon's book on that one subject is five times longer than this entire work. Like so much of this book, the ending seemed rushed.
The tone of his voice.
This is a good question. The book *would* make an interesting BBC/PBS series. That said, I have to point out that a person usually looks for more depth from a book, than a television series provides.
What the author is attempting to do here is very ambitious, but I don't think it succeeds. I'm not sure anyone could have done any better in 26 hours. It is an enormous span of time and geography.
The content is excellent - the delivery by the reader was distracting and hard to follow. The author did an excellent job structuring the chronology, ensuring reader understood the fine line between historical fact and historical assumption. Overall - fascinating, informative, relevant but distracting to follow.
Mr. Lee is fine, the audio engineer needed to use more care at the beginning of speaking and with the phonetic inflections. Required numerous restarts, back up to discern the beginning statement or words..
Agreement - the book is another confirmation of how a Civilization will repeatedly fail to remember the price of individual or centralized power is the loss of personal freedom followed by internal erosion and disappearance of the civilization.
I enjoyed this brief history. My only complaint is that the voice of the author is completely lost with the choice of narrator. I can hear the levity in the words, but the dry presentation of this material causes a loss of the authors attempt to make the story engaging. In fact some of her hilarious editorial comments are completely lost.
A remarkable piece of work which gives an extraordinary overview and manages give a taste of the subject matter without getting lost in the details. The last 400 years were a bit rushed but I don't think it was necessary to do that bit. The author could comfortably stopped with the effective establishment of the Roman Empire. Pace was generally speaking good - there were few places where I just wanted to get on with it. I have come away having learned a great deal and feel that an important contribution has been made to my already 67 year old education. Then also I have to say that while I found the reader's delivery irritating on occasion, his pronunciation of those middle eastern and Chinese names with I believe perfect consistency was amazing and, perhaps surprisingly, made its own independent contribution to my enjoyment of the book.
So why "almost" ? Alright, I bought into the premise that while we have little in the way of historical documentation surviving from the three or four thousand years BC we do have myths and it is possible that within those myths there may lurk the kernel of the truth so why not let's pretend that they are actual history. So when we got to talking about David and his achievements, I could not help but recall a recent BBC documentary which argued with some force that the almost total lack of archaeological evidence for David's architectural accomplishments stongly suggests that the Biblical David is a construct designed with political intentions and with little real history behind it. Not that I believe everything that is put in front of me, but The History does at some level purport to be an academic work. The uncritical acceptance of the Biblical version of David suddenly made me a whole lot less inclined to accept myth as the basis for history, even with tongue in cheek.'
Still, I doubt if there are many works around where the author demonstrates such a grasp of her subject matter, such an ability to put it into context and such a fund of well-selected material to illustrate her work..
I found this book a cluttered mess. Not because it was poorly written--it wasn't--but because the author tried to cover far too much material. The reader is bounced from Mesopotamia to China to India and back, told story after story of kings and emperors, with little or nothing to connect the stories (understandable, since most of the regions she tries to cover were isolated from each other at the time).
Additionally, the author seems only mildly critical of her sources, and not critical at all when it comes to Biblical sources (she did her undergrad at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, if that tells you anything). She starts the book trying a bit too hard to present evidence for the Great Flood, and makes a number of unsupported assertions regarding certain Biblical figures. Fine, I get it. Sources for some of these times and events are sparse, and the Bible has some value as a historical source. But her willingness to use it so uncritically made me wonder immediately whether she had a religious agenda.
After further reading, my feeling is that she doesn't to have an agenda, other than to write a history book. Also on the positive side, she has at the very least woven the many disparate strands of ancient history into a single (if extraordinarily busy) tapestry, and she is not unskilled as a writer. I feel as if she could write an entertaining and informative volume if she could just get away from the "history of everything" premise and stick with a certain topic. It feels like a gimmick, and it doesn't really work. Frankly, in fact, I don't think anyone could pull this off; human history is just too vast and complex.
The narrator has a difficult job, but he manages to trot along. Someone else here said he sounds like he's just trying to get through the book as quickly as he can, and I agree that it feels like that sometimes. But he must also be given credit for pronouncing the names of ancient Chinese warlords and complex Middle-Eastern place-names with a rapid fluency that doesn't bog the narrative down.
I am hesitant to say this, because it sounds more negative than it is, but I use this book quite often to help me fall asleep at night. Since there's nothing to really focus on for any length of time, the rapid, disjointed narrative has a strong soporific effect on me. It's interesting for a while, then I start to feel drowsy, and the next thing I know it's morning.
Fast paced history of the ancient world. Wile reading, I could not help but visualize the earlier humans marking their territory as they competed for power and resources, spread out from every corner of Earth to build the cities and civilizations we see today. It's always a good idea to remember from where and from whom we came. This book, though long, will take you on an extremely compact tour from the first kings of whom we are aware through the fall of Rome. It covers how power and land were gained, how laws were written and followed (or not followed), and how ideals were born or killed in different regions of our globe.
Since this book provides a history for such a long stretch of time, at no time does it go into great detail of any particular period or king. The book is already longer than most books. If Wise Bauer were to go into more detail, the book would simply be another book. Rather, this book gives the reader a mere glimpse into each time period as it races along. I made of note of the time periods and leaders I would like to read more about later.
At times the author, like all authors before her, had to construct the story from sources that are difficult to verify or are included in religious texts that might be unreliable in providing an accurate history. In those cases, she did a great job and informing the reader about the speculative nature of the narrative. Excellent writing. Excellent timeline. Excellent history.
"More fairy tale than history..."
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.
"Great read for fans of history"
Engaging, fascinating, long.
Honestly, I have not quite read a book like it. It takes history, which is often bloody and confusing and made it accessible without sacrificing quality.
How to pronounce most of the names! They are quite complex and I would not have been able to manage otherwise.
I liked the mentions of women, and how their history was more than likely written by someone who had not bothered to check with them if it was actually correct.
Really good read for fans of history. I particularly liked the inclusion of China and India, usually books like this are painfully European-centric. I also enjoyed the discussion on the history of writing.
Be warned this book is not really one for fans of social history, and the lives of everyday people. It concerns itself with rulers, wars and conquerers and their fights and deaths. Some mention is made of culture and traditions but the focus is elsewhere.
"Entertaining and informative"
I love Susan Wise Bauer's dry sense of humour, which crops up in the most unexpected places.
The book covers ancient civilisations around the world, based on stories, histories, writings on stones and bones ... and gives a clear insightful view of what can perhaps be considered 'true' history and what can't. There are some lovely insights into people's characters - my favourite being Zimri Lim and his relationship with his younger daughter.
John Lee reads quietly and steadily, changing his voice subtly when he reads quotes.
"Well written and engaging"
Covers a huge range of ancient history, linking events across Europe and Asia as they happen. The really ancient Mesopotamia is a bit dull and repetitive as the sources are fairly sketchy and generally describe incessant territorial struggles for dominance. Later events, where there is potentially much richer history to detail, suffer from being slightly rushed in places with massive issues omitted or glossed over. But what this book does do better than any other I've come across is to provide context, especially in a geopolitical sense. And it introduced me to lots of interesting topics that I intend to learn more about later. All in all I found the book very illuminating and interesting.
"Ancient history litany"
I think that confining the scope to Europe and the Middle East would have made this more interesting to me. I tried but the sections on India and China tended to pass me by because I had no pre-existing knowledge.
Occasional humour and the very extensive supplementary material added an extra star.
I thought this was a well thought out narrative that was well performed - very interesting.
"Informative, witty and fascinating"
I thoroughly enjoyed the journey through the ages, especially the earlier accounts. Would recommend this book to those with a fascination for ancient societies
"Excellent. Very enjoyable and very well read."
A great place to start you historical journey and equally a very rewarding read for people who already have a solid grasp of the past.
An excellent book. I listen to it over and over again. We live in a complicated world yet the seeds were sown thousands of years ago. This book explains how great empires were born and evolved and eventually began to fall apart. Fully recommend it.
"Worth a listen"
Good detail and very interesting. I found it a little difficult to maintain interest as it was one chapter after another of similar dastardly goings on throughout history but that's more my issue than the books. Well read although long, I recommend and will at some point listen again as I think it deserves more than one read.
Report Inappropriate Content
If you find this review inappropriate and think it should be removed from our site, let us know. This report will be reviewed by Audible and we will take appropriate action.