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.
I grew up on Golden Age Radio, and while I love to read, I typically consume more books via audio thanks to a job that lets me listen while I work. As an aspiring writer, I try to read a great deal of non-fiction in addition to a variety of fictional genres. I especially love history, historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and old-style gothic horror.
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.
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.
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..
This is a great book for the history buff or student.
It's always been about power and money - even murdering family members to get them.
This is one instance where the talent of narrators makes a difficult book acceptable.
The story is peppered with small account stories little pertinent in the grand scheme of things. But the narrator saves the day.
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.
About in the middle. There's a lot of information, but, as a Historian, I find it disturbing that she often quotes the Bible as a reliable historical source. I'm not familiar with the histories of Asia and India, so I don't know how reliable her sources for those area's are.
A large amount of information is covered, and it gets confusing when she switches from one area to another, and then back again. She's a good storyteller, and the book is entertaining, but I wouldn't rate it highly for accuracy.
The early books of the Story of Civilization by Will Durant. This book is similar in scope, but tries to cover so much information that important things are glossed over. Durant breaks the same time period into more books and goes into greater detail.
He was very good at pronouncing the foreign words and names, and his delivery was engaging. He sounded like he was reading a story, instead of a book on history.
History of the World in 2 hours
Good for an overview for someone interested in this time period, not suitable as a reference for historians or serious students of History.
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.
"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.
"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.
"tedious list of kings"
art, science, agriculture and architecture do not apparently play any part in ancient history. this was nothing more than list of kings whom the author appears to be in thrall. the author clearly belongs that sad group who think kings are special beings. given how poor the writing is, the reading was surprisingly good.
"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.
"Refreshingly honest and different"
I was skeptical before starting the book due to negative comments. I have gone thru many history books over the years, and this one is different. In a good way. I have always distressed over the presentation of ancient history as a fact.Susan Bauer upfront states that her history is taken from the first written accounts. Anything prior to this is intelligent guessing and over many years I have seen swing first one way then another. Her approach to stick to what is written, from whatever source, adds a level of credibility that is refreshing. I have used her references to go and read extra on a poem, a business transaction a Biblical account, and found her to be fair, unbiased and honest in her narrative. The reader is fast paced, and has excellent pronunciation. His style is a little different but I quickly got used to it, without detracting from the account. It is not a mistake to make this a first world history listen.
"Really enjoyed this"
It's informative and entertaining. It covers a huge range but still manages to have a good level of detail.
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