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 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.
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.
It delivers exactly what you would expect. It covers too large a period to go into great detail, but you get a great understanding of what is happening in different parts of the world and how each rises and falls depending on the quality of leadership.
I learned a lot about history, old history, before the Christian era. I recommend it highly. I learned a lot about the land between the rivers.
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.
"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.
"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.
"First class writing. First class reading."
Susan Wise Bauer's concise and witty summary of the story of the rise of civilisation through to the peak of the Roman Empire. John Lee's narration is superb - hearing him describe marriage to one's mother as "icky" made me chuckle.
Why is the next volume on the Medieval World not available in the UK?
Overly detailed story
Overall enjoyable but the constant empire building and falling ends up feeling irrelevant and the narrative could do with editing
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
"covers a lot of ground"
This book did a great job of giving a general overview of a vast period of history. Would be useful to readers trying to find a new specific subject that captures their interest. For me it was the Babylonians!
"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.
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