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Publisher's Summary

Founded by Alexander the Great and built by self-styled Greek pharaohs, the city of Alexandria at its height dwarfed both Athens and Rome. It was the marvel of its age, legendary for its vast palaces, safe harbors, and magnificent lighthouse. But it was most famous for the astonishing intellectual efflorescence it fostered and the library it produced. If the European Renaissance was the "rebirth" of Western culture, then Alexandria, Egypt, was its birthplace.

It was here mankind first discovered that the earth was not flat, originated atomic theory, invented geometry, systematized grammar, translated the Old Testament into Greek, built the steam engine, and passed their discoveries on to future generations via the written word. Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, Cleopatra, Jewish scholars, Greek philosophers, and devout early Christians all play a part in the rise and fall of the city that stood "at the conjunction of the whole world". Sparkling with fresh insights into science, philosophy, culture, and invention, this is an irresistible, edifying delight.

©2006 Justin Pollard and Howard Reid (P)2006 Tantor Media, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"A nourishing account." (Publishers Weekly) "Classical history buffs will savor this survey." (Booklist)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings


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  • Overall
  • Jeffrey
  • Pheonix, AZ, USA
  • 10-02-08

A good listen

I would call this book a sort of "missing link." Not in the regard of new information or discovery but in the sense that most people are taught history in a sort of huge bulleted list. The way I was taught history, it was like reading a paper that has no transition sentences and therefore the relevance of each event was not adequately portrayed. In other words, I knew something about Alexandria, something about Alexander the great's importance to the Roman empire, and something about the library and the lighthouse. Also, with a background in science, the stories of archimedes and the like were briefly told to me. However this book is a good explanation of the actual story and importance of the history of this pivotal city. I especially enjoyed learning its role in the rise and characterization of christianity.

39 of 39 people found this review helpful

  • Overall


I'd read a little bit about Alexandria (mostly in Stacy Schiff's book on Cleopatra), but I never dreamed its history was so intimately connected with such vast stretches of the intellectual, political, and religious history of the ancient world. Pollard and Reid spin a fascinating yarn that unites Alexander the Great, the Septuagint, maps of the world, clocks and odometers, Cleopatra, the steam engine, animatronics, and the brutal killing of Hypatia in a single overarching narrative. And when I mention those items of particular interest (to me), I'm only scratching the surface. A brilliant history with an unusual approach, and (as usual) impeccable narration from Simon Vance.

24 of 24 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

A wonderfull walk

Highly recommend to anyone interested in history, any history. I throw my hat in with the other reviewers, this book is how history should be written. It ties facts with what you know so that you find yourself nodding and wondering why you had not figured that one out. They weave their narrative with events, people and places so well that you feel you know where they are taking you but lighting up sights you have never seen. For ancient history buffs it is a must read.

Nothing helps a good book like a good narrator. Simon Vance has been and continues to be at the top of this profession. With 152 narrations on audible I have a lot of listening to do.

18 of 18 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • brett
  • moraga, CA, United States
  • 04-29-07


I really enjoyed this book. Its the kind of history writing that I find very appealing, its colorful, insightful and factual without becoming too dry and scholarly. The narration is superb. A very engrossing an entertaining book!

37 of 39 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Nikolas
  • Manchester, NH, USA
  • 04-17-10

A must read

This book gives an excellent description of the Greek, Egyptian and Roman history for about 500 years (400 BC to 100 AD) around the Mediterranean Sea and Middle East. It deals with philosophy, medicine, astronomy, physics, alchemy, geography, religion, war tacticts and more.... Such a wealth of knowledge. Not to mention the perfect narration.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

This is History done right!

Can you call an audiobook a "page turner?" Well, maybe not, but the authors are such masters of their subject and display such eloquence and insight that I found myself saying, "Wow, that was interesting! What's next?" This is not your average dry and dusty history book, that much is for sure.

Well, to be fair, history did give them a wonderful cast to work with. Alexander the Great, Ptolemy Soter, Pythagoras, Archimedes, Aristarchus, Eratosthenes, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Mark Anthony, Claudius Ptolemy, Philo, Caligula, Caracala, Hypatia of Alexandria and many, many more. From the story of Alexander himself laying out the streets ca 300 BCE to the final dousing of the candle of knowledge before plunging in to the dark ages ca 600 CE, this is the story of a city like no other before or since. It was born from a vision, lived and flourished, and then like all good things, it died, the victim of its own brash nature and (in my opinion) the ultimately destructive forces of greed and revealed religions. But along the way, Alexandria taught us how to think.

This is a great read. The reader doesn't get in the way of the text, which is the third best thing you can say about a narrator.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Leslie
  • Atlanta, GA, USA
  • 10-17-07


I loved this book. I learned so much about ancient history. And who knew that Reid and Pollard could make it so interesting. I was hooked from the moment it started and I was pleasantly suprised that it was such a intriguing and effortless read. But then, all history should be like that.

15 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Chidi
  • Plymouth, MN, USA
  • 08-19-08

The Best Book I have read in a long time!!!

This book is fantastic!! Like all of us I am a lover of history but this book ranks in my top ten and I would advise everyone to read it.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Bonnie
  • Bellmore, NY, United States
  • 09-18-07

Touching on so many facts

I love history, and the ancients have always fascinated me, for with out them who would we be. The loss of the library of Alexandria is something that to this day breaks my heart. What wonders could have been transcribed. But this book has many little nuances about the different classes of citizens that inhabited the city over the ages enlightening and enjoyable.

13 of 14 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Birthplace Of Knowledge

Some might feel that Alexandria was not the start of the modern thinking mind. I differ on that feeling. This book points out the reasons for that sentiment. This was the place where all the original thinkers came from. Yes, Greece started it, but Alexandria completes it. This book is excellent and covers everything a person would want to know about ancient Alexandria and more. This book also serves as a good lead-in to any history of the Roman Empire as well. The narration is good. The book never lags in its coverage of this magnificent city and all the treasures it holds for the listener. I say enjoy. Worth the listen!

5 of 5 people found this review helpful