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The Horse, the Wheel, and Language

How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World
Narrated by: Tom Perkins
Length: 18 hrs and 25 mins
4 out of 5 stars (119 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Roughly half the world's population speaks languages derived from a shared linguistic source known as Proto-Indo-European. But who were the early speakers of this ancient mother tongue, and how did they manage to spread it around the globe? 

Until now, their identity has remained a tantalizing mystery to linguists, archaeologists, and even Nazis seeking the roots of the Aryan race. The Horse, the Wheel, and Language lifts the veil that has long shrouded these original Indo-European speakers and reveals how their domestication of horses and use of the wheel spread language and transformed civilization.  

Linking prehistoric archaeological remains with the development of language, David W. Anthony identifies the prehistoric peoples of Central Eurasia's steppe grasslands as the original speakers of Proto-Indo-European and shows how their innovative use of the ox wagon, horseback riding, and the warrior's chariot turned the Eurasian steppes into a thriving transcontinental corridor of communication, commerce, and cultural exchange. 

He explains how they spread their traditions and gave rise to important advances in copper mining, warfare, and patron-client political institutions, thereby ushering in an era of vibrant social change. Anthony also describes his fascinating discovery of how the wear from bits on ancient horse teeth reveals the origins of horseback riding.  

The Horse, the Wheel, and Language solves a puzzle that has vexed scholars for two centuries - the source of the Indo-European languages and English - and recovers a magnificent and influential civilization from the past.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio. 

©2007 Princeton University Press (P)2018 Tantor

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  • Michael
  • Walnut Creek, CA, United States
  • 01-07-19

Good but Dense and Variable and Monotonous

I am dubious about histories of never written languages (as there is a lot of guessing involved) and this is no exception. The arguments are strong, but questionable and unverifiable and seem of questionable practical value.
This book is not mostly about this scholastic language debate. Instead it also looks at the history of the wheel and horses in civilizations.

There is a 33 page PDF associated with the book which is much better than hearing the tables read aloud!
It is mostly too-much-information, except for the appendix regarding some of the issues with carbon dating techniques.

This archaeology is interesting, but dense, and alternates between popularly conversational and dense, abbreviation filled, academic text.

The narration is clear and audio is good, but monotonous (mostly due to the writing).

I definitely read this to the end, and I did learn a few things, but I can't say I enjoyed it a lot.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars

Fascinating Stuff, and then...Pots of the Steppes

After some fascinating insights about PIE, the Indo-European languages, and even methodological issues and divides, the book *really* bogs down into comparisons of pots, grave sites, figurines, pots, a few more pots, skeletons, and another eight splashes of pots.

The author is an archaeologist, and that eventually shows. The last third or so of the book seems to reveal that his real interest is in the physical remnants of steppe culture, not their language or its influence. He revels in the artifacts, not really letting non-specialist the reader in on the secret (all that often) of why this vast array of detail is all that relevant to PIE except in broad strokes that he already expressed much earlier. Admittedly, there may be some final chapters left that reintegrate linguistic elements, but I’ve been on the steppes of his pottery and pit grave talk for about 5 hours and I’m not sure I’ll see Zion.

The book is honestly worth it for the first 40% if you’re interested in the root of European languages, hence the 4 stars. Just...be prepared.

15 of 16 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars

Origins of Indo-European daughter languages

Narration: Enunciation clear but unvarying, monotonous rhythm is not much fun and impedes comprehension.

Content: Detailed--actually, turgid--explanations of how Indo-European root languages constitute the foundation from which modern European and central Asian languages emerged.

This information is certainly important to serious students of linguistics and archaeology. Laypersons, however, need more accessible explanations--less jargon, less meticulous detail, more concrete examples, and simpler explanations.

Potentially profitable for serious language theorists. All others directed to Teaching Company language collections, which cover much of the same material, but which are more accessible to laypersons.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Magnificent book

This book intertwines archeology & linguistics with an exceptionally detailed an compelling description of the origins of info-European language. At times the pace seems tedious, but the rationale and crescendo of evidence that ties everything together at the end makes this story compelling & irrefutable.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Interesting but dense

Very data heavy and dense with archaeological detail. A truly fantastic book can create interest where none exists, and brings a distant culture to life. This book did neither. The point almost got list in the pottery shards. I wouldn’t have made it through this one if not for an intense pre-existing interest. Since I was interested, I survived the litany of Bronze Age grave site descriptions that started to run together. Ultimately worth the effort to pay attention.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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I would rather chew tin-foil

To say that it was technically brilliant is certainly true. To say that it was a slog through fricatives and plosives which is the realm of language archeology is also true. The story starts slow and sort of peters out from there. It was heavy going.

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Convincing, but with more details than I asked for

Very interesting story. Many questions answered. Very broad and convincing, but maybe one or two descriptions of graves could have been left out.

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  • HCO3
  • Texas
  • 06-14-19

Second Half is Numbingly Boring

The book's first part is interesting. The author makes fun of the "pots and people" school of archeology, but then dives into it in the second half of the book. It becomes a list of places and eras you can't keep straight. I gave up with 8 hours to go. As a sleep aid the book is perfect.. The narrator is very good and does his best to keep things flowing, but it's a hopeless task.

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great book!

very well researched. I wanted maps in the PDF. besides the lack of maps it was great.

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to academic

struggled to finish. it was to academic. stick with actually history, and this meandering train of thought.

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  • Tony
  • 07-01-19

A very impressive work

In 1786, Sir William Jones noticed the commonalities between Sanskrit and ancient Greek. This led to the recognition of the vast Indo-European language family spoken by 3 billion people today.
The original proto Indo European speakers were pastoral nomads who drove wheeled vehicles, rode domesticated horses and began to use dairy products – a package that was to guarantee their dominance wherever they went. Their migrations were the engine that powered the bronze age.
By combining the insights of historical linguistics with meticulous analysis of archaeological data (available since the end of the cold war) David Anthony describes who these people were and their history.
His conclusions are not so different from the recent powerful insights available from the genetic analysis of ancient DNA described in Who We Are and How We Got Here by David Reich (available on Audible) and more recent papers by Chuan-Chao Wang et al at the Department of Archaeogenetics, Max-Planck Institute
I enjoyed THE HORSE, THE WHEEL, AND LANGUAGE. It is very rigorous however - the sections on pottery were great for falling asleep to

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Chris
  • 04-27-19

Detailed academic work

Large parts of this book were unsuited for audio, however the more accessible opening chapters were fascinating. A great effort from the reader as this book must have been hugely difficult to narrate.