16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on March 18, 2012
Assmann is a complex, eclectic, and brilliant scholar and this set of reflections is a more theoretical complement to his justly famous work on Egypt (well worth reading). In this 1992 book (only now translated into English) Assmann covers a lot of ground at a pretty high level, so what I would say is that this book is extremely worthwhile for anyone interested in the sociology and anthropology of cultural memory, and how it has been explored in thinkers like Weber, Scheler, Levi-Strauss, Halbwachs, and Geertz. Assmann's work stands proudly beside theirs, taking their insights and looking at them through the lens of ancient Egypt in addition to the Jews and Greece, productively. Egypt is the most novel contribution, at least to me.
Perhaps Assmann's own list of those he sees exploring similar anthropological is the best way to pinpoint this book: "Johann Gottfried Herder and Karl Marx, Jacob Burckhardt, Friedrich Nietzsche, Aby Warburg, Max Weber and Ernst Cassirer, Johan Huizinga and T. S. Eliot, Arnold Gehlen and A. L. Kroeber, Clifford Geertz, Jack Goody and Mary Douglas, Sigmund Freud and René Girard, and the list goes on and on."
Assmann has read voraciously and the connections he draws across those thinkers are rare and valuable.
I'd also like to compliment Cambridge University Press for making a scholastic ebook which is both:
(1) functional: hyperlinks for index and footnotes, all images and diagrams included and visible, reasonably good formatting
(2) affordable: pricing scholarly ebooks upwards of 50 bucks is ridiculous. I was very happy to buy this for the price of an average trade book.
I hope the trend continues.
3 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on October 19, 2013
Assmann is clearly a brilliant guy and an accomplished scholar, and the book is full of useful insights about how societal memory, passed down generation after generation, creates cultural identity. But those insights, on second examination, are never very surprising; they confirm what we suspect to be true, rather than revealing genuinely new ways of looking at culture and history. But the main problem I have with the book is that its perspective is limited to the Middle East, and more particularly to Egypt and those cultures heavily influenced by Egypt. I'm interested in ancient Indian cultures, in Chinese culture, in Persian/Iranian culture, and, to some much more limited extent, in the cultures of the Americas. None of those are covered in any sort of detail in this book, or, if they are mentioned, it is only by reference to a presumably normative Egyptian process.