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Don't Know Much About Mythology: Everything You Need to Know About the Greatest Stories in Human History but Never Learned Hardcover – November 1, 2005

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Product Details

  • Series: Don't Know Much About...
  • Hardcover: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1ST edition (November 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006019460X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060194604
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,069,218 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. What is a myth? How does it differ from legend, fairy tale and allegory? Do myths cross cultures? Davis (Don't Know Much About the Civil War) answers these and many other questions with his characteristic humor and charming storytelling. He examines the myths created by societies ranging from Egypt, Greece and Rome to Africa, India and the Americas, proceeding, as in his other books, by way of question and answer as he surveys each mythmaking culture. A who's who for each culture is also helpful. He shows the connections between myths of various cultures, such as the flood story of Noah in Genesis and that of the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilsh. Among the questions and answers, Davis intersperses "mythic voices" from characters in the stories so readers can virtually hear the heroes of bygone eras. Because Davis ranges widely and with such sparkling wit through a broad sweep of myths, his survey provides a superb starting point for entering the world of mythology.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School-An enthusiastic introduction to world mythology. As a child, Davis was enthralled by the tales of gods and heroes, and he makes a compelling case for myth's enduring power to awe, inspire, and entertain. Each chapter focuses on a particular country or cultural group. He has included Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome, India, China, Japan, sub-Saharan Africa, the Americas, the Pacific Islands, the Celts, and the Norse. A list of questions to pique readers' interest, such as Was there really a Trojan war? introduces each chapter. A time line featuring important dates in political, military, religious, and cultural history is accompanied by detailed descriptions of all the major gods. The introductory questions are answered, creation myths are discussed, and fascinating parallels in stories of the destruction of the world by floods are explored. Some of the greatest adventure stories of lesser-known heroes such as Gilgamesh, Finn MacCool, and Sigurd are highlighted. To give readers a taste of the original stories, excerpts of the tales and holy books are included. Using data from recent archaeological finds, Davis shows how our understanding of the past continues to change. Students will find this book useful both as a quick reference source and as a means of gaining greater understanding of complex ancient religions, or learning which events were shaping different countries at the same time.-Kathy Tewell, Chantilly Regional Library, Fairfax County, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

More About the Author

Kenneth C. Davis is the author of Don't Know Much About® History, which spent 35 consecutive weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, and gave rise to the Don't Know Much About® series, which has a combined in-print total of 4.3-million copies. Davis has been dubbed the "King of Knowing" by because he becomes a subject expert in all of the areas he writes about: the Bible, Mythology, snd the Civil War, for example, and his latest Don't Know Much About® the American Presidents. Davis's success aptly makes the case that Americans don't hate history, just the dull version they slept through in class. But many of them want to know now because their kids are asking them questions they can't answer. Davis's approach is to refresh us on the subjects we should have learned in school. He does it by busting myths, setting the record straight and always remembering that fun is not a four-word letter word. Kenneth C. Davis is a frequent media guest and has appeared on hundreds of television and radio shows, including NPR, The Today Show, Fox and Friends, CNN, and The O'Reilly Factor. He has been a commentator for All Things Considered, and has written for the New York Times Op-Ed page, Smithsonian magazine and CNN,com and other national publications. In addition to his adult titles, he writes the Don't Know Much About Children's series published by HarperCollins. He lives in New York with his wife. They have two grown children.

Customer Reviews

I learned a lot and want to continue reading his other books.
It's a great starting point for a study of mythology; or, if you just want a cursory overview of the subject, it makes for a wonderful read.
While very educational it is written in a fun and entertaining way.
M. Biedermann

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

83 of 90 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on December 6, 2005
Format: Hardcover
HarperCollins's Don't Know Much About series is the slightly more attractive younger sibling of Alpha Book's Idiot's Guide series. If Alpha's famous orange-and-white dressed reference books have spawned a whole new generation of readers whose quest for a maximum amount of facts are sated by prose any "idiot" could read, the Don't Know Much About series offers the same promise with a bit more elegance and charm. The text for DON'T KNOW MUCH ABOUT MYTHOLOGY is provided by Kenneth C. Davis, a journalist and National Public Radio commentator whose encyclopedic knowledge of world history and culture enables him to construct prose that is as breezy as it is informative, as witty as it is delightful. He has an impressive ability to synthesize great quantities of texts and facts into a concise and coherent digest that, well, just about any idiot can read.

Organized into nine chapters that explore first the earliest civilizations in Egypt and Mesopotamia, then the later civilizations of Greece, Northern Europe, the Far East and the African continent, and finally the Americas, DON'T KNOW MUCH ABOUT MYTHOLOGY follows the same sequence that countless mythology texts have used before. And like those texts, the bulk of Davis's book is comprised of well-written prose paraphrases of ancient literatures. In terms of form and function, it doesn't break any new ground; instead, it offers another alternative to speedy referencing.

Bracketing each chapter are lists that frame important events in a sequential time table called "Mythic Milestones." When read side by side, they constitute a concise timeline of world history. Of perhaps more pedagogical interest are a series of "key questions" that introduce each new section.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By J. J. Kwashnak VINE VOICE on May 14, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Davis' "Don't Know Much About" series has always been marked by the author's conversational and breezy style as opposed to more dry, pedantic treatment of the subjects. That tone is continued here in his view of world mythology. Instead of aiming at being a comprehensive overview of the subject, he chooses to highlight the "you should know" topics - much like a Cliff Notes for a whole course. Often times the word Mythology only brings up images of Greek and Roman gods in people's minds. What Davis does well is to bring us back into the other myths of the ancient world - from Egypt and Mesopotamia, showing how these myths intermingled with other cultures and influenced, among other things, possibly several stories in the Bible. Davis continues around the world highlighting the stories of the Celts, the Norse, Indians, Chinese and Japanese. He comes up a bit short in his discussion of Sub-Saharan Africa and Native American mythology mainly because it is such a diverse topic involving not one dominant culture, but rather hundreds of individual cultures, each with their own views of the world. So while I would applaud him for including recognition of these areas, Davis set himself up with a task far beyond his current project that may leave the reader unsatisfied in these areas. Overall a good book to get a quick overview and introduction to names, stories and history of various cultures and how stories that are still familiar today came into being.
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful By L. D. Gasman on February 27, 2006
Format: Hardcover
For anyone looking for a quick and easy way to learn about world myths, I doubt that there is a better source. It's well written and very comprehensive, although occasionally a little repetititve.


this is no scholarly work. First many of the quotes are from other popular secondary sources, such as Thomas Cahill's books. Also, wherever possible the author tries to be politically correct. This descends to the point of self-parody where he is disussing native americans. I seem to remember this tendency was also there in his civil war book and it's stopped me ever reading his "Don't know much about history."
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42 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Len on December 14, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I liked how Davis introduces each civilization's mythology with basic history and possible connections to the gods they have. He also provides a quick "Who's Who" of the various pantheons of gods. Unfortunately, that's about as far as it goes.

In his first chapter, Davis makes a distinction between mythology and myth. I didn't realize how true he would hold to the title of the book. This is a book about various mythologies (the study of myths) as opposed to actual myths (the stories of gods and men). As such it does a decent job. If you're expecting a book containing popular myths from each culture, look elsewhere. If you're looking for a book to introduce you to the major players in each culture's myths so that you can look smart and know who Ra really is when watching Stargate or who Homer Simpson is talking about when he makes fun of "the many arms of Vishnu," then this is the book for you.

One pet peeve though. He tries really hard to remain "religiously tolerant", which to me means "all religions are myth." He relates ancient myths to our modern times, in particular to various Judeo-Christian beliefs. He's largely successful and knowing his reader base, tries to respect Jewish and Christian beliefs, but there were times where I felt he just wanted to call Judeo-Christian beliefs myths. Because of this, I'm hesitant to read his Don't Know Much about the Bible book. He also has no problems including Hindu, Confucian, Tao, and tribal "myths," despite their common modern practice. As an added insult, he has no problem laying on the guilt of Christian interference in either altering ancient myths or completely destroying tribal religions, but he has few problems with the Aryan influence on the Greeks and Indians.
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