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The Great Cities in History Hardcover – November 2, 2009

2.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“The book is packed with such savory detail, relayed by writers and historians who appear to eat, sleep and breathe their cities.” (Tunku Varadarajan - The Wall Street Journal)

“[T]his collection stimulates serious reflection.” (Booklist)

“Accessible, well indexed…this is not simply a reference work; the essays on each city and on each historical age are worth close reading. Highly recommended.” (Choice)

“A careful historian’s vision of a man’s metropolitan history. There are 68 cities here included. Each is accorded a short chapter written by contributors…. The cities under discussion range from the primordial Uruk to modern monsters like Sao Paulo, taking in, along the way, a host of conurbations from the ancient, the medieval, and the early modern periods… Packed with such savory detail, relayed by writers and historians who appear to eat, sleep and breathe their cities.” (The Wall Street Journal)

About the Author

John Julius Norwich is the author of The Great Cities in History as well as magisterial histories of Norman Sicily, the republic of Venice, and the Byzantine Empire. He has also written widely on architecture and music, and has presented some thirty BBC television historical documentaries.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Thames & Hudson; First Edition edition (November 2, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0500251541
  • ISBN-13: 978-0500251546
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 0.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #574,716 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
This fascinating book devotes a few pages, between 2 and 6, to describe the lay-out and history of each of 70 important urban settlements from Antiquity to the 21st century, from Uruck to Shanghai. Of course, the broad range of geography covered is counterbalanced by the succinctness of the write-ups. Though these, in some cases, barely constitute little more than teasers, they certainly do act as an incentive to visit each of the places _ or at least to read up on them.

The cities included are grouped by historical period: antiquity, the first millennium, medieval times, etc. Very short introductions to each section make some links between them but again it is unfortunate that space is too short to allow further development.

The book is generously illustrated with large photographs, many of aesthetic interest. A small world map locating all the cities discussed is provided. However, a map of each city would have been welcome as it is often difficult to position the information given.

One must also point out that some of the details provided are inaccurate. For instance, 1776 definitely did not mark the end of Washington's second term as president of the United States. Also, in Paris, the medieval Louvre palace is not «buried under the current Museum»; actually, it was totally demolished over the centuries and its foundations were uncovered some 25 years ago in an archaeological operation. Does this raise questions regarding the validity of what is written of more exotic locations?

Despite these shortcomings, the book is extremely interesting and strongly recommended to anyone interested in cities, history or both.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Perhaps the purpose of John Julius Norwich's The Great Cities in History is as coffee table show book, a display pretense of intellectual substance - it is visually impressive, and the presumptuous title is dramatic clear across the room.

To say this book is shallow is too profound. It doesn't even qualify as light entertainment.

What is interesting about Norwich's book however is the insistently laudatious promotional publicity surrounding it - what's behind all that mendacious duplicity???! Numerous historians of various repute that failed to deliver - gloss over it, no one will notice, and they can still list it in their curriculum vitae??!

If you have any interest in the subject of the title, then forgo this book; the content does not deliver.
Even the lavish photographs lack intent beyond superficial visual reference. Two pages of discourse per city, its quite astounding actually that proclaimed historians who have presumably visited these locals should have so little of substance to say (the academic impetus to interminable verbosity withers to flaccid impotence when restricted to two pages?!?).

For a precocious 12 year old this book would be an appropriate introduction to the great cities of the world. But for the person interested in civilization's great centers, only the three page Table of Contents is worth a look to see what cities one might have neglected. Beyond that the book really has no value.

The 21 volume Time Life series Great Ages of Man can be procured for the same price, is an easy read, and will transport the reader into the teaming courts and meandering backways of the Great Cities. A tragically neglected series, it provides both sumptuous depth and magnificent vistaed breadth.

Perhaps John Julius Norwich would be better suited retailing travel apparel.
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By Hal Jones on February 17, 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
decent read
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Format: Hardcover
More than 50 cities and no sight of Madrid. I think that being, among other things, the centre of the first modern empire in the world gives Madrid enough credit to be in any book about important cities in history.
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