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The Rise and Fall of Alexandria: Birthplace of the Modern Mind Hardcover – October 19, 2006

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (October 19, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670037974
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670037971
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #837,991 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Ancient Alexandria was first and foremost a Greek city. Its history, however, is framed by two religious events that were alien to Greek intellectual traditions: Ptolemy's creation of the cult of Serapis, which helped him establish rule, and the Christian riots that massacred the pagan philosopher Hypatia in A.D. 415. Between these two events is an unmatched record of intellectual achievement, elegantly chronicled by documentary makers Pollard and Reid. Among the many scientific advances they cover, from Euclid and Archimedes to Claudius Ptolemy, perhaps the most illustrative of the city's cosmopolitanism is human anatomy, the Greeks' limited understanding of which was tremendously aided by contact with Egyptian mummification. Throughout, the authors are eager, at times overly eager, to demonstrate ancient Alexandria's modernity. So it is curious that little is said about the famous feud between Callimachus, poet and cataloguer of the great library, and his former pupil Apollonius. The ingredients of the feud—plagiarism, obscenity, professional envy—are strangely contemporary. The authors also paint an incomplete picture of the city's literary culture and its museum, which functioned like a modern university. These criticisms aside, most readers, especially those interested in the history of science, will find this a nourishing account. (Oct. 23)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

From the city's founding by Alexander the Great in 331 BCE through its Islamic conquest in 646 CE, Pollard and Reid track Alexandria's status as a center of Hellenism in the ancient Mediterranean world. Mysteries such as the fate of Alexandria's famous library are left as that, while the works and authors it certainly housed furnish the authors' basic source material. Both authors have produced many history documentaries, and they write accessibly, not stuffily, as they discuss why Alexandrians such as Euclid and Eratosthenes are stars in the history of science. Parallel to these stories of scholars, among them the pioneer of librarianship, the cataloger Callimachus, the authors recount the fortunes of the Ptolemaic dynasty that expired with Cleopatra. Through it all stood the Pharos lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders, from which one could have observed the Roman takeover and the growth of Christianity. Classical history buffs will savor this survey. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

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For those interested in the history of Alexandria, a city that has had a major impact on both the ancient as well as the modern world, this book is a must read.
Maria Ryan
The book is very well organized and written in a succinct, engaging manner.
Michael F. Burdick

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

85 of 85 people found the following review helpful By Martin P. Cohen on January 10, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is not a scholarly work nor is it intended to be. The authors are television producers, not historians, and there are no footnotes. Still they provide a good overview of Alexandria.

As an academic at heart I have always been fascinated by the idea of a city set up to pursue learning for the sake of learning. The rulers wanted to put Alexandria on the map and to attract the best and the brightest to the city, and it never occurred to anyone that practical use might be made of the cumulative knowledge. To many, like Archimedes, the very thought of practical applications was repugnant.

There are a number of small deficiencies in the book whose cumulative impact is mildly annoying, enough to subtract a star.

There is way too much use of superlatives. This is totally unnecessary. The reader does not need to be banged over the head with the signficance of the events.

The book occasionally goes off on tangents and when it does the authors put themseleves on shaky ground. They go on at length about the philosophy of Plato and mention the influence of Heraclitus without mentioning the equal and opposing influence of Parmenides.

The authors make it seem as if the mathematics behind Eratosthenes' measure of the Earth's circumference is very complex. It does not diminish his accomplishment at all that the geometry involved is rather straightforward, as could have been shown by a simple diagram. Some diagrams of Hero's devices would also have been helpful.

I am guessing that the authors are not particularly strong in science and math. They mention that the information in the epitaph of Diophantus can be turned into a pair of simultaneous equations by those with "mathematical talents.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By John S. Hilliard on December 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am not a scientist and know enough math to barely negotiate my check book, but that is perhaps why I find this book so fine. I am a college professor and use many sources to inspire my students. This book is written with wonderful fluidity. It does not insult the reader, yet it reads with great grace and style covering almost a thousand years of history of this great city. If you are not familiar with ancient Alexandria, I highly recommend this for learning about the amazing discoveries and creativity of learning that was the foundation of many of the great sciences that rival ancient Greece. And how much knowledge was lost when the library in the Museum of Alexandria was destroyed. Enthusiastically recommended.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Nadia Azumi on July 23, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An outstanding book written about Alexandria Egypt. There are barely any books written on this old and historical city.
Having lived there for 30 years,it certainly appealed to me to purchase this book.
Rise and Fall of Alexandria is not only about the Ptolomies,and the library of Alexandria,or the Roman Empire.
It is the history of: philosophy,mathematics,geopgraphy,astrology,medicine,and all the intellectual minds that were born,and came to research study and die in Alexandria.
The beginning of Christianity,the translation of the Bible from Hebrew to Greek,what was Christianity and Judaism seen from the eyes of the intellectual Philosophers in Alexandria.
Who created the Pharos of Alexandria one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world.
Who created roads,palaces, gardens,and libraries.How it all started and how it all ended.

It is a very easy book to read,with so much knowledge,that it would have certainly been kept in the old Alexandria Library had it survived the fire.

A must read for those who like ancient history.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I just finished reading "The Rise and Fall of Alexandria - Birthplace of the Modern World," and I want to start over again. When I read that the authors were television producers on the inside front page, it was difficult for me to believe that it was the only career they had. In fact, both men are anthropologists (Justin Pollard is an anthropologist and archeologist) educated at Cambridge.

They took what could have been a stuffy and dry subject and made it sing, gave it wings and inspired me to want to read more. There was only one frustrating omission in the book and that was there were no maps. While reading, I could only visualize the map of the world that was created by Herodotus. Fortunately, I found a book by Michael Grant, "The Atlas of Classical History from 1700 B.C. to 565 A.D.," that I had had for years, which has a map of the world drawn by Herodotus.

The best part of this book is how well the authors humanized those historical individuals whose contributions to the city of Alexandria made it the great center of learning and culture it came to be. I would recommend it for high school students who are thinking of going into the sciences. I believe it will give them a great sense of reverence for the commitment the early Greek scientists, artists and philosophers had and how much of an impact they made upon the world. And, it will give further insight as to why Carl Sagan bemoaned the rise of Christianity which occured paradoxically in Alexandria.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By G. Poirier on December 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful book. It charts the history of Alexandria from its inception in the fourth century BC to its tragic demise about a millennium later. The authors describe the great advances made within the walls of this intellectual capital of the ancient world in the fields of science, astronomy, mathematics, geography, medicine, philosophy, religion, etc. They also introduce the reader to the many luminaries who contributed to these giant steps in human knowledge. The great Alexandrian library, the museum and the incomparable Pharos are all discussed here as well. The writing style is clear, friendly and quite captivating. This major contribution to the literature on ancient history aimed at the non-specialist will surely be savored by general readers and completely devoured by ancient history buffs. One can only imagine what the world would be like today if Alexandria had continued to prosper from its peak during the earlier parts of the Ptolemaic dynasty to today.
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