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Ancient Mysteries Hardcover – November 2, 1999

4.2 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

There may be a wide gap between uncritical belief and hard-line skepticism, but that doesn't mean many writers have chosen to explore this territory. Now science writer Peter James and archaeologist Dr. Nick Thorpe have teamed up again to examine Ancient Mysteries, pledging allegiance to no theory or theorist, free to explore any explanation supported by the evidence. As often happens, they must finally throw up their hands in confusion, but getting there is half the fun.

Did King Arthur really exist? Who was Robin Hood? How did the enormous stone heads of Easter Island find their way to their resting places? Why did the Mayans disappear? These are some of the 37 big questions tackled by James and Thorpe in nearly 700 pages. A few of their selections may seem curious when compared to the puzzles that have gripped us for centuries, but overall their penetrating analyses of legend and archaeological data are fascinating and engagingly written. For those who can tolerate a bit of uncertainty in their reading, Ancient Mysteries will be a profoundly satisfying look into the fuzzy boundaries of our knowledge. --Rob Lightner

From Booklist

James and Thorpe, the authors of Ancient Inventions (1994), now turn their professional eyes (one is a historian; the other, an archaeologist) on the unexplained historical phenomena that provide fodder for all those melodramatic cable shows about "history's mysteries." True believers will be disappointed to discover that the authors are spoilsports who haven't met a mystery they can't debunk. The statues on Easter Island? Built by indigenous people without help from aliens. Ditto the pyramids. Columbus was not helped to America with the Vikings' Vinland map, and Edgar Cayce was pretty much wrong about everything. In the course of their debunking, the authors reserve particular scorn for Graham Hancock (Fingerprints of the Gods) and his ilk. Yet, when it comes to biblical mysteries, such as whether there was a Star of Bethlehem, the debunking duo seem more willing to bend history. (They contend that the star was really Halley's Comet, even though that would place Jesus' birth in 12 B.C.) The world is a less mysterious place after James and Thorpe get through with it, but their well-researched, thoroughly documented conclusions will be hard for even aficionados to dispute. A highly readable survey of a perennially popular topic, made all the more appealing by a wealth of attractive illustrations, including photos, maps, and historical engravings. Ilene Cooper

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; 1 edition (November 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345401956
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345401953
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 7.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,123,203 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Richard S. Sullivan on December 23, 1999
Format: Hardcover
When I first saw the title "Ancient Mysteries" I was immediately put off by the title and thought: here goes another "aliens built the pyramids" New Age woo woo book. My closer read of the editorial reviews at Amazon indicated the book took a more sensible approach.
Authors James and Thorpe do a great job of going through the various architectural and technological wonders of the ancient world. The book is a compendium of loosely linked chapters and the sections could easily be read backwards without losing much meaning.
Though the book does a lot of debunking of fringe archeology, it does it in a very effective way. Rather than hitting hard at some of the fringe theories right up front, the authors do their best to present those theories in the best light possible. Often they got me hooked on them. Then they very gently begin to tear down the theories with hard evidence. (Which is often ignored or conveniently overlook by the fringe proponents.) I constantly felt the little voice inside me going "Uh oh..."
You won't come away with any great understanding of the ancient world, the authors cover far too much ground for that. You will however have a fun -- and extensive read, and will gain some insight into how science and archeolgy work together.
I was a little disappointed that they barely covered some of the issues concerning the ancient Pueblo sites here in New Mexico.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book accurately compiles the various arguments for and against the ancient mysteries that it covers. The Orion controversy is well handled (for example) as it puts forth a good summary of the theory that the ancient Egyptians aligned the pyramids at Giza with Orion's belt. The authors cover the arguments against the theory and point out that no other pyramid structure aligns with the rest of the stars in the Orion pattern. Then the authors point out that the ancient Egyptians often used the belt alone to designate the constellation Orion. The writers let us know that the Orion theory goes too far in its claims that many pyramids align with the stars of various constellations, but may be right on point with the necessity to look to the stars to explain a lot of what the ancient Egyptians were doing. Current scolars of ancient Egypt simply do not use astronomy to try and understand how the dwellers along the Nile in 3000 BC may have been thinking.
Thus, according to Ancient Mysteries, both sides have good points to make.
The entire book is filled with the pro and cons of those proposing the theories and those holding to the traditional ways of viewing history. It is the balance the authors bring to the discussion that makes the book so noteworthy. Direct quotes from key passages of the various books supporting or opposing the theories help bring home the essence of each point of view.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the theories of the past being proposed by Handcock and others as a fair view of the proposed theories (summarized of course) and their opponents attempts (often successful) to undermine them.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book for my husband and he couldn't put it down until he read it from cover to cover. He kept marking sections and making me read them. He liked the way the authors "walked" the reader through all of the theories suggested about historical events, then, using facts, debunked most and suggested their own theory.
The book is broken into appropriate sections, then each section contains "short stories" about pertinent events. This is the perfect book for reading that is frequently interrupted, such as the beach, but you'll probably find that you won't be able to put it down.
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Format: Hardcover
One very nice feature of this book is that it works like a general reference book, covering many topics that often instill controversial views. The book does not necessarily need to be read "cover to cover;" it can be enjoyed by randomly reading any chapter. The coverage is extensive, and the title is perhaps a bit misleading -- the book also covers less "ancient" areas of folklore and legend (such as the origins of "Dracula").
The authors debunk the pseudo-scientific and sensationalistic explanations for such human accomplishments as the Great Pyramids and the images of the Nazca Plains. They don't necessarily "go for the jugular" when assessing the views of New Agers and fringe archaeologists. Rather, they point out why such scientifically erroneous theories would appeal to people, and why certain biases would lead to the resulting conclusions. They also convey an idea that I have always believed -- in our modern age we just don't give ancient civilizations enough credit for their problem-solving skills and sheer determination. Think about it, in a society where "fast food" is the norm, it's quite a leap to entertain the notion that thousands of Egyptian workers were willing to toil on a project whose completion would never be seen in their own lifetimes. Who would want to do something like THAT nowadays?
"Ancient Civilizations" is crisply and clearly written for the layperson, though the authors provide numerous references to scholarly sources if one wishes to pursue them. Read this book, and when such topics as "Who Built the Pyramids?" and "Were the Nazca Images UFO Airport Runways?" come to surface, you will be able to hold your own, with cool reason and authority!
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