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The Ancient Paths: Discovering the Lost Map of Celtic Europe Hardcover
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About the Author
Graham Robb was born in Manchester in 1958 and is a former fellow of Exeter College, Oxford. He is the author of six other books including Victor Hugo (winner of the Royal Society of Literature Heinemann Award and the Whitbread Biography Award), Rimbaud (shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize), The Discovery of France (winner of both the Duff Cooper and Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prizes) and the Sunday Times top ten bestseller, Parisians. He lives in Cumbria. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Note that this is the same book as "The Discovery of Middle Earth." Nowhere in the information is it clear this is the paperback edition of "Discovery of Middle Earth". Perhaps the new title is better but I purchased it after I had already consulted the same book under its first title.
Mr Robb, I have seen far worse from other writers, but I do think you should restructure your text to make the logic of the book easier to follow. I warn you though that by presenting the material more clearly you will then be exposing some awkward weaknesses, which will need further work to repair.
What follows is my three-paragraph summary of the book’s thesis:
The configuration of the main pre-Roman settlements all over Gaul looks as if it was planned in certain very specific ways. Thus, for example, there is as a matter of geography a certain notional straight line, due north and south through Gaul, which is the longest line that is physically possible given the shape of the land; a number of settlements are located exactly on that line. As another example, a number of settlements are located relative to each other on a compass bearing of 57.53 degrees from due north. As a matter of astronomy, on the longest day of the year in Gaul in that epoch the point on the horizon where the sun rose happened to be 57.53 degrees from due north.
The predominance of these and a couple of other analogous relations between settlement locations is so striking that one must assume that the configuration of the whole was consciously designed. It seems that whenever a new settlement was needed its location was carefully chosen to be on a certain standard bearing from other locations. Over the centuries a configuration of settlements developed, that was very rich in cases of this 57.53 degrees bearing and a couple of others.
Why did the Gauls do this? For religious reasons.
One minimum requirement of any improved draft of this book is that the reader should grasp with absolute clarity that the above is the thesis that the book is conveying. Moreover, the reader should always clearly see which bits of detail in the book serve to support which part of the thesis, and how.
Now once that thesis is expressed in a concise, neutral way a number of fundamental matters will occur to the thoughtful editor helping you make your book as robust as possible. Here are some:
1 Exactly what set of ‘settlements’ in Gaul does the thesis claim to embrace? (Surely not merely those settlements which happen to fit the thesis, while ignoring those that don’t.) Is the claim that every one of the 300 most notable Gaulish settlements fits into the configuration? Or all those of a certain type but none of some other type? Or all those of some defined type but with only a 95% success rate? Or what? This is really a very important point. It is not very respectable to come up with a new theory about the properties of all things of type X and then to be bashful about what things you are counting as being a type- X and what you are not. This matter of the scope of the thesis needs to be cleared up once and for all.
2 What possible geometric relations between settlement locations are needed in order to explain the full configuration: due-north lines and 57.53 degree lines are two of the relations used, as mentioned above, and the maps in the book show a couple more. But what precisely is the minimum set of possible relations that is sufficient to explain the whole configuration? (Plainly the fewer there are the better for the plausibility of the thesis.) Stating that prominently would dispel any impression that the author has used whatever geometric relations he happened to need to fit everything into the configuration.
3 Within the constraints of the possible geometric relations just mentioned, what determines why some particular relations between settlements exist and some others do not? For example, the settlement of Alessia is related to certain other settlements by 57.53 degree lines and to some other settlements by lines at a couple of other angles, but to none does it have a relation in a due north-south or east-west relation; why? Poitiers on the other hand has relatively few relations to other settlements and then only due east-west. Can such things be explained? If so, it would make a richer thesis.
4 With any thesis of this type the null hypothesis is that all or most of the observed regularities arose by chance. I don’t think you’ve done enough yet to take on this awkward objection. People have used statistical techniques to study the validity of the comparable (though of course quite different) case of lay lines. Perhaps you could look into that work and see whether your own thesis can withstand the statistical tests that lay lines, it seems, cannot.
5 How did the Gauls’ beliefs about the sun and gods and heroes lead them to the project of building a configuration of settlements of this general character and specifically this configuration? It isn’t obvious. After all, many other people worshipped the sun without designing configurations of settlements. In the three-paragraph summary of the thesis above I wrote with deliberate lameness that the Gauls did all this for religious reasons, and more than this I couldn’t get out of the book’s text. This aspect I find the the weakest part of the book. There is to be sure some stuff about Celtic mythology but it is so metaphorical and whimsical that it is no use at all in explaining why the Gauls build their settlements in their particular configuration. This part of the thesis is seriously in need of improvement.
6 The book’s thesis entails that the Gauls performed prodigies of skilful surveying, in order, for example, to align one new settlement exactly on a notional line with another far away across some mountains. The current text says very little to justify that ability. Can you do something to strengthen that part of the thesis?
7 How special is this Gaulish phenomenon? Is it the case that these Gauls were complete outliers and no other people in history ever did anything at all similar to the settlement configuration of the Gauls? Probably not. Well then, where do the Gauls stand relative to other cultures that did things that are in any way similar? The reader needs some insight here in order to help him assess the plausibility of the thesis about the Gauls. I realise that such intellectual exploration as this may cause you a lot of extra work.
So, Mr Robb, I’d recommend reorganising the book to make its thesis much clearer, and in so doing to confront explicitly the tricky matters just mentioned and perhaps a few others. This will surely produce a more coherent book. Unfortunately it may not be a more commercially successful one. The very coherence may well make some of the weak points difficult to hide. However, perhaps you already have new material available to repair those weaknesses; I can’t tell.