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The Discovery of Middle Earth: Mapping the Lost World of the Celts Hardcover – November 4, 2013

4.0 out of 5 stars 63 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Presenting one of the most astonishing, significant discoveries in recent memory, Robb, winner of the Duff Cooper Prize and Ondaatje Award for The Discovery of France, upends nearly everything we believe about the history—or, as he calls it, €œprotohistory€—of early Europe and its barbarous Celtic tribes and semimythical Druids. Popularly dismissed as superstitious, wizarding hermits, Robb demonstrates how the Druids were perhaps the most intellectually advanced thinkers of their age: scientists and mathematicians who, through an intimate knowledge of €œsolstice lines,€ organized their towns and cities to mirror the paths of their Sun god, in turn creating €œthe earliest accurate map of the world.€ In his characteristically approachable yet erudite manner, Robb examines how this network came to be and also how it vanished, trampled over by a belligerent Rome, which has previously received credit for civilizing Europe—though in Robb's account, Caesar, at the helm, appears dim, unwitting, and frankly lucky, and the (often literally) deeply buried Celtic beliefs and innovations seem more relevant in modern Europe than previously assumed. Like the vast and intricate geographical latticework that Robb has uncovered, the book unfurls its secrets in an eerie, magnificent way—a remarkable, mesmerizing, and bottomless work. 50 illus. Agent: Gill Coleridge, Rogers Coleridge & White (U.K.). (Nov.)

From Booklist

Were an atlas of the Celtic world before the Roman conquests ever created, it could derive from the information amassed in this volume. The author of a prior geographical investigation, The Discovery of France (2007), Robb remarks that this one begins with a scholar’s hypothesis that Celtic settlements, sacred places, and roads were sited on abstract lines based on summer and winter solstices. Off and running after explaining one such line, named for the classical hero Hercules, Robb proceeds to delineate scores of lines at whose intersections archaeological evidence of Celtic habitation has been excavated in modern France and Britain. Dozens of diagrammatic maps visualize Robb’s somewhat complex accounts of Celtic cartography, which developed in the course of Celtic migrations. When one of these reached Rome in 387 BCE, Celts entered a written history that Robb taps for his narratives of Celtic resistance and defeat in Rome’s invasions of Gaul and Britannia. Assiduous research into the obscurities of an ancient culture, including its Druids, Robb’s opus should lure readers interested in the Celtic domains. --Gilbert Taylor
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (November 4, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039308163X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393081633
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #569,707 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The Celts of Europe, a loosely organized cultural group that shared language and religion, have remained fairly mysterious for historians and others. Because they didn’t write down much about their beliefs, rituals or laws, we are left with outsider accounts, primarily those of Roman writers. But it has always been obvious that the Celts helped shape Europe from the foundation of cities to material and artistic expressions. What Graham Robb suggests in his latest book is that the Celts, from Gaul all the way to Britain, shaped Europe in ways never before appreciated or even understood, by creating a map of the known world.

By looking at the placement of Celtic towns and sacred sites, and carefully mapping them by latitude, longitude and other measurements, Robb saw a pattern begin to emerge indicating that the Celts had a more sophisticated understanding of the world and a greater grasp of science than previously believed. Starting with the road, known as the Heraklean Way, which ran across the Iberian Peninsula as early as the sixth century BCE, Robb connects various ancient and contemporary towns to each other, illustrating what he thinks is not just a systematic ordering of the world by the Celts but a reflection of the worlds they felt existed above and below as well (hence this world as Middle Earth, a concept famously borrowed by Tolkien).

The science of the Celts, argues Robb, has been so overlooked because it is not the monumental feats of engineering we find with the Romans, Egyptians and other early civilizations. And there are no Celtic texts explaining their views on nature, earth or the cosmos.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Wow. I just finished this book, and I'm feeling overwhelmed. First of all, I am not an academic, but I take an academic interest in the history of the Celts. Therefore I am grateful for such a well-researched and well-documented book. My real interest is in the culture of the Celts and the function of the Druids in Celtic society. This book focuses on Celtic astronomy and geometry and how those sciences affected the layout of the Celtic homelands, particularly Gaul. That angle is of secondary interest to me. But along the way, as the author undertakes a sort of pilgrimage along the paths of the old roads through the old towns, he works in a variety of other information about the Celts taken from about 500 sources, which are listed in the back of the book. This list of sources alone is quite valuable. Just to mention one question that is of interest to me: Were the Celts matrilineal? The author makes a reference to "the matrilineal Celtic tradition," but it is not clear whether he is taking a stand. By contrast, in an article in the academic tome "The Celtic World," edited by Miranda Green, Timothy Champion seems to take a clear stand that Celtic arrangements were patriarchal. In chapter 9, Robb writes, "Following Celtic tradition, in which property passed through the female line...," but no source for this is given in the notes. So I am left tantalized, and in doubt, about many of my questions about the Celts including the status of the sexes, attitudes toward homosexual behavior, etc. Those questions, of course, are not the focus of this book. However, this book goes further than any source I'm aware of in attempting to outline the curriculum of Druid education, without straying into speculation.Read more ›
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Robb's theory is that Iron Age Celts used geometry to organize their settlements and spiritual centers along sun solstice angles. His argument is plausible. Whether you buy into it or not, the history--especially the material that concerns the Druids--is fascinating. This book appears to be written for the general-interest reader. It will be interesting to revisit this topic after some scholarly debate has further shaped the theory.

The writing is dense at times, but hey--the book is about history, math and surveying. Stick with it. I did and I don't regret it.

Warning: If you buy the Kindle edition, the maps and illustrations will be difficult to view. It's not a huge deal, but I like maps. I kind of wish I'd bought the paper version. In fairness to the Kindle, I'm middle aged and use reading glasses. Still, I had to stack up two pairs at once to see the maps.
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Format: Kindle Edition
My book review is from a different point of view... I was awakend to a civilization I could relate to, as my ancestors, who created roads, based on the heavens... long before the Romans . Yet, the stunner in this book for me was this! As I read in this book, the journey of Hannibal from Carthage thru North Africa, across the water to the End of the World and up the Herackles Way, my DNA study came in from Ancestry.com. I happened to be looking at the map in this book and I thought how much it resembled my family map of DNA tracks. Voila! They were so alike I could not believe it! From my family DNA distant traces in Carthage across North Africa, to the Iberian Penninsula, into Lombardy and to union with the middle Europeans, there was history in my DNA staring me right back in the face. Talk about a "Wow" moment for people that love history, like me! I enjoyed the book very much and wondered as I read it, about the tall Italians in my family, that are 6 feet 4 inches, and more when there are so many Italians I know that are not really towering around that height. Then I learned that the Etruscans were very tall of Greek and Italian heritage, and inhabited Lombardy, where the major part of my ancestry is. So another puzzle of history seemed to find a place.
The other discovery this book opened for me was the rich lives of the Celts and Druids and how many of us who have Middle European and North Italian blood have to be descended from them with traces of the Orient in our blood. We are truly one people!
At one point in life, I had given the Celts to the Irish alone,but this book pointed out that the Celts were from the Black Sea always heading toward the setting sun, pushed to Britain and over to Scotland and Ireland by the invading Romans.
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