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The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome Hardcover – March 17, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Bauer (author of the four-volume The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child) guides readers on a fast-paced yet thorough tour of the ancient worlds of Sumer, Egypt, India, China, Greece, Mesopotamia and Rome. Drawing on epics, legal texts, private letters and court histories, she introduces individuals who lived through the famines, plagues, floods, wars and empire building of the ancient world: the marvelous array of characters includes Gilgamesh, Sumer's first epic hero; Yü, the founder of the Xia dynasty in China; and Tiglath-Pileser III, who restored the Assyrian empire's fortunes. Because Bauer covers so much time and territory, she focuses on the Western cultures with which she seems most comfortable; the chapters on Asia and India are the least developed. In addition, some of her assertions—for instance, that the biblical book of Joshua is the clearest guide we possess to the establishment of an Israelite kingdom in Canaan—contradict general scholarly opinion or are simply wrong. However, Bauer's elegant prose and her command of much of the material makes this a wonderful starting point for the study of the ancient world. 80 maps. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Bauer's annals, which span the millennia between the traces of Sumer and the Roman emperor Constantine's conversion to Christianity in 312 CE, are an attractive introduction to a subject vast in time and geography. She writes briskly and interpretively, and is attuned throughout to the challenge of rulers: appearing to the ruled as legitimate holders of power. This sensibility makes her narratives acutely interesting, as Bauer pierces the biases inherent in most ancient sources to discern the sincerity or the cynicism with which power seekers pursued their goals. Above, approval of the divine was invaluable; on Earth, a loyal army was indispensable. Acquiring both enabled lawgivers to make their writ stick, and Bauer's chronicles exhibit the interaction of priestly, military, and legal powers as empires and dynasties wax and wane. This endows continuity to her accounts of polities as disparate as the Harappan civilization of the Indus River or the states that emerged from misty prehistory along the Yellow and Yangtze rivers to form China. Nonacademic and sometimes colloquial in composition, Bauer's survey will spark the imagination. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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On the other hand, this is NOT a textbook. It is a storybook. To write a story requires the author to choose a perspective and stick with it. Read this knowing you do not get anything like a detailed portrait of the available information on any one topic. Read it knowing you get the author's choice of interpretation and a selection of the supporting and competing information that is available, but only to the extent that would support an enjoyable and absorbing STORY.
Further, Bauer is mainly concerned with written documentation. This is not, in and of itself, a problem, but the impression one gets is that the stories, documents and mythologies of a people are more or less homogeneous across time and space and therefore can be considered at close to face value. Obviously this is a very tricky thing. Consider ancient Egypt: at any time in Egyptian history, perspectives on their own past varied; a written document shows not so much anything reliable about its topic, but about the life and times of its author.
Bauer is aware of the limitations of her method. I would not say that this book in any way misrepresents what it in fact offers. I do disagree with her interpretations in quite a few areas, but I don't object to her method and I can read the book with the "ifs, ands, and buts" in the back of my mind because I'm aware of the additional information out there on the topics. I still find the book helpful for its broad focus, and worth reading.
In other words, if the transition to agricultural economies, for example, is an area of prehistory that fascinates you, do move on to textbooks and learn how much more information is out there, as well as how much less certain any particular viewpoint on the period actually is. Ancient "History" is actually a study fractured among many different disciplines, with very little overall agreement.
If Bauer's book led you there and aided your memory by being fun and exciting, good for her.
Any person wanting to understand the Biblical accounts better needs this book. Of course, i should mention less than 1% of this book actually discusses anything Biblical in its near 800 pages, it none-the-less gives us a portrait of the known world. In addition, of all history, I hate classical history the most (except in relation to Biblical accounts) because it tends to be very dry. Ms. Bauer does well to recognize that and presents us with humor in the most appropriate places to keep us going. her charts, pictures, dating, and the lists of kings easily allows us to transcend from one geographical region to another within the same time setting. BRAVO!