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Showing 1-10 of 133 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 203 reviews
on June 5, 2014
I don't want to put people off from reading this, because it is both engaging and broad-giving a perspective on ancient history that promotes big picture understanding, aids the memory, and makes it fun.

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.
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on August 23, 2015
This is a breezy, once-over-lightly history of the ancient world that offers a good introduction to the topic for the general reader. To her credit, Bauer is a nimble writer and a pleasant guide through what could be arid material. She also includes discussions of civilizations--especially China and India-- too often left out of ancient histories, though these can feel tacked on, connected to the central narrative by phrases like: "Meanwhile, at the other end of the Silk Road..." A larger difficulty is that Bauer focuses on military and political events almost to the exclusion of cultural and demographic history. Too often the narrative reads like an endless parade of egomaniacal despots beating each other over the head to see who can stay on top. This can get dreary after a while, particularly without some sense of what it was like to live in Egypt rather than Mesopotamia, Persia rather than Greece. We want to more about how civilization developed, and less on whose borders were expanding at the expense of their neighbors. Another difficulty is that Bauer too blithely accepts myth as history. Even when she admits that the legends are not literally true, her explanations of what they tell us are often facile and unconvincing. All in all, however, this and the volumes that follow offer a well-written introduction to world history.
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on April 9, 2013
Anyone reading my reviews knows I am a tough reviewer; however, this book has gained a five star review and I wish I could add in some way to that accolade.

This is a book that is a joy to read. It is informative and entertaining. You can read about the copper river (the Euphrates named Uruttu) or the Greatest Battle in Very Ancient Times (Rameses II vs the Hittites at Kadesh) or the fall of Rome. She even covers the far East, telling us how Confucius "...offered another way for men to control the society that surrounded them." Susan Wise Bauer covers the ancient world very thoroughly and she blends a lot of excitement into the stories of the past. Unlike the vast majority of history books, Bauer's The History of the Ancient World avoids dull. And even better than that, Susan Wise Bauer avoids being, in any way, political in her evaluations of the past. From the events she has chosen worthy of inclusion to the short but pithy evaluations of those events she maintains her absolute air of uncompromising neutrality. In today's politically charged world this isn't easy to do, and that elevates her to the best of writers.

Part One is entitled The Edge of History and starts with the origin of Kingship. Part Five (the last) is entitled Identity and outlines the great empires that ended the ancient world. From the world wide flood legends to India and the coming of the Aryans and China's struggles for unity Ms Bauer succinctly tells us the glories and pitfalls of the past and how it impacts our world even now.

The book has over 85 maps and each one of them is well made, easy to read, and adds to the understanding of the events. These maps add another factor that many history books miss. Without maps history is very hard to follow. Even some of the greatest history writers of our time, J. M. RobertsThe History of the World for example, miss the importance of maps. Ms Bauer's focus on this oft neglected aspect of history books tells us a lot about how eager she is to get a deeper understanding of history across to the reader. In my opinion her history succeeds at every level. Outstanding work.

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on January 3, 2014
I'm about 75% of the way through this book. It focuses on peoples/civilizations that left records, from the very earliest to the fall of Rome. I've read other, more regionally focused, histories of ancient Greece and Persia. This book puts those histories into the full context (full recorded context) starting about 7000 BC and covering the Fertile Crescent, the area between the Indus and Ganges, the area between the Yellow and Yangtze, Asia Minor, the "Levant," the Greek and Italian peninsulas, and Egypt. It is well written, easy to follow, and includes a great deal of detail. I am not a historian, just a curious lay person with an abiding curiosity about how people developed and changed their societies.

The History of the Ancient World covers the events that were recorded, leaving aside as (even more) speculative the interpretation of occurrences not recorded (typically by the powerful and the victors, or those who would have posterity believe they were the victors). There is a lot of food for thought. I guess it's obvious, but the reading makes vivid that peoples have always advanced their worlds by fighting and conquest, treating the losers (more often than not) as grossly inferior, fit to be killed or enslaved. Some victors (Persians spring to mind), left the conquered people's native gods and worship in place, using the conquest as a source of tribute and soldiers.

There are frequent maps and comparative timelines that set the occurrences in different parts of the world side by side in time. in addition, everything is footnoted so one knows where to look in order to follow up with original sources. Which brings me to the reason it only gets 3 stars (content gets 5). As is usual with Amazon Kindle books, the navigation is poor and the footnotes (in this book) don't actually link about 70% of the time. It's really too bad Amazon and book publishers have done such a terrible job making the Kindle book experience more like the web. Suggestions would include allowing well-organized hyperlinks, the ability to copy and paste, or even just reliable footnote navigation. As there is no competition to force innovation, I hold out little hope that Jeff Bezos and Amazon will improve the Kindle experience. Why should they? We pay $10 - $20+ for books that cost them zero to print or ship. There is no (serious) competitor to force innovation, so, as a business they take the money and wait until forced to improve. Too bad.

Great book, same old mediocre Kindle experience.
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on December 2, 2016
I like the approach this book takes, quoting actual letters of ancient people so you get a real sense of them as people. I love reading history, but this is the only history book that ever made me laugh out loud!
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on August 17, 2016
I'm always amused by people who throw a screaming fit at the slightest mention of the Bible or the God of the Bible. It is ironic that while these people loudly proclaim their allegiance to reason and logic, they will happily accept the most ridiculous historical theory as long as it contradicts the orthodox Judeo-Christian view (fans of Da Vinci Code come to mind). Most of the 1-star reviews of the "History of the Ancient World" come from this kind of crowd. Bauer's alleged crime: treating the Book of Exodus as a historical book. Never mind the fact that she clearly states that Egyptian records don't have any mention of the exodus. Never mind the fact that it's just one chapter out of 80+ chapters in the book. Never mind the fact she employs a similar strategy of using mythological or semi-mythological material in other places in the book. No, the enlightened ones fly into the angry frenzy and nothing shall appease them. I can't help but wonder, was Sunday School really this bad?

If anything, the people who should be truly offended by this book are Christians. The birth, life and crucifixion of Jesus Christ are given less than a page of coverage. That's right, the most important event in the history human civilization, which shaped the course of events for at least two thousand years afterwards, is basically skimmed over as some minor incident involving "a wandering prophet". Meanwhile, Confucius, Buddha and Muhammad (in the sequel book "History of Medieval World") get a chapter each. This strikes me as quite unbalanced.

Having said this, "The History of the Ancient World" is a wonderfully written and engaging history book. The author's style is lively and even funny at time. She covers all major civilizations of the ancient world. Numerous maps make the text easier to comprehend and to follow. By the time I was done with the book, I had a fairly good idea of what happened in the first three thousand years of human civilization.

My only qualm with this book (in addition to the above-mentioned glossing over the person of Jesus) is that it could use just a little bit more descriptions of the cultures and day-to-day of ancient civilizations. I don't mind the relentless emphasis on kings and wars. But it would be nice to spend just a little more time on describing what life was like for these people, how their economy was structured, and what kind of society they generally had.

Still, this is a great general overview of ancient history and I highly recommend it.
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on September 15, 2015
This author has to be one of the best historical writers I have encountered. She writes clearly with a style that excites the imagination. This is clearly one of the masterpieces of historical writing.
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on December 17, 2015
I am LOVING this book, and the two that come next (Medieval and Renaissance history). Do they dive deep? No. Does the author interject herself? Yes (to my great amusement...I get a chuckle from her opinions). Am I learning a ton about ancient history? Yes. My area of interest is really English history, so I thought I needed to branch out a bit and grasp a wider scope of the development of civilization. These books are fabulous for giving a broad view, and the author does helpfully suggest more in-depth reading if something grabs my fancy.
Some of the reviews on here are faulting the author for her take on history...I do not. When you are handling historical facts from thousands of years ago, primary sources are few and far between and those which exist are mostly written by the "winners". It takes a shrewd eye to read between the hieroglyphic lines. The book does jump from place to place quite a bit, but once I grew used to this device, I found it made sense and helped me put each civilization in its historical place.
For the bedtime history buff, this is a marvelous read.
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on April 20, 2017
Fascinating read. Author's style is great. She writes for the reader and not to try to impress with pretentious excessive scholarly language.
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on March 22, 2017
Wonderful overview. Good starting point to study ancient history.
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