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Babylon: Mesopotamia and the Birth of Civilization Hardcover – 1 Jul 2010

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books (1 July 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848871562
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848871564
  • Product Dimensions: 16.1 x 3 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 394,716 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Praise for Paul Kriwaczek "Eloquent and consistently thought-provoking account of ancient Mesopotamia." --"Scotland on Sunday "on "Babylon" "Historical detail gives authority to this tale of human misery and military magnificence."--"The Times "(UK) on "Babylon""" "An outstanding survey of a civilization that endured against great odds but has now essentially vanished." --"Booklist "(starred) on "Yiddish Civilization""" "A landmark book." --"Library Journal "on "In Search of Zarathustra" --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Paul Kriwaczek was born in Vienna in 1937. In 1970 he joined the BBC full-time and wrote, produced and directed for twenty-five years. A former head of Central Asian Affairs at the BBC World Service, he is fluent in eight languages, including Farsi, Pashto, Urdu, Hindi and Nepalese.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

77 of 82 people found the following review helpful By bookelephant on 22 July 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
To start with - this was not at all the book I thought it was - I read the title "Babylon" and was expecting it to be all about the Ziggurat, the hanging gardens, the wealth, the power etc etc of the famous city. What the book is really about is (as so often these days - a real publishers' trick to get books off shelves) in the "sub-title": "Mesopotamia and the birth of civilisation". So it starts way, way, earlier than I had thought it would and there is less about Babylon itself.

But please don't think I am complaining, because it is a really terrific book, and far better for what I wanted (filling in my utter lack of knowledge about what goes "before" Philip/Alexander, the Persian Empire, Carthage etc). Kriwacek takes us back to the very start of civilisation in Mesopotamia and goes on from there. On the way he shakes very thoroughly any sense of Western superiority that readers may still have as he recounts how writing, science, art and architecture were forging ahead here when the inhabitants of Europe were clinging to a very marginal existence. The story of each of the major cities and its type of civilisation is told carefully by reference to excellent sources, and with scrupulously fair recognitiion of where the main areas of controversy lie. What is more it does all link into Babylon, bacuse he shows how each step in the development in Mesopotamia manifested itself within the Babylonian culture when it finally developed (an odd thought, given how early it was).

Kriwacek writes hugely well and engagingly - it appears that his route to writing the book was essentially the curiosity which brought me to reading it (what went before X and Y?) but from the point of view of someone who knows the area as it is now, well (though his BBC work).
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83 of 95 people found the following review helpful By Lector TOP 500 REVIEWER on 17 Aug. 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this knowing that it was written by a non-specialist - a 'journalistic' approach to the ancient world of the Sumarians, Akkadians etc. That's OK. A journalistic style can be great for general introductions to a subject, making the material engaging and easy-to-read.

Alas, in this case getting a book by a non-specialist may have been a big mistake. This author appears to see historical connections where none really exist, and sometimes drifts off on tangents that have little or no direct relevance to the subject.

Just one example to show what I mean: In a discussion of the 'Warka Vase' (from ancient Mesopotamia) the author suddenly jumps to Plato (Greece, a few thousand years later), then spends a couple of pages discussing Johan Huizinga, a 20th century Dutch philosopher.

All very interesting, no doubt, but I wanted to learn about ancient Mesopotamia, not Johan Huizinga's philosophy. Huizinga's relevance to the ancient Near East (if any) could have been summed up in a sentence or two.

Frequently as I read this book I found myself thinking, 'PLEASE can we get back to the point?'

You'll have gathered by now that I didn't like it.

(BTW, anyone who bought the book expecting lots about the city of Babylon may be doubly-disappointed. While Babylon gets a reasonable mention later in the book, the book's title would have been more accurate if the word 'Babylon' had been omitted.)

Another annoyance was the way the author sometimes makes highly improbable links and connections, and does so in such an off-handed way. His tone implies that there's nothing controversial about these statements, and that no one could possibly doubt them.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Aquilonian on 10 Sept. 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the best history books I've ever read. The author covers a huge period, almost 4,000 years, looking at the different types of society that flourished in this region without getting bogged down in tedious details of who invaded whom. He is an imaginative and creative writer, showing analogies between Mesopotamian societies and our own, but without presenting his informed speculations as facts and without imposing a modern mindset on ancient people who often thought very differently- despite having many of the same problems that we face today. Illuminating the present and assisting prediction of the possible future is surely the main point of studying history!

Although the author is Jewish he does not present Old Testament accounts as historical facts, but shows them to be myth and propaganda, same as most other contemporary accounts. Thus for example he mentions that the Bible's description of King Solomon's court would have been modelled on that of Assyrian society, not the reality of a minor tribal chieftain which is what Solomon would have been if he existed at all. This book has directed me to many other areas of further reading, by asking very basic questions which other histories skate over. For example- WHY did people first switch from hunter-gatherer Mesolithic life to agricultural Neolithic? The latter involved more hard work, less freedom, and poorer physical health- so why did they do it? Kriwaczek doesn't answer this question but he does at least ask it.

The author's autobiography, by the way, would be well worth reading if he ever writes it. Born in Austria before the War, fluent in eight languages, worked as a dentist all over the Middle East before switching to journalism- what a wealth of life experience!

My only criticism of this book is that it should have "Timeline" chart, and that approximate dates should be signposted more clearly in the text.
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