Top positive review
7 people found this helpful
on 1 December 2003
Around the world and through the ages, "Civilizations" takes the reader on a journey of discovery. Exotic lands, inhospitable climates and tantalising glimpses of forgotten cultures are all here.
The author has taken the approach of classifying civilisations not by their technological prowess or social structure, but by the geography in which they sustain themselves. Thus, chapters cover icy wastes, grassland, jungle, desert, etc,.
I was tempted to read this book by the promise of historical anecdotes and a wider coverage of human civilisation than most authors offer. Although Egypt, Greece and China have their place in this book, the reader is also allowed to stay for a while among the Mongol horde, voyage with the pioneering navigators of Polynesia and shiver in the mountains of Tibet.
Emphasis is placed on tradelinks and resources, but the author is quite happy to allow the figures of history to emerge from the landscape and make their presence known. There are quotes and extracts, as well as observations about the reasons for these expressions.
The prose is quite dry in places, yet in others it is as if you have the whole scene made real in front of you. When I read of the horrendous conditions of Frederik Hendrik Island, and the curious way in which its inhabitants survived there, I could feel my skin crawl and my boots fill with ooze, even as I sat on the bus into work.
Considering the great number of pages and the detail on each of them, I decided even before opening the book that it would be best read by selecting the most enigmatic culture and working my way down to the most familiar. I dip in, read some fascinating passage or enthralling chapter, and wait another day to read the next.
Suffice to say, I haven't finished the book yet, but this is definitely a companion for life - If only for the sheer variety of cultures on offer. I didn't fully appreciate until now how diverse civilisation could be. Not just that such and such a thing might be possible, but that it had already happened and happened sucessfully - Despite close-minded historians and paranoid nations belittling the achievements of lands they could claim no cultural connection with. For this, we need look no further than Great Zimbabwe or the nation of Meroe to see that mighty civilisations have been denied their rightful place in world history simply because archaeologists of the West refused to acknowledge that black Africans might build empires to rival those of Egypt or Rome.
This book can open up a whole new world. What's surprising is that it's the world we already live in.