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The Early History of the Ancient Near East, 9000-2000 B.C. Paperback – 1 May 1990


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Product details

  • Paperback: 230 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 2nd edition (1 May 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226586588
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226586588
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 193,952 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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The historian of the early periods of the ancient Near East faces many problems. Read the first page
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Format: Paperback
This book, on one of the most seminal eras in human history, is an unforgivably poor read. Not only does it harp on obscure archeological controversies to the detriment of the big picture, but it is so badly written/translated that it is often impossible to understand or even remember what the author is referring to - I had to read innumerable paragraphs over and over to catch the gist.

I did get a good idea of the outlines of what was going on, after much struggle and needless effort with the awful text. The story begins with the neolithic era, when agriculture and animal husbandry are re-creating human possibility. For the first time, humans are becoming sedentary, developing ceramics for cooking and trade, and beginning to specialize in terms of occupation and political hierarchy. Once communities were established, they begin to spread into larger less inhabitable areas, with denser populations and entirely new ambitions of power. This is the time of city states and eventually proto-nation states, where administrative structures and systems had to be created to cope with water management issues, defense, and food stock management. The first writing systems were born, war became a science as did farming, and large-scale architecture was invented. This is extraordinary.

Nonetheless, though this is the time of the rise of Babylon and similar political entities, the reader gets very little flavor for what life was like and what issues people faced. Indeed, from the vaste amount of time covered, it seems astonishing to me: a social hierarchy arose with rigid caste roles that lasted 700 years in Susiana, for example. Unfortunately, we get little more than facts like that.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

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60 of 62 people found the following review helpful
Difficult to read, but well worth the effort 16 Feb. 2005
By David Oldacre - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book along with two others because of a major gap in my knowledge in the period of Mesopotamia before the 1st Dynasty of Babylon, and because I wanted to have much better understanding of how the earliest civilizations developed from the simple humble settlements. This book provides and excellent and detailed review of the subject. The author, Hans J Nissen, describes the development of the early settlements in ancient Mesopotamia, and the reasons why it was here rather than elsewhere in the ancient Near East that these settlements first became City States, and then into the larger regional and national states of Sargon of Akkad and the 1st Babylonian dynasty of which Hammurabi is the best known ruler.
The reason, according to Nissen, is the dramatic effect of climate change in Mesopotamia during the second half of the third millennium BC, and the need for inter-community cooperation. As the effects became more threatening and pervasive, (along with a change in the course of the Euphrates River) increased competition between cities changed this from a voluntary co-operation to one which was compulsory. Hence the development of organised labour to build canals and other infrastructures in order to maintain the basic amenities for survival, as well as for ensuring the continuation of trade which was particularly important for the acquisition of natural resources which are generally not locally available in Mesopotamia.
There is very little speculative opinion in this book and Nissen is very careful to identify what are the limits of our knowledge, and what we can interpret from the archaeological record. His approach is to identify what has been found, what can be deduced from the findings. He is very firm in explaining what should not be deduced and the reasons why..
The time frame, as the title indicates, is for the period 9000-2000BC, with a focus on the earliest Mesopotamian states, and most specifically Babylonia which was the area most affected by the climate change. This includes a thorough description and analysis of their relationships with their immediate neighbours to the west and north in Syria, Anatolia, and Kurdistan, as well as those with the regions of Elam, and the Zagros Mountains of Iran to the east. Nissen uses the generally accepted chronology, which is no great relevance in view of the general theme of his book.
The book is well structured in six chapters:
1: Sources and Problems
2: The Time of Settlement c 9000-6000BC (Neololithic, Hassuna, Halaf periods)
3: From Isolated Settlement to Town c 6000-3200BC (Ubaid and early Uruk periods)
4: Early High civilization c 3200-2800BC (Late Uruk, Jamdet Nasr, Early Dynastic I periods)
5: Rival City States c 2800-2350BC (Historical - Early Dynastic 2, 3 periods)
6: First Territorial States c 2350-2000BC (Akkad & immediate post-Akkad period)
There are some 70 charts, diagrams, illustrations, photographs, and maps which are of great help to the understanding, and a 7 page bibliography organized on a chapter by chapter basis.
I have to admit that at times I found the book extremely difficult to read . I am not sure whether it was due to the translation from the German, or because of the particular emphasis in the book on the need to be careful about what can be deduced from the evidence. There were numerous instances where I found it necessary to read a particularly long sentence several times to ensure that I had properly understood what was being said. Apart from that slight difficulty I found this book to be extremely informative and balanced in its treatment of the subject.
In summary, the best part of the book for me are the first four chapters, primarily because it explained the development of the technical innovations in writing, pottery, buildings, and other artefacts which occurred during this early period. Although the book didn't explicitly say so, it seems that the earliest governments were originally created by the wealthy and powerful primarily to protect themselves against the loss of their wealth. Some things never seem to change.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Magnificent story, poorly written 4 Mar. 2013
By Charles Marlin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I share the frustration of Mr. Crawford, another reviewer, in several respects. On the one hand, the story to be told is important, fascinating, even summoning: how people developed from roving hunter-gatherers to city-dwellers. On the other hand, the text seems needlessly difficult to follow. I have read plenty of texts that were difficult because the subject was difficult; but this book is simply poorly written (or translated). It's beyond "poor"; it's sadistic. What fiend would visit such prose on the public! It desperately needs a firm editor (or co-author) who is willing to revise, clarify, even paraphrase in order to reduce long paragraphs of repetitive half-thoughts to a few crisp, informative sentences.
One also hopes that the state of archeological investigation has made progress during the 20 plus years since this book was published. A generation of scholars has had time to examine the artifacts and their interpretations.
And still, I am willing to jack-hammer my way through. I am in the middle of my second reading. But I would like to find a better book. Is there a more coherent and straightforward telling of the same story out there?
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Great read 23 April 2007
By Commentor - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
You don't have to be in an Archeology class (like me) to appreciate this book. It is a quick-reader full of well flowing information. Its not too technical though, so its great for those with minor understandings of the period, or the field of study in general. So many people focus on Ancient Egypt or Babylon, but what about BEFORE then. Its an increadibley important time period, and what sorts of things happened may surprise you!!
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Birth of Civilization made dull, often incomprehensible 22 Jan. 2009
By Robert J. Crawford - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book, on one of the most seminal eras in human history, is an unforgivably poor read. Not only does it harp on obscure archeological controversies to the detriment of the big picture, but it is so badly written/translated that it is often impossible to understand or even remember what the author is referring to - I had to read innumerable paragraphs over and over to catch the gist.

I did get a good idea of the outlines of what was going on, after much struggle and needless effort with the awful text. The story begins with the neolithic era, when agriculture and animal husbandry are re-creating human possibility. For the first time, humans are becoming sedentary, developing ceramics for cooking and trade, and beginning to specialize in terms of occupation and political hierarchy. Once communities were established, they begin to spread into larger less inhabitable areas, with denser populations and entirely new ambitions of power. This is the time of city states and eventually proto-nation states, where administrative structures and systems had to be created to cope with water management issues, defense, and food stock management. The first writing systems were born, war became a science as did farming, and large-scale architecture was invented. This is extraordinary.

Nonetheless, though this is the time of the rise of Babylon and similar political entities, the reader gets very little flavor for what life was like and what issues people faced. Indeed, from the vaste amount of time covered, it seems astonishing to me: a social hierarchy arose with rigid caste roles that lasted 700 years in Susiana, for example. Unfortunately, we get little more than facts like that. While the author explains why we can't say much more from the archeological record even when written sources exist, it goes on and on and recounts which academic believes what, etc. While scientifically rigorous, it is a boring plod, demanding not because of any difficult reasoning, but merely because it is so poorly presented.

Furthermore, practically nothing is said about languages from the period, little regional overview is offered (i.e. what was given to and taken from ancient Egypt?), and the significance of what was invented in never put into context. These gaps - in a book already 20 years old, so surely out of date already - frustrated me on every page.

Not recommended. I am sure there are better books elsewhere. This is a book for undergraduate students, not the general reader.
Hans a hero 12 May 2014
By jeff - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Hans J. Nissen is a hero. He is the vital missing link which connects the treasures of German archaeology and their excavations at Uruk with the English speaking world. Uruk was the first great city in history and is where writing was invented over 5000 years ago. Sadly thorough most information relating to this fascinating archaeological site is locked away in German libraries and would never have reached a larger world audience if it weren't for Han Nissen. Though this book doesn't focus on Uruk it remains a great primer for those seeking knowledge of the fascinating Sumerian civilization where Uruk reached its height as a mega-city long before Stonehenge existed. We must continue the good work of Hans Nissen and dig deeper into the evidence, for there we will uncover a lost and forgotten world which led to modern civilization as we know it today
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