If you have an interest on the origins of man and the early civilisations of Europe, then this book should already have a space on your shelf. Brilliantly edited by Barry Cunliffe, the one time professor of European Archaeology at Oxford; this book gives you an insight into the development of human society in Europe from 700,000 Years ago, up until the age of the Vikings.
In short, it is an amazing guide to several millennia of prehistory and early history. The book's chapters cover subjects such as:
1. The Peopling of Europe, 700,000-40,000 Years before the Present.
2. The Upper Palaeolithic Revolution.
3. The Mesolithic Age.
4. The First Farmers.
5. The Transformation of Early Agrarian Europe: The later Neolithic and Copper Ages, 4500-2500 BC.
6. The Palace Civilisations of Minoan Crete and Mycenaean Greece, 2000-1200 BC.
7. The Emergence of Elites: Earlier Bronze Age Europe, 2500-1300 BC.
8. The Collapse of Aegean Civilisation at the end of the Late Bronze Age.
9. Reformation in Barbarian Europe, 1300-600 BC.
10. Iron Age Societies in Western Europe and Beyond, 800-140 BC.
11. Thracians, Scythians, and Dacians, 800 BC-AD 300.
12. The Impact of Rome on Barbarian Society, 140 BC-AD 300.
13. Barbarian Europe, AD 300-700.
Each chapter is written by an expert on the subject, so we have Barry Cunliffe on Celtic culture, Andrew Sherratt on the Neolithic, and so on.
Because the chapters are often written by different authors, the book often varies in quality, as some sections are slightly better written than others. For instance I found the first chapter by Clive Gamble an interesting read, but I found a few others slightly dry and plodding. That said, the book makes up for this in the sheer wealth of information and facts it provides. The book has many maps, diagrams, charts and graphs, which helps explain the development of such things as tools, or the changes in European vegetation and enviroment.
The book's text is also accompanied by excellent photographs, both black and white and colour. These display photographs of archaeological sites or finds. They compliment the book very well.
Overall, this is a brilliant book, but it certainly isn't for absolute beginners, unless they are brave. The book does have it's downsides in that it can be difficult for the layperson at times. That said, a worthy read for those who'd like to know how civilisation first emerged in Western Europe.