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Understanding Early Civilizations: A Comparative Study Paperback – 16 Apr 2007

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Product details

  • Paperback: 774 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; New Ed edition (16 April 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521705452
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521705455
  • Product Dimensions: 17.7 x 4.3 x 25.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 624,426 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

'This work is a milestone in the scientific study of sociocultural evolution … I know of no other comparative study of early civilizations of similar scope, depth, and originality.' Philosophy of the Social Sciences

'Its comprehensiveness of theme, readiness to pursue profound if difficult and sometimes not readily answerable questions, and impressive control of a wide range of sources, reflect distinguished thought and dedicated effort … a major achievement.' The International History Review

'Understanding Early Civilizations is the capstone of Trigger's remarkable archaeological career. This is, quite simply, a definitive work.' Brian Fagan, University of California, Santa Barbara

'Trigger's study is monumental and magisterial. It is a work to treasure and digest for years to come.' Philip L. Kohl, Wellesley College

'The latest in Trigger's impressive string of ground-breaking works … An astounding work of scholarship.' Boyce Richardson

'This book is an extraordinary undertaking and a great achievement … It provides an accessible introduction to the problems and priorities of cross-cultural comparison and approaches to early civilisations.' Antiquity

Book Description

A detailed comparative study of the seven best-documented early civilizations: ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, Shang China, the Aztecs, peoples in the Valley of Mexico, the Classic Maya, the Inka, and the Yoruba. Equal attention is paid to similarities and differences in their sociopolitical organization, economic systems, religion, and culture.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 5 Feb. 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The idea for the book is very good, and Trigger seems to have studied all the relevant research material, but the way he presents his comparisons could be made much easier to read by a good editor. Having the references in the main text rather than footnotes interrupts the reader's flow. When he compares topics, it would be easier to follow if he used sub-headings making clear which civilization he was referring to - I kept finding I had to refer back to earlier passages.
He makes assertions about the societies and their practices for times before there are any records that seem without justification.
There is a lot of information here, but I feel it could have been better presented, and I think some of the assumptions he makes will seem unjustified when future research is published
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Sue de Nimes on 23 Jun. 2011
Format: Paperback
This book is aimed at (very) serious students of archaeology. The late Prof.Trigger compares seven early civilizations: Mesopotamia, Dynastic Egypt, Shang China, Classic Maya, Valley of Mexico, the Incas and Yoruba (Benin). It is a scholarly and weighty tome, essential reading on some archaeology degree courses. I forced myself to read all 700-odd pages of it, but boy was it heavy going!

Trigger undertakes to determine similarities and differences between the early civilizations and to this end provides a wealth of detail gleaned from his survey of hundreds of academic publications. The examples repay close attention; he is particularly strong on the Inca and Aztec civilizations. Disappointingly, he omits the Indus Valley civilization on the dubious grounds of lack of strong evidence.

He (rather rashly) concludes that "early civilizations possessed one general form of class structure, only two main forms of sociopolitical organization, and one set of key religious beliefs".

In short, a magisterial study - but only for the truly committed.
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0 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Dimitrios Pantazis on 26 Nov. 2007
Format: Paperback
Ia one of the best book concerning the history of the ancient societies as well as the impact of key funcctions in their development and their evolution .
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 3 reviews
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Challenging comparative history 11 July 2008
By T. Carlsson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
History can be written in many different ways. Many books on ancient history put an excessive focus on political events, with endless sequences of "Prince A inherited the kingship from his father B, but was soon assassinated by usurper C". Other books focus on very narrow topics without general interest. You will not understand much of ancient societies by collecting bare facts from books like that. Bruce Trigger's book is the antithesis of narrowly focused history. It's a superb comparison of seven early civilizations on many different levels (as you can see from the table of contents). The primary historical sources from these civilizations are not directly comparable, but Trigger's critical analysis of secondary literature is to my knowledge the most complete comparative synthesis ever written on this topic.

Needless to say, nobody can be an expert on seven different civilizations. But on the other hand the benefit of having just one author is that the analysis remains consistent across civilizations, which is a prerequisite for meaningful comparisons. As a result, this book is much more informative than multi-author collections where each author has chosen his own approach to his "own" civilization. But I think the biggest positive in this book is that Trigger is well acquainted with modern anthropological thought. Especially in the introduction and the concluding chapters, the combination of comparative history and cultural anthropology produces a wealth of insights. It is particularly interesting to learn how a small elite exercised extensive control over the common people in all of these early civilizations, and how this relationship formed the basic structure of society.

The one problem I encountered when reading this book was that seven civilizations is a large number. When you compare this many units to each other, the comparison inevitably takes the form of a list (listing the characteristics of civ1, then civ2, civ3 and so on). There's nothing wrong with that, but reading information in list form can be a bit tedious and requires a lot of concentration. I recommend this book to people who have a serious interest in ancient history and are determined to learn as much as possible on this subject. The title of this book is highly appropriate. After reading this book you will definitely be on your way toward understanding early civilizations.
32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
A great comparative review of early civilizations 3 Sept. 2003
By César González Rouco - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
In the last few years I have tried and read books offering a broad scope and general overviews of history, sociology, anthropology and religion (you may well say that globalization has reached social science too). With that aim in mind, I have read this book.
The description on the approach of the book provided by the "Book reviews" is fairly accurate. Therefore, I will only point out that this book shows both the depths of the present state of knowledge and ignorance on the matter: all relevant issues of 7 early civilizations are compared and the conclusions are basically negative, i.e., current rival explanations are shown to be defective, and the author expects that psychology and the neurosciences may help to provide for better explanations in the future, but the author does not set forth any new paradigma or global explanation on the subject.
Although the content is very interesting, the book often happens to be a tough reading; therefore I have rated the book as a 4 start book(content: 5 starts; pleasure of reading: 3 to 1).
Other books I would recommend to read are the following: "The Dynamics of Global Dominance. European Overseas Empires 1415-1980", by David Abernethy, the trilogy on the Information Age ("The Rise of the Network Society", "The power of Identity", "End of Millennium") by Manuel Castells, "Pre-industrial societies" by Patricia Crone, "The History of Government" by S.E. Finer, "Power and privilege" by Gerhard Lenski, "The world economy. A millennial perspective" by Angus Maddison, "The Rise of the West" by William H. McNeill, "The Phenomenon of Religion", by Moojan Momen and "World History. A new perspective" by Clive Ponting.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
For grad school and professionals 16 May 2007
By Gray Graffam - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
An excellent book for the serious academic interested in the subject. Not suitable as a classroom text, because of the level of knowledge required, as well as the length and complexity of the volume.
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