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32 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A European perspective
Following his book 'Facing the Ocean', Cunliffe has written a masterful history of Europeans, and demonstrates how the geography of Europe was instrumental in our development. In his own words, "The complex interaction of human groups with their environment, and with each other." The breadth of the book is enormous, but he skilfully and easily leads the reader through...
Published on 16 Mar 2009 by Gordon Toumaniantz

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good book - needs editing
This is an interesting and engaging book, all the better because Prof Gunliff does not hestitate to speculate boldly on sparse evidence. This is in the nature of the subject. I also appreciated his careful sketch of the geographical features of Europe which early man was able to exploit in gaining a living, creating cultures and in the trading/raiding/conquering formation...
Published on 27 Aug 2010 by E. Clarke


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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good book - needs editing, 27 Aug 2010
By 
E. Clarke "Cambusken" (Glasgow, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This is an interesting and engaging book, all the better because Prof Gunliff does not hestitate to speculate boldly on sparse evidence. This is in the nature of the subject. I also appreciated his careful sketch of the geographical features of Europe which early man was able to exploit in gaining a living, creating cultures and in the trading/raiding/conquering formation of inter-cultural relationships and (unstable, if only in the long term) state-like entities among the "barbarians".

My major gripe is that it is so poorly edited, especially as the initial impact is of an expensively produced book. Most obviously, the Overview for Chapter Eleven (about the rise of Rome!) appears as part of the previous chapter. This slackness is apparent throughout the book. At first you feel the lack of a consistent timescale merely reflects the different chronologies of different zones of Europe, but it soon becomes clear that the repitition and backtracking is an editorial oversight. As are the inconsistencies (or even mistakes) in dates and the naming of geographical features. The maps take some careful reading, because of the use of closely toned colours, supposedly to differentiate areas. They often use different names from that used in the text (or perhaps the Dneper is a different river from the Dnieper, but one is named in the text and the other on the map). Most irritating is his use of a very recondite vocabulary, presumably derived from archaeological usage. With a smattering of Latin you probably (but I would hesitate to say usually) could make out what is meant. Without some Greek, you are sunk.
That said, it was still informative and enjoyable, refocusing (though really not enough) away from Classical/Historical accounts of the later part of this period. I notice some of the reviews are dismissive of the actual academic side of it. I find, given the editorial limitations and the scope for speculation, that it is very stimulating. Not sure aggressive young men on the look out for likely raiding success tells the whole story - Cunliff keeps coming back to this - but there is enough about trading, intermarriage, and cultural assimilation to balance that. Well worth reading
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105 of 124 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too basic, lots of errors and speculations, 25 Jan 2010
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This book is a quick summary of European prehistory, ancient and early medieval history. I bought it chiefly for the prehistoric section (two thirds of the book). It is very readable and well illustrated, but so basic that it reminded me of a secondary school textbook (although a nice one). I didn't learn much. I was annoyed by the fact that Barry Cunliffe speculates a lot and gives his personal opinion everywhere, but not enough archaeological data that would allow the reader to draw his own conclusions. Archaeological periods are usually mentioned without starting and ending dates, which I find unacceptable.

The first three chapters (86 pages) are not about history or archaeology, but consist of a boring description of European geography and geology. There is very little about the central European and Italian Bronze Age; only to sentences about the Unetice culture and not a single mention of the Tumulus culture (1600-1200 BCE), nor of the Terramare culture (1700-1150 BCE), two essential periods to understand the development of Celtic and Italic cultures. There is very little on north-eastern Europe as well.

For a book specifically about European (pre)history, I found that there was an undue emphasis on the Near East (Anatolia, Levant, Egypt) and much too little about Europe beyond Greece, Italy and the Balkans.

Cunliffe keep insisting that no major migration took place between the Pontic steppes and the rest of Europe, despite overwhelming genetic evidence to the contrary. He claims that Indo-European languages came with Neolithic farmers from Anatolia (p.137). This goes against all linguistic studies that date the split of Indo-European languages to 4000-3000 BCE from their Pontic steppe homeland, much later than the spread of agriculture to Europe (7000-5000 BCE). Archaeological evidence confirms that bronze technology, horse-riding, single graves and the rise of patrilinear hierarchical societies all originated in the Eurasian steppes, and moved progressively westward until reaching the Atlantic coast of Europe. Cunliffe reports all this in the book, but repeats obstinately that all this change happened without substantial migration.

On pages 99-101 and 111, the author argues that the Neolithic Greek and Balkanic populations descended directly from the Mesolithic population, and not from Near-Eastern immigrants. How could Indo-European languages spread with agriculture (as he believes) without a migration of population ? In fact, Cunliffe's claim has been completely disproved by DNA studies as well. The Balkans and Greece are much closer genetically to Anatolia and the Levant than to the rest of Europe. This much was clear beyond reasonable doubt when the book was written in 2007.

Barry Cunliffe even argues that the Etruscans did not have any Near Eastern origins. On p. 250, talking about the rise of the Etruscan civilization, he pompously and wrongfully declares that "it is now generally accepted that development was continuous with no influxes of new people". Not only is it not generally accepted, but once again DNA tests have confirmed a Near-Eastern origin both for modern and ancient Tuscans, but also for cattle lineages found in Tuscany today.

The author's dogged refusal to admit a spread of Proto-Celtic people, culture and language from central to western Europe has for consequence that his view of Bronze Age Europe is flawed from the start. On pp. 254-258, he is amazed at the similarity of weapons and feasting gears in Iberia, France, Britain and Ireland in the period 1200 to 800 BCE, and attempts to explain it simply by the existence of maritime networks. It does not ocur to him that this Proto-Celtic culture might have sprung from a common source. Maritime networks don't explain the presence of the same objects inland, far from the coasts. He also does the unforgivable mistake of illustrating the late Western European Bronze Age with a map of P-Celtic and Q-Celtic languages based on the earliest Roman accounts of Celtic languages dating from over 1000 years later ! It is unlikely that the P vs Q split had already occurred around 1000 BCE. How can a serious historian make such a basic anachronism ?

Without trying to nitpick, I noted that some dates were quite inconsistent in different parts of the book. For instance, on p.95 Cunliffe writes that farming reached Crete from Anatolia in 7000 BC, but on p.174 it is 6000 BCE. One thousand years is a long time for such an imprecision.

The next criticism focuses on the author's unrepenting Anglo-centrism. On p.181 he claims that "the earliest appearance of regular bronze-using economy is to be found in Britain and Ireland in the period 2200-2000 BC, after which it spread eastwards and southwards through Europe". The reality is quite different. The Bronze Age started in the Near East, Caucasus and Pontic steppe from 3500 BC, then spread to the Carpathians, Balkans and Greece around 3000-2500 BC, then Central Europe around 2300 BC, and only reached the Atlantic fringe around 2200-2000 BC. I don't know who is is fooling writing that it spread the other way round.

Along the same vein I was shocked to read this passage on p.28 : "At a simple level it would be possible to see the Mediterranean world - a centre of innovation from the third millennium BC - as a core for which the rest of Europe served as periphery. There is a degree of validity in this generalization. Extending the argument, one could say that things only began to change in the seventh and eighth centuries AD when the focus of innovation started to shift to the Atlantic fringes of Europe, where it remained until the end of the nineteenth century." What is he saying is that the Atlantic coast of Europe (the British Isles and western France and Iberia) led scientific/technological innovation in Europe from the early Middle Ages. This is just absurd. During the medieval period it was first the Byzantine Empire then Italy then progressively France and Germany that led innovation. Britain really started influencing the rest of Europe from the late 17th and early 18th century onwards, but along with France, Germany and Austro-Hungary. In France, new ideas came from Paris or eastern France, rarely western France. Iberia hardly led Europe through its scientific innovations, mostly because of the oppressing religious climate under the Inquisition.

Cunliffe speculates (e.g. p.139) that the Western European seafaring tradition and the social prestige attached to exploring unknown territories and colonizing them have their roots in the spread of farming during the Neolithic. In other words, he is suggesting that the Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch and British colonialism can be explained by what people did 6000 to 8000 years ago ! I am not going to list all the aberrations contained in this book, but you will understand why I only grant it two stars. I won't give it only one star because the writing style is pleasant and the illustrations are nice.
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32 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A European perspective, 16 Mar 2009
By 
Gordon Toumaniantz (charente maritime,france) - See all my reviews
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Following his book 'Facing the Ocean', Cunliffe has written a masterful history of Europeans, and demonstrates how the geography of Europe was instrumental in our development. In his own words, "The complex interaction of human groups with their environment, and with each other." The breadth of the book is enormous, but he skilfully and easily leads the reader through each time zone. He tells us that without the 'gentle intervention' of his publisher, the book would have been very much longer. I for one, wish she hadn't intervened !
This is a book we have been waiting for for a long time. I hope it receives the acclaim it deserves, with not too much 'knocking' from those entrenched in previous interpretations.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Never to be bettered, 21 April 2012
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This review is from: Europe Between the Oceans: 9000 BC-AD 1000 (Paperback)
If you are interested in the topic, as I am, this book is a tour de force and is unlikely ever to be bettered. If the topic doesn't interest you or you are just starting to be interested in the subject, then you will find it hard going and you should look for something less all-encompassing.
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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Challenging and Superb, 1 July 2010
By 
V. Morgan "A Sad Boring Pedant ..." (York, England) - See all my reviews
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This is the type of book that Archaeology has needed for a long long time.

It wears its scholastic depth lightly and it is very well written. Lots of contenious and challenging
stuff here but it has the firm underpinning of academic work to support it.

Ignore Wilmington's tired pseudo scholastic criticism ( if you cant work out how artefacts traded at sea ports make their way inland then...jeeeeez ) ....

Face it are you going to take a chance on purchasing this book on the basis of:
Cunliffe...President, Council for British Archaeology, menber of the Ancient Monuments Advisory Committee of English Heritage, since 1984, Member, Advisory Committee of The Discovery Programme (Ireland), since 1991, Governor, Museum of London
Fellow, Society of Antiquaries of London , Chair, Advisory Committee for the e-journal Internet Archaeology
Knighted on 17 June 2006, Chair of English Heritage in September 2008 and Chairman of The British Museum Friends or...some bloke on Amazon...?

Cracking book...dont have to agree with everything in it but its a superb bit of work.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What has happened to Christianity, 30 Jan 2010
By 
E. Woolley (Gascony) - See all my reviews
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This book is very readable and beautifully produced. It would be an excellent introduction to the pre-history of Europe for the general reader. However when it comes to the first millenium AD there is an enormous gap. If you look at the index, there are several entries for Islam but under Christianity - nothing. The point is not so much that the author ignores the birth of Christ, although many would think that bad enough, but this is the millenium when the Roman Church established a political and cultural domination of Europe which would have a profound influence on the next millenium. As a result we are left with a distorted view if history.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A splendid book, 25 Nov 2013
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This review is from: Europe Between the Oceans: 9000 BC-AD 1000 (Paperback)
Very well researched and absolutely accessible writing. Gave this as a present, and it was very well received by the recipient.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Just buy it., 24 Nov 2013
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This review is from: Europe Between the Oceans: 9000 BC-AD 1000 (Paperback)
Lovely book ! Such a breadth of coverage and full of interesting and exciting hypothesis about the origins of our civilisation. Just buy it , - you'll see what I mean. Gosh, I wish there books like this when I was younger !
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating subject, 21 Oct 2013
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This review is from: Europe Between the Oceans: 9000 BC-AD 1000 (Paperback)
I have long been fascinated by prehistory and this is a must have to add to my books on the topic, it is well written by an expert in the field what more can one ask for.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Read, 17 Sep 2013
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This is a great read about the arrival of people on the tiny peninsular of Euroasia called Europe, all squeezed into its historical context.
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Europe Between the Oceans: 9000 BC-AD 1000
Europe Between the Oceans: 9000 BC-AD 1000 by Barry Cunliffe (Paperback - 1 Mar 2011)
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