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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 5 Millennia of civilization, 11 Nov 2005
By 
Pieter Uys "Toypom" (Johannesburg) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: In Search Of The First Civilizations (Paperback)
This interesting book was adapted from the script of a popular TV series. Ambitious in scope, it attempts to describe the first 5000 years of our known civilizations. In its six chapters, the author provides a broad historical portrait of various cultures in order to find their legacy and spirit.
Iraq: The Cradle Of Civilization, explores the fertile crescent of the Sumerians, Babylonians and others, up to modern times and including the golden age of Baghdad. The chapter India: Empire Of Spirit, includes the early cultures of the Indus and the Ganges, plus religions that originated there, like Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism. It includes the periods of Islamic and British rule in the subcontinent.
There are illuminating passages on Confucius, Taoism and the contact with the West in the chapter China: Mandate Of Heaven, whilst Egypt: Habit Of Civilization, deals with the early dynastic period, the pyramid era, the spread of Christianity, the end of Paganism and the Islamic era. The achievements of the Aztecs, Maya and Olmecs are explored in Central America: Burden Of Time.
The last chapter is titled The Barbarian West. It contains information on, amongst other, the legacy of Greece, the rise of Rome, the Dark Ages, the Enlightenment and the roots of the Modern West. Plenty of maps throughout the text place the history in geographical context and are a great asset. In addition, there are 16 pages of colour plates with impressive photographs.
The book is for the lay reader as of course, no study of 6 civilizations can go into any great depth in one short book. It nevertheless provides enjoyable reading and much food for thought. The book concludes with a bibliographic essay discussing sources by theme, and an index.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Whirlwind Tour of Human History, 4 Sep 2008
By 
D. Evans - See all my reviews
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This review is from: In Search Of The First Civilizations (Paperback)
When I first brought this book I assumed it would describe the Early Civilisations of Sumer, Egypt, India, and the Americas, perhaps in the same vein as Glyn Daniel's 'The First Civilisations: The Archaeology of their origins'. I was therefore surprised and slightly disappointed to see that this was actually a quick trip through 5,000 years of Human history, from Ancient Sumeria to Saddam Hussein. But whatever disappointment I first had with the book began to disappear as I continued to be drawn in by the author's stirring prose. Michael Wood explains the origins of these early civilisations, and how they developed and grew into the modern societies that exist today. He analyses the history of Iraq, India, China, Egypt, Central America and the 'Barbarian' West in order to capture something of the essence and spirit of these cultures, and how they defined Civilisation. He also shows how the pendulum of history swings, by explaining how the powerful ancient civilisations of Iraq, Egypt, and China were overtaken and surpassed by Western Europe, a process that didn't get fully into swing until the 16th century AD. In order to give you an idea on the breadth of this book, in the last chapter, the Barbarian West, which is around 25 pages long, it explains the history of the West from the Greeks and Romans to the Dark Ages and Medieval period, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Founding of the USA, the Industrial Revolution, right up to the 21st century. As you can imagine, you cannot do justice to 2,500 years worth of continental history in only 25 pages, but Wood does not give you chronological guide to the period, but instead shows how Western Culture, be it arts, music, or science, came to dominate the world. This is not the best book Wood has written, but it's still better than most other History textbooks. Wood is an erudite writer, and he does a brilliant job of explaining and putting these historical periods in perspective. If you want a relatively quick guide through human history and the meaning and essence of Civilisation, then this book is a definite must have. Note: This book has been printed under another title, 'Legacy: Search for the Origins of Civilisation', based on the Michael Wood BBC Television Series of the same name.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Teasing, 30 Jun 2005
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This review is from: In Search Of The First Civilizations (Paperback)
The book freely admits that it is a beefed-up set of film scripts, reflecting the BBC series of the same name, so readers looking for something more robust may have to look elsewhere. It did have the feel of a series of essays, and Mr Wood does indulge in the occasional academic critique which would be more at home in a more formal text book. The book claims that it does not seek to give a full picture of the civilizations it investigates, only that it should act as a teaser for wider reading. I agree. Of course a 200 odd page book was never going to be big enough to deal in detail with the ancient Sumerians, Indians, Egyptians, Chinese, Americans and even the Barbarian West. Perhaps where the book may concern, is that it forgets to go back to base-one. It is perhaps too keen to impress with its pseudo-political points, and forgets to give a cohesive outline of what happened, when, where and why. However, if you have a vague idea of the general chronology and major players in ancient history, the book is an easy and useful addition to the library.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dazzling overview, 26 Jan 2006
This review is from: In Search Of The First Civilizations (Paperback)
In the ‘barbarian west’ we seem to view other eastern and older cultures as being less-advanced, less ‘civilised’. Over the past few hundred years western society has interfered with and meddled with countless other peoples of the world with a blinkered view of supremacy, but what about the time before?
Michael Wood examines the written and archaeological remains of ancient city civilisations in Iraq, India, China, Egypt and Central America to identify the beliefs and essence of these early cultures and looks at how they have changed and evolved over time.
At the heart of this book lies deep questions regarding civilisation and belief; belief in humanity, spirituality, religion, in ancestors, culture, past and future. This is a book to engage the senses, to make you consider the belief systems of today, whether that is religious, environmental or humanist. Using a broad historical perspective Wood gives an overview of immense power, comparing the identities of these past cultures and tracing the threads of the first cultural values through subsequent incarnations up to and including today. Most illuminating and enjoyable were his descriptions of traditions which have survived the passing of time, he is right that these are the things that really make history come to life.
More than anything it opened my eyes to the vast wealth of history and culture in the world. Until recently I admit to have been largely ignorant of the richness of the 5 first civilisations, and we westerners are poorer people for not knowing and recognising the achievements and power of the distant past.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Journeying towards a Lunar Wilderness, 31 Dec 2012
By 
Nicholas Casley (Plymouth, Devon, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: In Search Of The First Civilizations (Paperback)
This is the book to the original series that Michael Wood did for ITV (not BBC) back in 1992. The series (and the original book) was called `Legacy'. This is a review of the 2005 paperback edition, now called `In Search of the First Civilizations' presumably to make it accord more with Wood's other works in his `In Search of ...' format. There are about thirty small colour plates, mostly taken by the author. He also includes a bibliography and an index.

I do not own the original 1992 hardback edition, but if my experience of reviewing the paperback versions of original hardbacks for `In Search of Alexander' or `In Search of the Trojan War' is anything to go by, then the prospective purchaser will probably find it better to purchase a cheap copy of the original due to its possessing better maps and more illustrations than this newer paperback. That is because the new edition is - like the others in this series of paperbacks - probably not revised to any great extent. For example, the bibliography is not updated beyond a paragraph advertising Wood's own further works - and It is frankly amazing that in the twenty-first century a book is still published that has non-metric measurements, including that of temperature.

Like the original TV series, there are six chapters in this book. Indeed, Wood writes in his preface how each chapter is "expanded from the scripts of a series of film essays". As for his choice of the civilizations covered in his book, he stresses that his criteria depended "on the independent rise of large-scale urban life." (The word `civilisation' derives from the Latin for `town'.) Interestingly, he remarks how "all four great civilizations of the Old World arose on rivers, all of them in a narrow band around 30 degrees latitude in the temperate zone of the northern hemisphere: on the Euphrates and Tigris, the Nile, the Indus, and the Yellow River."

For each civilisation Wood tries to focus on its unique characteristics. Thus, in chapter one, which covers ancient Mesopotamia, Wood distinguishes it from the others by highlighting the division that grew there between nature and man: in the civilisations of India, China, and the Americas "the city and the natural environment remained part of an integrated cosmological structure", but in Mesopotamia there was a psychological break that saw man see itself distinct from the land he occupied. This, argues Wood, ultimately led to the modern Western way of seeing the world that the rest of the globe, with which the rest of the globe is now trying to catch up.

Maybe. But what makes Wood's writing of greater interest is how he follows through from the origins of each civilisation to the present day. Given that each civilisation covered could in itself be more copiously covered in a volume to itself - if not a whole library - Wood's attempts can only ever be superficial, focussing on one or two issues of each civilisation at a time. That's not to say that this book has no value; it clearly does, and it both serves as a useful introduction to each civilisation as well as allowing the reader to indulge in some kind of comparative analysis between them. Moreover, Wood has clearly read widely and thought deeply about critically important issues about civilisation's origins and thus had much to say that is philosophically interesting.

An example of this is Wood's treatment of India, which comprises the second chapter. With evidence of a shrine incredibly going back to 11000BC, Wood remarks how "India placed the spiritual quest at the centre of life in the way that no other civilization did. ... History is full of empires of the sword. India alone created an empire of the spirit." And China, the subject of chapter three? "The Chinese way was a vision of life unique to itself: as complete a revelation of `otherness' [as conceived in the Indo-European world] as it is possible to find on earth." In China, the word for `civilisation' is synonymous, not with `town' but with `writing'.

Wood reminds us that only India and China have maintained their ancient civilisations' identities in a recognisable form today. Not so in Egypt, the subject of chapter four, but for three thousand years, until the conquest of Alexander, "progress, change, new questions, new answers were simply not needed" in the Nile valley. Wood's task here is not to tell the history of that civilisation but rather to assess its nature, "its `great tradition', and the momentous transformations which eroded that character." He thus brings the story up-to-date to see how much of it remains in the modern Islamic republic.

This is what he does with all the others too. So, in the next chapter - on the Maya - he sets down "a key theme of our story: the survival of strands of an older culture alongside and even intermingled with its supplanter." What makes the civilisation of Meso-America unique (according to Wood) is that, "Where the Greeks explored the cosmos through geometry, and the Hindus through metaphysics, the Maya explored it through the mathematics of eternity. ... In the five hundred years since Columbus, these people have lived outwardly in Western time and Western history and yet all the while they have patiently tended a secret universe."

The final chapter confronts "The Barbarian West". This is a kind of epilogue that looks at how the older civilisations have interacted with the West, "the first culture to spread its way of life, values and languages right across the world." Controversially, Wood sees the ancient Greeks as more Asiatic than proto-Western, but fascinatingly invokes Bede living "out on the wild shores of Britain, with a religion from the Near East, a monasticism from Egypt and a written language from Italy." He seeks answers as to why small nations in northwest Europe came to dominate the world instead of the huge empires of China and India, the original home of so many of the world's technological inventions.

Here he makes a few questionable and disparaging statements about the West, but ends by returning to Mesopotamia's Uruk, the world's first city, now set "in a lunar wilderness, its once fertile fields ruined by ecological catastrophe" five millennia later. Having divorced ourselves from nature, our westernised global `civilisation' now seems to be taking the same route.
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5.0 out of 5 stars a (thought provoking) joy, 1 Nov 2013
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Michael Wood is one of the great communicators whether it in in his documentaries or in his writing. A story teller of the highest order who can make the past spring back to life. In this book he tackles a favourite theme, the interaction of civilisation by examining the great founder civilisations of humanity before looking at our own. Full of incites and anecdotes, it was an unstoppable story. And like all the great stories there is a moral, one that applies just as much today as it did to the first civilisations 5000 years ago.
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5.0 out of 5 stars History for the best reasons, 29 Oct 2013
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Casa das Flores (Costa da Prata, Portugal) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: In Search Of The First Civilizations (Paperback)
Easy reading with plenty of facts well presented; good bibliography list for further information and research.

Wood's not a dogmatic author, he's well aware that our perceptions of history are changing as more information becomes available; that;s why I like reading his work.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Good read, 4 Mar 2013
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This review is from: In Search Of The First Civilizations (Paperback)
As a general overview of ancient civilizations this is an excellent introduction. Easy to read without being too simplistic and certainly leads you onto a more in depth study of these fascinating times
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5.0 out of 5 stars InSearch of The First Cicilizations, 25 Mar 2011
This review is from: In Search Of The First Civilizations (Paperback)
This is a great read also a learning curve. As always Michael Woods
provides boundless iformation which makes the reader want to know more............A. Highly recomended read!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In Search of the First Civilizations, 23 May 2009
By 
Mr. N. Hill "Big Nige" (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: In Search Of The First Civilizations (Paperback)
I originally purchased this book on a whim and it has re-awakened my love of history. It has been some considerable time since I attended school, and over the years, I have watched some of Michael Wood's TV work. I find his presentation and delivery styles both warm, knowledgeable and entertaining.
This particular book is a brief and fascinating insight into Early Civilisations which I found to be eminently readable and very engaging. It has given me a thirst for more, and, because I like his written and verbal styles, I am purchasing his other "In search of..." books. I will review them all.
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In Search Of The First Civilizations
In Search Of The First Civilizations by Michael Wood (Paperback - 7 April 2005)
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