Top positive review
81 people found this helpful
A really good book which fills a BIG gap!
on 22 July 2010
To start with - this was not at all the book I thought it was - I read the title "Babylon" and was expecting it to be all about the Ziggurat, the hanging gardens, the wealth, the power etc etc of the famous city. What the book is really about is (as so often these days - a real publishers' trick to get books off shelves) in the "sub-title": "Mesopotamia and the birth of civilisation". So it starts way, way, earlier than I had thought it would and there is less about Babylon itself.
But please don't think I am complaining, because it is a really terrific book, and far better for what I wanted (filling in my utter lack of knowledge about what goes "before" Philip/Alexander, the Persian Empire, Carthage etc). Kriwacek takes us back to the very start of civilisation in Mesopotamia and goes on from there. On the way he shakes very thoroughly any sense of Western superiority that readers may still have as he recounts how writing, science, art and architecture were forging ahead here when the inhabitants of Europe were clinging to a very marginal existence. The story of each of the major cities and its type of civilisation is told carefully by reference to excellent sources, and with scrupulously fair recognitiion of where the main areas of controversy lie. What is more it does all link into Babylon, bacuse he shows how each step in the development in Mesopotamia manifested itself within the Babylonian culture when it finally developed (an odd thought, given how early it was).
Kriwacek writes hugely well and engagingly - it appears that his route to writing the book was essentially the curiosity which brought me to reading it (what went before X and Y?) but from the point of view of someone who knows the area as it is now, well (though his BBC work). It may just be good writing but the book conveys a sense of enjoyment in the discoveries and enthusiasm which make you feel that he simply loved the research - jokes about textual infelicities, and asides about impressions which a text conveys mean that the stories leap from the page. I am generally very sniffy about modern parallels, but the ones he used were clever, well chosen and not over done - indeed given the gaps in material I found them positively helpful in assisting one to recreate the picture.
All in all, a wonderful book - definitely in my top 3 so far this year - and I shall be off to the British Museum this weekend to look at their Mesopotamian collection with new eyes!