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The Discovery of Middle Earth: Mapping the Lost World of the Celts Hardcover – 20 Dec 2013

3.3 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (20 Dec. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039308163X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393081633
  • Product Dimensions: 16.8 x 3.3 x 24.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 759,206 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


[A] daring theory.... thrilling. --Laura Miller

Fascinating...The historical value of Robb's vivid portrait of Celtic culture is unquestionable. --Wendy Smith

Presenting one of the most astonishing, significant discoveries in recent memory, Robb, winner of the Duff Cooper Prize and Ondaatje Award for The Discovery of France, upends nearly everything we believe about the history or, as he calls it, 'protohistory' of early Europe and its barbarous Celtic tribes and semimythical Druids . Like the vast and intricate geographical latticework that Robb has uncovered, the book unfurls its secrets in an eerie, magnificent way a remarkable, mesmerizing, and bottomless work. "

[A] daring theory . thrilling. --Laura Miller"

[A] daring theory . thrilling.--Laura Miller"

Upends nearly everything we believe about the history of early Europe.--Gabe Habash"

Combines travelogue and historical detective story . The work of a man to whom the past is vividly present.--Ian Morris"

Fascinating The historical value of Robb's vivid portrait of Celtic culture is unquestionable.--Wendy Smith"

Raises intriguing questions about the relationship between tribe and empire, local identity and larger superstructure.--Rachel Donadio

Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This appears to be the paperback version of Mr. Robb's previous book...

"The Ancient Paths: Discovering the Lost Map of Celtic Europe."

Personally, I don't think putting soft covers on it and changing the title to allude to Tolkien makes the thesis any more believable than it was before. Sorry and all that.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Badly written so at first it seems cranky nonsense, but the wealth of evidence plus contemporary accounts win one over to a fascinating window into early history.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As described and rapid service
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x97cf2ae0) out of 5 stars 63 reviews
50 of 52 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x97bf9db0) out of 5 stars Interesting, challenging and thoughtful 15 Nov. 2013
By Bookreporter - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The Celts of Europe, a loosely organized cultural group that shared language and religion, have remained fairly mysterious for historians and others. Because they didn’t write down much about their beliefs, rituals or laws, we are left with outsider accounts, primarily those of Roman writers. But it has always been obvious that the Celts helped shape Europe from the foundation of cities to material and artistic expressions. What Graham Robb suggests in his latest book is that the Celts, from Gaul all the way to Britain, shaped Europe in ways never before appreciated or even understood, by creating a map of the known world.

By looking at the placement of Celtic towns and sacred sites, and carefully mapping them by latitude, longitude and other measurements, Robb saw a pattern begin to emerge indicating that the Celts had a more sophisticated understanding of the world and a greater grasp of science than previously believed. Starting with the road, known as the Heraklean Way, which ran across the Iberian Peninsula as early as the sixth century BCE, Robb connects various ancient and contemporary towns to each other, illustrating what he thinks is not just a systematic ordering of the world by the Celts but a reflection of the worlds they felt existed above and below as well (hence this world as Middle Earth, a concept famously borrowed by Tolkien).

The science of the Celts, argues Robb, has been so overlooked because it is not the monumental feats of engineering we find with the Romans, Egyptians and other early civilizations. And there are no Celtic texts explaining their views on nature, earth or the cosmos. Instead, they may have been brilliant surveyors, mapmakers whose greatest map was totally to scale and incorporated their ideas about nature, earth and cosmos in one holistic schema.

If even part of Robb’s theory is true, it would change how we think about the Celts and early European history. If nothing else, it is an exercise in creative and critical thinking about aspects of history that have been left unquestioned for thousands of years. Besides the big ideas in THE DISCOVERY OF MIDDLE EARTH, there are plenty of smaller and equally compelling tidbits. The final chapters are especially fun to read: full of tales of heroes and monarchs, the decline of “protohistorical” superpowers and even a discussion on King Arthur and Camelot. Still this is a difficult read, full of geographic and astronomical vocabulary and concepts. It is sometimes on the dry side, but Robb skillfully weaves in the account of his long bicycle journey across the Heraklean Way, which adds to the flavor of the book.

From Celtic art to French villages, from the mysteries of the Druids to modern cartography, THE DISCOVERY OF MIDDLE EARTH is interesting, challenging and thoughtful --- the perfect book for a reader with a keen and imaginative mind interested in re-examining part of the world as we think we know it. Towards the end of the book, Robb writes, “as soon as a geographical pattern is imposed on the inhabited earth, significance rushes in like water into a channel dug in a damp field.” For patient and open-minded readers, the significance Robb assigns to those geographic patterns will be fascinating.

-Sarah Rachel Egelman
38 of 42 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x97bf9e04) out of 5 stars Essential reading if you're interested in the Celts 12 Nov. 2013
By Abbot of Acorn Abbey - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Wow. I just finished this book, and I'm feeling overwhelmed. First of all, I am not an academic, but I take an academic interest in the history of the Celts. Therefore I am grateful for such a well-researched and well-documented book. My real interest is in the culture of the Celts and the function of the Druids in Celtic society. This book focuses on Celtic astronomy and geometry and how those sciences affected the layout of the Celtic homelands, particularly Gaul. That angle is of secondary interest to me. But along the way, as the author undertakes a sort of pilgrimage along the paths of the old roads through the old towns, he works in a variety of other information about the Celts taken from about 500 sources, which are listed in the back of the book. This list of sources alone is quite valuable. Just to mention one question that is of interest to me: Were the Celts matrilineal? The author makes a reference to "the matrilineal Celtic tradition," but it is not clear whether he is taking a stand. By contrast, in an article in the academic tome "The Celtic World," edited by Miranda Green, Timothy Champion seems to take a clear stand that Celtic arrangements were patriarchal. In chapter 9, Robb writes, "Following Celtic tradition, in which property passed through the female line...," but no source for this is given in the notes. So I am left tantalized, and in doubt, about many of my questions about the Celts including the status of the sexes, attitudes toward homosexual behavior, etc. Those questions, of course, are not the focus of this book. However, this book goes further than any source I'm aware of in attempting to outline the curriculum of Druid education, without straying into speculation. The author takes a clear stand that the Druids were highly trained, that they were scientists, and that Celtic society was an intellocracy. I bought the hardback version, then bought the Kindle edition as well just to be able to search the text. Before reading this book, I'd recommend getting familiar with how the notes are arranged. Clearly the idea was to keep the number of footnotes down, and most of the citations are grouped together by page number in the back of the book. Anyone who is seriously interested in the Celts will want to read this book and have it as a reference. I am hoping that this book also will encourage other academics to write good books about the Celts for general readers, instead of cringing in their cloisters out of fear of feeding the neo-Druids and New Agers. My personal view -- and maybe this is because my ancestors were Celts -- is that what Rome and its church did to the Celts was one of the greatest cultural disasters in history. Robb rightly uses words such as genocide, annihilation, and "catastrophically destabilized." We need to recover as much as possible of what was lost. This is especially true for those of us who would like to be rid of what Rome and its church put in the place of what it systematically destroyed in several centuries of ugly, ugly work.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x97bfc0fc) out of 5 stars Interesting Idea 16 Jan. 2014
By Polyester Jones - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Robb's theory is that Iron Age Celts used geometry to organize their settlements and spiritual centers along sun solstice angles. His argument is plausible. Whether you buy into it or not, the history--especially the material that concerns the Druids--is fascinating. This book appears to be written for the general-interest reader. It will be interesting to revisit this topic after some scholarly debate has further shaped the theory.

The writing is dense at times, but hey--the book is about history, math and surveying. Stick with it. I did and I don't regret it.

Warning: If you buy the Kindle edition, the maps and illustrations will be difficult to view. It's not a huge deal, but I like maps. I kind of wish I'd bought the paper version. In fairness to the Kindle, I'm middle aged and use reading glasses. Still, I had to stack up two pairs at once to see the maps.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x97bf9fd8) out of 5 stars A journey long awaiting discovery! 22 May 2014
By madlyn fafard - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
My book review is from a different point of view... I was awakend to a civilization I could relate to, as my ancestors, who created roads, based on the heavens... long before the Romans . Yet, the stunner in this book for me was this! As I read in this book, the journey of Hannibal from Carthage thru North Africa, across the water to the End of the World and up the Herackles Way, my DNA study came in from I happened to be looking at the map in this book and I thought how much it resembled my family map of DNA tracks. Voila! They were so alike I could not believe it! From my family DNA distant traces in Carthage across North Africa, to the Iberian Penninsula, into Lombardy and to union with the middle Europeans, there was history in my DNA staring me right back in the face. Talk about a "Wow" moment for people that love history, like me! I enjoyed the book very much and wondered as I read it, about the tall Italians in my family, that are 6 feet 4 inches, and more when there are so many Italians I know that are not really towering around that height. Then I learned that the Etruscans were very tall of Greek and Italian heritage, and inhabited Lombardy, where the major part of my ancestry is. So another puzzle of history seemed to find a place.
The other discovery this book opened for me was the rich lives of the Celts and Druids and how many of us who have Middle European and North Italian blood have to be descended from them with traces of the Orient in our blood. We are truly one people!
At one point in life, I had given the Celts to the Irish alone,but this book pointed out that the Celts were from the Black Sea always heading toward the setting sun, pushed to Britain and over to Scotland and Ireland by the invading Romans. The Celts did not have a written history, and it was finally in Ireland, that some of the Celtic knowledge got written down...( and was it Scotland too?) I liked the book so much that I picked up another to read, on the same subject. I may be mixing up what came from each book, because though they were both about the Celts, they dove tailed so nicely that I was living in Middle Earth for a few weeks.The Druids This book is available for one cent here on Amazon and imagine the fun I had reading it too!
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x97bfc63c) out of 5 stars Drawing a Line on the Past 28 Dec. 2013
By Patricia - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a speculative look at the footprint of the Celts long obscured by the boot prints of the Romans. The author presents a fascinating premise, but one that will require further substantiation. Read it for the enthusiasm of the premise!
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