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Phoenician Secrets: Exploring the Ancient Mediterranean Paperback – 30 Apr 2011

4.6 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 380 pages
  • Publisher: Santorini Books (30 April 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0983327904
  • ISBN-13: 978-0983327905
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.2 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 351,021 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

Thoroughly researched and clearly written . . . a welcome addition to all libraries.
--David Northrup, Ph.D.


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This history reads almost like a novel. It is extremely readable and actually quite gripping. I could not put it down and read it in only a few days. This is the only book I know of which traces the entire history of the Phoenicians across their roughly 3000 years of existence. Holst also recounts the contacts the Phoenicians had with the other peoples of the Mediterranean and this allows the reader to put events into context in a very helpful way. The book is more than just a history of the Phoenicians. As the title suggests, it really does explore the whole of the ancient Mediterranean.

In his introduction, Holst states that there are often varying opinions as to what actually happened in history, but that for the sake of brevity, he has simply presented the explanation of each event best supported by the available evidence. While this approach is pragmatic, it robs the reader of the opportunity to understand where there is consensus about the events Holst is reporting, and where he is venturing into more debatable interpretations. In fact, there are many places where he gives detailed accounts of the motivations of the Phoenicians that we cannot possibly know. At times, his narrative is highly speculative, but presented using language which makes it sound like fact.

Overall, he presents a very one-sided view of the Phoenicians as lovers of peace and equality. Though they quite probably were more peaceful and egalitarian than the societies which surrounded them ( as were many people whose prosperity was based predominantly on trade), it is probable that things were far more nuanced and changeable than the impression Holst gives us.
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What do you know about Phoenicians? Not a lot I guess. A gap in the school curriculum's history quota. Buy this, be entranced by purple dye, origins of iron age Greeks and God knows what else - Hannibal for instance??
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It's great to see there is more to the Phoenicians and other people of the ancient Mediterranean than most books ever show us. I liked that the sources for these things include classical writers such as Aristotle who wrote about democracies at Carthage, Minoan Crete and Sparta as well as Athens. Herodotus, Thucydides and many others are included, as are archaeologists from the Middle East, the Greek isles, Spain, and many places in between. It would have been good to have more depth and discussion in some parts. But as it is, the lives of many interesting people and the significant events they lived through keep this from being just a dusty academic trek. It is a remarkably revealing view of the ancient Mediterranean and a pleasure to read.
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This book is important and yet rather easy-going as for the reading entertainment it may represent. Yet it is at times very irksome to find out that many events are evokeD, enumerated, stated and yet quite many dates are not given formally, I mean "twenty years later" and other phrases like that are not a proper way to date an event. And quite a few events have no clear date. This is supposed to be a book of history written by a historian and there is no clear time line in the book.

The second thing is that he assumes too much we know what he is speaking about. He is not writing a book for specialists but a book for the wide public. His general tone of story telling more than history telling makes it easy, personal, reader-friendly, but at times the author assumes we know and he puts Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides in the same sentence presented as "classical playwrights" in the same period, Pericles' golden age of Athens, in the same theater of Dionysius and Socrates is in the next line. This does not give us enough about the three of them when we know Aeschylus was 81 when he died and at that moment Sophocles was 39, Euripides only 26, and Socrates hardly 17. The absence of such details makes time fuzzy and we have difficulty following the flow of time.

If we stay on this idea of the timeline, the book is clear and yet not that clear. The books sets the beginning around 6000 BCE but the author does not specify where the Phoenicians were coming from. The Phoenicians are Semitic. There were no Semites in the Levant from 80,000 BCE to 36,000 BCE. So did they arrive after the ice-age and then where did they come from, the Arabic Peninsula, the Southern Levant (and where from before) or Egypt?
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Excellent book
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