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Anthony K. Divey (Hertfordshire, UK)
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Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization
Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization
by Richard Miles
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.18

4.0 out of 5 stars What it means to come second to the Romans..., 3 April 2015
Richard Miles gives a thorough and entertaining account of the story of a civilisation that had the misfortune to be too close temporally and geographically to the expanding and extremely belligerent Roman state. It was clear that the Mediterranean was too small for both to coexist for long.

This is a scholarly but readable account. I suspect Miles's sympathies lie with the Carthaginians but actually the reader is presented with a sequence of pretty appalling episodes of behaviour by both sides, there are no 'good guys' in this tale. Many have wondered why Hannibal (all Carthaginians seem to be called Hannibal, Hanno or Hasdrubal - did they find this confusing?) didn't take Rome when he appeared to have the opportunity to do so. I don't think I was any clearer after reading this book but in reality we will never know.

I like the way Carthage's ultimate destruction is seen in some way to prefigure Rome's own downfall - morally if not politically and militarily. If this period interests you this book is an excellent starting point.


Under Another Sky: Journeys in Roman Britain
Under Another Sky: Journeys in Roman Britain
by Charlotte Higgins
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolute delight, 3 April 2015
This is a lovely book. It is part archaeological survey and part travelogue. Along the way Charlotte Higgins fills in with brief biographies of the antiquarians and archaeologists who unfolded the story of Roman Britain. I like the way she uses chapters on different regions or cities to tell a chronological story of the Roman occupation. So the section on the Cotswolds is used to describe the high point of villa building, the section on Norfolk the impending end foreshadowed by the Saxon Shore defences. As a frequent visitor to Bath and York those chapters offered a particular appeal.

It's a clever book, full of literary references making unforeseen connections. However it as above all an excellent read, accessible whatever your existing knowledge of Roman Britain. I didn't want it to end.


Stonehenge: Exploring the greatest Stone Age mystery
Stonehenge: Exploring the greatest Stone Age mystery
by Mike Parker Pearson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Stonehenge summary to date, 16 Nov. 2013
This is an excellent account of the building and meaning of Britain's most iconic prehistoric monument. Yet it is much more than just an account of the famous stones. Mike Parker Pearson places Stonehenge in a much wider context linking it not just to the local landscape but also to its wider role within Britain as a whole.

The meaning of the link between Stonehenge and other local sites is a topic Parker Pearson has been associated with for a while now and he summarises this story very well by describing excavations at Durrington Walls, along the River Avon and at the site now known as Bluestonehenge. Crediting his Madagascan colleague Ramilisonina at the beginning, Parker Pearson makes a strong case for their notion of lands of the living and the dead, based on the contrast between wood and stone.

With the bluestones coming from beyond the local landscape it's not surprising that the story becomes national rather than just regional. However the revelations about the exact origins of the bluestones were new to me. I especially liked the links with sites in the Orkneys as Parker Pearson established the importance of Stonehenge within the whole of the British isles. The significance of the periglacial features revealed toward the end adds another new chapter to the interpretations of the site.

Ultimately Mike Parker Pearson presents an optimistic view of the society creating this monument, based on unity and, perhaps, peace.

I would really recommend this book. However much you think you know about Stonehenge you are likely to learn more. And if you get the chance to hear him speak, take it. I envy his UCL students.


Guns, Germs and Steel: A short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years
Guns, Germs and Steel: A short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years
by Jared Diamond
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.69

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars History as Science, 22 July 2012
As a teenager 40-odd years ago I was captivated by Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy of SF books. A key concept in his story was the scientific, even mathematical, nature of history so that the past can be explained rationally and the future predicted accurately. Diamond's account of the history of human societies, and their relative dominance, wealth and influence reminded me very much of Asimov's fiction.

Except of course that this is factual. It's a fascinating read, tracing the development of societies in different parts of the world and explaining how some prospered whilst others faltered, some gained huge influence and others became oppressed. His key concern and laudable aim is to show that the relative fortunes of different peoples has nothing to do with racial differences but is primarily a function of geographical and bio-ecological good (or bad) fortune. He is aware of, and denies, charges of geographical determinism, but there is a strong case for these factors being the most importnat in deciding a people's relative position. The access to domesticatable plants and animals that can, through farming, generate a surplus that will ultimately support a larger population, technical specialists and complex political structures as well as initially exposing its people to a whole range of infectious diseases and then building up resistance to them is an argument very well made.

The consequence is that history shows over and over again that farmers (or those who started farming first) always tend to triumph over hunter-gatherers (or those who have just starting farming) by a mixture of superior weaponry, infectious diseases and superior technology - the guns, germs and steel of the title.

This book is illuminating and thought-provoking, I liked it a lot.


The Origin of Our Species
The Origin of Our Species
by Chris Stringer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Start here for a clear concise account of human evolution, 21 July 2012
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I had read strong reviews of Stringer's latest work and the book itself doesn't disappoint. Previously I had enjoyed his 'Homo Britannicus', but this was even better. It delivers a detailed yet concise story of human evolution packing in both the recent findings whilst at the same time telling some of the 'back story' of developing views on evolution.

Stringer himself is closely associated with the 'Recent African Origins' model, but he shifts position slightly in the face of evidence of hybridisation between homo sapiens and both neanderthals and denisovans. The concluding chapters summarising the latest evidence are particularly useful.

As a non-scientist I found that his treatment of the DNA evidence was clear and relatively undaunting. For quite a short book it is also surprisingly wide-ranging, bringing in aspects of the development of certain behavioural traits and spiritual beliefs.

For students and the curious looking for a guide through the maze of human species, archaeological and DNA evidence and theories of evolution, I would strongly recommend this book.


Ancient Egypt: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
Ancient Egypt: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
by Ian Shaw
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Satisfying depth, 30 Aug. 2011
What I like about these very short introductions is that they don't just skim the surface - they dive in. This small book is just such an example. So it goes for detail and analysis rather than just superficially cover a broad (and over-familiar) area. Shaw uses the Narmer palette, a cosmetic mixing plate from around 3000 bce found at Hierakonpolis, as a unifying theme which allows him to pursues weighty issues like the nature of kingship, ritual and religion, the treatment of non-Egyptians, race and gender, myth and symbolism.

Consequently this is no 'populist' history of the Pharoahs, Shaw is much more interested in how we view Egypt, and how it is reflected in the modern world - for an ancient history book there are a surprisingly large number of movie references (good to see 'Carry on Cleo' gets a mention). For those interested in how archaeology can be used (or mis-used) in the pursuit of national or ethnic identity, I thought his coverage of Afro-centrism is particularly good. As an archaeologist, Shaw rightly gives prominence to artefacts and sites, and a variety of sites too without over-reliance on the more familar like the Great Pyramid or Tutenkhamun's tomb (which really does not feature very much).

I was after a quick but challenging introduction to Ancient Egypt before taking my reading further. This is an excellent place to start. The list of websites is recommended, leading to hours of happy browsing.


Çatalhöyük: The Leopard's Tale: Revealing the Mysteries of Turkey's Ancient 'Town'
Çatalhöyük: The Leopard's Tale: Revealing the Mysteries of Turkey's Ancient 'Town'
by Ian Hodder
Edition: Hardcover

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No archaeology course complete without it..., 1 Mar. 2011
Catalhoyuk, and particularly Hodder's excavation of it, is now a standard case study in archaeology. This is due not just to the fascinating nature of this unique site but also because of what it reveals of Hodder's techniques (painstaking, multi-disciplinary) and theoretical approach (post-processual).

Catalhoyuk itself illustrates so many of the themes of archeology it could comprise a course in its own right: social differentiation (or lack of), gender equality (or matriarchy?), the emergence of agriculture, the beginnings of urbanism (to Hodder Catalhoyuk is always a 'town', in quotes), symbolism and (by no means least) ritual. Personally it's the ritual aspect that's particularly compelling, and indeed alien.

I would recommend it, but also suggest starting with Balter's 'the Goddess and the Bull' which tells the full story of excavations on the site and puts Hodder's work in context. For those new to the subject Balter's book is much more accessible.


The Peloponnesian War: Athens and Sparta in Savage Conflict 431-404 BC
The Peloponnesian War: Athens and Sparta in Savage Conflict 431-404 BC
by Donald Kagan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A template for all Great Wars?, 26 Jan. 2011
In many ways the Peloponnesian war has exerted such an influence over historians because it is the template for all later wars representing a clash of superpowers. So much of it is familiar from later conflicts: the initial spark in a far off arena of conflict, the way much of the conflict is fought out in places other than the territory around the protagonists, the very different opposing political structures and ideologies and the resrictions on liberties imposed as a 'necessary' consequence of continuing the war. Athens itself seems familiar as a model for later empires: democratically ruling in a vaguely liberal fashion over an empire on which it is reliant for imports, bolstered by her supreme naval power and exporting her political systems.

It's probably natural for many readers to side with Athens as the cradle of democracy fighting the totalitarian, militaristic Sparta. Yet how Athens tries her supporters' patience! Atrocities are commited by both sides and Athens herself toys with rejecting democracy. Time and again Athens seems to make the wrong decision, like the way the war in Sicily is conducted, or imposing the death penalty on eight newly victorious generals. Spartan peace offers are rejected right up to the last fateful year.

Donald Kagan tell this story in a gripping and detailed way. He manages to be both thorough and fast-paced, moving the action on without over-simplifying. I particularly liked the ways the characters of the rapidly changing cast list are drawn. The proliferation of similar and sometimes unfamiliar names could easily get confusing, but Kagan handles this aspect very well. There are lots of maps, although they print up quite small in paperback and some of the maps of battles actually tell us little about troop or ship dispositions.

A good read, recommended.


The Parthenon
The Parthenon
by Mary Beard
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great little book, 21 July 2010
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This review is from: The Parthenon (Paperback)
I really enjoyed Beard's 'Pompeii' and this is every bit as good. She draws out the history of the Parthenon, largely through the eyes of visitors from different periods. In doing so we get a wonderful picture of the Parthenon without being weighed down in technical detail. It's a story very economically told - you're through the book before you realise it... leaving you wanting for more at the end. As in 'Pompeii', Beard's writing is clear and clever.

Of course the real controversy is the British Museum's possession of the 'Elgin' marbles. Again this is a strong story concisely told and we get an excellent summary of the arguments. Although we get her views on some of the actions and characters on both sides of the debate, Beard does not commit herself one way or the other. I think this is a shame as surely her views are worth airing too. i particularly like her account of how the British Museum is shifting the argument from repatriation of the marbles to reunification of their disparate parts. How and where is this to be achieved, I wonder?

In all an excellent little book, strongly recommended.


Britannia - The Failed State: Tribal Conflict and the End of Roman Britain
Britannia - The Failed State: Tribal Conflict and the End of Roman Britain
by Stuart Laycock
Edition: Paperback
Price: £18.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking, 3 Jun. 2010
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I enjoyed this book; it made me think much more about the importance of tribal identities, not just the obvious significance in pre-Roman Britain but the continued importance in Roman and post-Roman Britain too. I suppose its unique selling point is the use it makes of Bosnia and Iraq as analogies to the situation in Britannia. These are really interesting but it's not completely clear why these should be good models for tribal behaviour in Britain. Laycock's suggestion that the Boudiccan revolt was at least in part a continuation of inter-tribal warfare and not aimed specifically just at the Roman invaders is a new idea to me, but not one that had me entirely convinced. The idea that the Anglo-Saxons were invited in to Britain as a part of our late- and post-Roman defences is not new, but Laycock gives a fresh slant to it by suggesting they were for tribal defence against other tribes rather than an external threat. It's in this sense that Britannia was a 'failed' state, by the end of Roman rule Britons were still thinking in tribal identity terms rather than as part of a larger political entity. Personally I think he stretches the case to suggest tribes were still trying to redress perceived injustices of tribal boundaries from 400 years earlier.

Laycock uses much archaeological artefact evidence, he clearly knows a lot about military buckles and strap ends. This leads him to the suggestion that early Anglo-Saxon kingdoms are 'successor states' to the old British tribal territories.

A good read, even if you don't agree with all Laycock's conclusions.


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