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Not quite Epic
on 17 April 2013
Firstly a bit about me, the reviewer. I have a general interest in history and have read from cover to cover other 'all sweeping' history books such as 'Europe - A History' by Norman Davies and I had high hopes that J.M Robert's book would be akin to those, except on a world stage.
Unfortunately I am more than slightly disappointed. I have only managed to read a few chapters of the book but even so, my motivation to continue any further has been so hamstrung that I felt that I had to write this review, especially given that virtually everyone had reviewed the work very positively.
It should firstly be said that a huge amount of scholarship and dedication must have gone into this book and it can't be faulted for it's ambition. I couldn't give the book 1 star for these reasons alone. I outline below, in order of seriousness the flaws as i see them.
Most seriously there is a complete lack of reference to sources. For example, there is no bibliography, notes, nothing i can use to cross reference the assertions made against. For a work of this magnitude and breadth I find this astonishing and very disappointing. Why decide to omit this? Is it because the author thought that the subject matter is so well established that they're unnecessary? In my opinion popular history books need to offer this courtesy to their readership. Perhaps the biggest problem is that it undermines confidence in many (if not any) of its assertions and claims. Just for example, on p57 he writes 'by the end of their history as an independent civilization Sumerians had learnt to live in big groups; one city alone is said to have had thirty six thousand males". This leaves me thinking 'which' city and 'who' said that? Perhaps I will never know. Or perhaps a certain free internet encyclopedia could help me out.
A problem I'm finding with the book is that (and this admittedly is quite subjective) the writing style is prosaic and lacks the flair, fluency and clarity needed to navigate a book of this length. As a result of which I personally struggled to emotionally connect with the events being described (I had just finished reading John Julius Norwich's Byzantium trilogy prior to starting this which admittedly is a hard act to follow when it comes to these qualitiies, but the difference is stark).
i have come across typos which for a fifth edition i wouldn't expect to see. i.e. p58 2nd paragraph, "Barely, wheat, millet and sesame seeds were grains grown in quantity". The spell checker obviously didn't pick that one up! What's worse is the next sentence then refers back to 'barely' as being the main crop. Perhaps this is me being picky but i find this kind of thing extremely distracting and further undermines general confidence.
There are also no illustrations, charts, diagrams, tables, no information summaries (though there are plenty of maps), no visual inspiration to set the mind to wonder. Surely some illustrations or photos showing the best (and worst) of mankind and his achievements would have been pertinent to such a work?
And finally...To do the subject matter any justice at all the book in my opinion would have to be 2 times wider, taller and thicker as the depth of analysis in each chapter doesn't satisfy me, something arguably i should've anticipated before buying it...but with no bibliography to delve further, what can you do?