Top critical review
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Good book - needs editing
on 27 August 2010
This is an interesting and engaging book, all the better because Prof Gunliff does not hestitate to speculate boldly on sparse evidence. This is in the nature of the subject. I also appreciated his careful sketch of the geographical features of Europe which early man was able to exploit in gaining a living, creating cultures and in the trading/raiding/conquering formation of inter-cultural relationships and (unstable, if only in the long term) state-like entities among the "barbarians".
My major gripe is that it is so poorly edited, especially as the initial impact is of an expensively produced book. Most obviously, the Overview for Chapter Eleven (about the rise of Rome!) appears as part of the previous chapter. This slackness is apparent throughout the book. At first you feel the lack of a consistent timescale merely reflects the different chronologies of different zones of Europe, but it soon becomes clear that the repitition and backtracking is an editorial oversight. As are the inconsistencies (or even mistakes) in dates and the naming of geographical features. The maps take some careful reading, because of the use of closely toned colours, supposedly to differentiate areas. They often use different names from that used in the text (or perhaps the Dneper is a different river from the Dnieper, but one is named in the text and the other on the map). Most irritating is his use of a very recondite vocabulary, presumably derived from archaeological usage. With a smattering of Latin you probably (but I would hesitate to say usually) could make out what is meant. Without some Greek, you are sunk.
That said, it was still informative and enjoyable, refocusing (though really not enough) away from Classical/Historical accounts of the later part of this period. I notice some of the reviews are dismissive of the actual academic side of it. I find, given the editorial limitations and the scope for speculation, that it is very stimulating. Not sure aggressive young men on the look out for likely raiding success tells the whole story - Cunliff keeps coming back to this - but there is enough about trading, intermarriage, and cultural assimilation to balance that. Well worth reading