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3.9 out of 5 stars
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3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 7 August 2017
This is a fascinating book - and just as relevent today as the knowledge revealed in it was thousands of years ago. If you've ever wandered down an old green track, following a "Roman Road", or stood on the top of a hill and surveyed the landscape below, swept the modern buildings away with your inner eye and looked back through the centuries to when humans first walked the earliest tracks... and if you love maps ... this is the book for you. It has made me look with new eyes at the places I know and re-interpret the history of places we take for granted today. My only regret is that the excellent Graham Robb did not included the story of - and no doubt numerous annecdotes threaded through - his various journeys made for the research of his book. He has chosen to keep these apart and only coyly alluded to them. He chose the solidly scientific line - as if he felt the need to appear less "fringe" and more establishment. What was he afraid of? That he wouldn't be taken seriously? Not with the volume and quality of evidence he has provided. He's done an amazing job and should be justifiably proud of himself. He has truly added to our knowledge of the "Old World" and the more we learn, the more we become aware of how much of our history we've lost. Either way, it didn't start with the Romans! Three cheers for that!
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on 15 September 2017
A really interesting book about the Celts. It puts a whole new light on their history and makes you see just how much we have lost through the Romans' greed and rapacity.
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on 16 September 2016
I started reading this book with high hopes. However, nagging doubts scientific value of his investigations gradually grew to the point where I could no longer ignore the preposterousness of his ever more fanciful and speculative notions. In the end, I've come to the conclusion that the book is more a work of performance art than any serious attempt at science of any kind. On that level (performance art) it just about works as a piece of whimsy. Sadly I think he thinks he's serious. But none of his assertions stand up to even the slightest scrutiny. He shifts around all over the place - ignoring lack of evidence, filling huge gaps with giant leaps of imagination and with the barest nod to any form of logic. If you want an example, all the stuff about the "longest line in Gaul" (on which much of his work is pinned) only works if you assume that the ancient celts knew the precise geography of modern day France and ignore where the Benelux countries are! Remarkable that the Celts could have such powers of prediction. But I dare he thinks they saw the future too. Others of his magical lines only work if people are capable of walking across long stretches of open sea. And the stuff at the end about the magical lines connecting places in the UK just made be laugh out loud. Fine for a bit of fun. But surely not serious.
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on 16 July 2016
Amazing book. The single biggest insight any book has ever given me into the Celts.
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on 21 March 2014
I like Grahams Robb's books particularly his great biographies of Rimbaud and Balzac. My problem with this stems from the attempt to construct a theory based on scant evidence regarding the Druids. The book .as with all his others, is a very good read but the archaeologist in me isn't convinced and I was reminded of the debate over Ley Lines.
The mixture of some bits of evidence and some speculation lacks the archaeological evidence needed to construct such a rigid theory.
I still enjoyed it however and will continue to buy his books.
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on 3 June 2015
Many years ago I read Alfred Watkin's notorious "The old Straight track" which inspired me to get interested in eras of British history earlier than my favoured medieval period. This also coincided with the appearance of "Time Team " on the television and , as charming as Watkin's notion was, I quickly sussed out that it has not archaeological basis. Graham Robb's book has a further dismissal of the earlier book and it's fascination with ley lines as it's opening gambit but the opening chapters seemed to dart from Neolithic through to Roman periods with a causal abandonment that made me as sceptical of his effort as I has been of the other book.

The problem with this newer publication is that it is so difficult to read. I found the technical information of aligning routes in line with solstices extremely difficult to grasp and Robb's style of writing made it impossible to want me to struggle to comprehend. A good deal of this book seems fanciful and too far fetched to believe. Some comparisons with Iron Age art seem superfluous and the debate about ratios becomes increasingly tenuous. Mixed in with these flights of fancy is the notion that Graham Robb may well be on to something. I would love to know if his alignments can be corroborated and the recent discoveries regarding alignments at Silchester intriguingly seem to verify some of the author's contentions. The book is also interspersed with references to artefacts about which I was either aware or had seen in museums such as the one in Lyon which appear to add credibility although they might not be as relevant as the author believes.

It is when the author uses his theories to explain the broader picture of the role of druids and how the Romans eventually subjugated the Iron age peoples of Gaul and Britannia where the book hits home. Setting aside the references to lines orientation and the scarcely readable maps reproduced on a microscopic scale, it is the refraction of known history through Robb' s theory where my impression began to change and where the picture conjured up by Robb seemed to garner credibility.

In the end, it was a struggle to get to the end of this book and even if mention of the very street in the village where I work would appear to be the site of an iron age settlement on the Icknield Way leapt out of the page, in the end it was not enough to make this the compelling read it should have been, This book should have been impossible to put down but instead the first half is marred by the jumbling up of cultures, countries and time spans which makes the argument impossible to follow and lacking in credibility. The language is also impenetrable and frequently beyond turgid and the drawings either meaningless or too small to read. I felt that the book really came to life when discussing Vercingetorix or Boudicca and the wider geographical picture prior to the Roman invasions.

I would like to know what archaeologists and historians have made of this thesis. In my opinion there may be a grain of truth or a degree of inspired insight in Robb's thesis but I could escape the impression that a reasoned critique of this synopsis would probably make a much better read. Where are you Barry Cunliffe and Francis Prior when you wan someone to come to the rescue with t a rigorous response!!!!
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on 3 December 2013
Graham Robb presents a fascinating and well argued case for the Celts displaying knowledge of Astronomy and constructing their settlements and roads accordingly. It seems perfectly fair to argue that ancient peoples had this knowledge and Robb's theories casts a well deserved light into a shadowy part of human history.

Thoroughly well-argued and extremely well written. Don't read it on an ereader. As other reviewers have observed there are a lot of maps and diagrams which seem to be easier to refer to on paper.
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on 3 November 2013
Interesting opinion by an academician and quite persuasive but I do not have the time to check. A drawback is that I have the 'e' version which means the maps and diagrams are too small to appreciate properly - can I zoom in on Kindle? For anyone looking to check the geography and also a cyclist then follow the author's route much of which he did on his bike.
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on 24 August 2017
Relies on too many now outdated ideas and theories to be useful in 2017
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on 26 March 2015
Just for fun I’ve been writing the memo that the publisher’s editor should have sent to the author a couple of years ago.

Mr Robb, I have seen far worse from other writers, but I do think you should restructure your text to make the logic of the book easier to follow. I warn you though that by presenting the material more clearly you will then be exposing some awkward weaknesses, which will need further work to repair.
What follows is my three-paragraph summary of the book’s thesis:

The configuration of the main pre-Roman settlements all over Gaul looks as if it was planned in certain very specific ways. Thus, for example, there is as a matter of geography a certain notional straight line, due north and south through Gaul, which is the longest line that is physically possible given the shape of the land; a number of settlements are located exactly on that line. As another example, a number of settlements are located relative to each other on a compass bearing of 57.53 degrees from due north. As a matter of astronomy, on the longest day of the year in Gaul in that epoch the point on the horizon where the sun rose happened to be 57.53 degrees from due north.
The predominance of these and a couple of other analogous relations between settlement locations is so striking that one must assume that the configuration of the whole was consciously designed. It seems that whenever a new settlement was needed its location was carefully chosen to be on a certain standard bearing from other locations. Over the centuries a configuration of settlements developed, that was very rich in cases of this 57.53 degrees bearing and a couple of others.
Why did the Gauls do this? For religious reasons.

One minimum requirement of any improved draft of this book is that the reader should grasp with absolute clarity that the above is the thesis that the book is conveying. Moreover, the reader should always clearly see which bits of detail in the book serve to support which part of the thesis, and how.
Now once that thesis is expressed in a concise, neutral way a number of fundamental matters will occur to the thoughtful editor helping you make your book as robust as possible. Here are some:

1 Exactly what set of ‘settlements’ in Gaul does the thesis claim to embrace? (Surely not merely those settlements which happen to fit the thesis, while ignoring those that don’t.) Is the claim that every one of the 300 most notable Gaulish settlements fits into the configuration? Or all those of a certain type but none of some other type? Or all those of some defined type but with only a 95% success rate? Or what? This is really a very important point. It is not very respectable to come up with a new theory about the properties of all things of type X and then to be bashful about what things you are counting as being a type- X and what you are not. This matter of the scope of the thesis needs to be cleared up once and for all.

2 What possible geometric relations between settlement locations are needed in order to explain the full configuration: due-north lines and 57.53 degree lines are two of the relations used, as mentioned above, and the maps in the book show a couple more. But what precisely is the minimum set of possible relations that is sufficient to explain the whole configuration? (Plainly the fewer there are the better for the plausibility of the thesis.) Stating that prominently would dispel any impression that the author has used whatever geometric relations he happened to need to fit everything into the configuration.

3 Within the constraints of the possible geometric relations just mentioned, what determines why some particular relations between settlements exist and some others do not? For example, the settlement of Alessia is related to certain other settlements by 57.53 degree lines and to some other settlements by lines at a couple of other angles, but to none does it have a relation in a due north-south or east-west relation; why? Poitiers on the other hand has relatively few relations to other settlements and then only due east-west. Can such things be explained? If so, it would make a richer thesis.

4 With any thesis of this type the null hypothesis is that all or most of the observed regularities arose by chance. I don’t think you’ve done enough yet to take on this awkward objection. People have used statistical techniques to study the validity of the comparable (though of course quite different) case of lay lines. Perhaps you could look into that work and see whether your own thesis can withstand the statistical tests that lay lines, it seems, cannot.

5 How did the Gauls’ beliefs about the sun and gods and heroes lead them to the project of building a configuration of settlements of this general character and specifically this configuration? It isn’t obvious. After all, many other people worshipped the sun without designing configurations of settlements. In the three-paragraph summary of the thesis above I wrote with deliberate lameness that the Gauls did all this for religious reasons, and more than this I couldn’t get out of the book’s text. This aspect I find the the weakest part of the book. There is to be sure some stuff about Celtic mythology but it is so metaphorical and whimsical that it is no use at all in explaining why the Gauls build their settlements in their particular configuration. This part of the thesis is seriously in need of improvement.

6 The book’s thesis entails that the Gauls performed prodigies of skilful surveying, in order, for example, to align one new settlement exactly on a notional line with another far away across some mountains. The current text says very little to justify that ability. Can you do something to strengthen that part of the thesis?

7 How special is this Gaulish phenomenon? Is it the case that these Gauls were complete outliers and no other people in history ever did anything at all similar to the settlement configuration of the Gauls? Probably not. Well then, where do the Gauls stand relative to other cultures that did things that are in any way similar? The reader needs some insight here in order to help him assess the plausibility of the thesis about the Gauls. I realise that such intellectual exploration as this may cause you a lot of extra work.

So, Mr Robb, I’d recommend reorganising the book to make its thesis much clearer, and in so doing to confront explicitly the tricky matters just mentioned and perhaps a few others. This will surely produce a more coherent book. Unfortunately it may not be a more commercially successful one. The very coherence may well make some of the weak points difficult to hide. However, perhaps you already have new material available to repair those weaknesses; I can’t tell.
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