Despite being accepted as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon have been written off by many historians as legendary due to the inconsistent nature in which they are accounted for in contemporary sources. Some sources describe a manmade pyramid with plants and trees apparently rooted in towering stone terraces. Other sources make no mention of any garden at all. Unlike the Pyramids at Giza, there remains no trace of them ever existing.
In this short but fascinating book Stephanie Dalley makes a thorough and mostly convincing argument that explains why the Hanging Gardens cropped up in some sources but not in others - they weren't actually in Babylon, but Nineveh. By cross-referencing references from Greek and Roman texts with ancient cuneiform inscriptions on weathered clay tablets found in what is now Iraq - and always with a sceptical eye - she puts forward a good case as to how various European travellers in the 7th century BC could believe they were all writing about the same place, despite being several hundred miles apart.
This book isn't just about pinpointing the true location of the Hanging Gardens, however. Dalley also counters the arguments of historians who claim the Gardens had to be mythical because their construction were beyond the capabilities of the age, specifically with regard to raising water to keep the plants and trees irrigated. After all, Archimedes didn't invent his screw until centuries later. Dalley presents what she argues is evidence that the concept had already been in practical use for a long time.
This is academic history enlivened by Dalley's obvious passion for the subject. She first posited her theory decades ago, and has clearly spent a lot of time since constructing such a watertight, comprehensive argument.