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The History of the Ancient World From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome Review by Kate Kessler

Susan Wise Bauer
Peace Hill Press
Peace Hill Press
18021 The Glebe Lane
Charles City, VA 23030

The History of the Ancient World From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome is a complete history tome that will bring you hours of fascinating reading. The amount of work and time this volume must have taken to create is really astounding. There is little left out!

I really appreciated where Susan Wise Bauer starts her history:

�Even though world histories routinely begin with prehistoric times, I suspect that prehistory is the wrong starting place for the historian. (�) Whatever the archaeologist concludes about that group called "Neolithic man," I know nothing about the days and nights of a Neolithic potter, constructing his ring-rimmed pots in a village in the south of France. The tracks of the hunters and gatherers�reveal a pattern of life, but no story emerges. There are no kings and wives in prehistory. (�) So rather than beginning with cave paintings, or anonymous groups of nomads wandering across the plains, I have chosen to begin this history at the point where particular human lives and audible human voices emerge from the indistinct crowds of prehistory. (�) I have made careful use of epic tales and myths to flesh out this prehistory.�

And so she begins on the "Edge of History" with "The Origin of Kingship" where we find the Sumerian king, Alulim, ruling for almost thirty thousand years. As you can already see, the epic myth of Sumer, in the eyes of its self-aggrandizing king anyway, had already taken fine form! The first chapter blends the knowledge passed down to us of the ancient peoples of the fertile crescent in the words of their own myths and legends.

The second chapter discusses at length the world's earliest story. "The historian cannot ignore the Great Flood; it is the closest thing to a universal story that the human race possesses." Indeed we find flood stories from all over the world. In a note on page twelve she states: "When the Sumerian flood story was first translated, most historians assumed that the Genesis account was derived from it; further study of the substantial differences between the two stories suggests that they are far more likely to have arisen separately from the same source event." She then goes on to present the various hypotheses from historians and geologists regarding the possible flood source event. While she comes to no specific conclusion on the flood, and rather leaves that to her reader, the text does not seem to embrace the viability of a global world-wide flood. This is, however, one chapter out of eighty-five. As a global world-wide flood believer myself, I was not daunted by this.

As we meld from mythic kings into traceable empires, we meet real flesh and blood kings. What a group of fighting men! From one war to another, from one conquest to another, from one scheming usurper to another�the list goes on and on! Truly the 21st century has nothing on the ancient kings. As we move through different stories and different lands you will find a running timeline to place them all in your head at the end of each chapter. >From Sumer to Egypt to India and China, and round and round and back again, we learn their stories. We learn their struggles to the best of our knowledge, and we learn their conquests.

From China we jump to Hammurabi's Babylon where we encounter his shrewd dealings with the kings in the land. They didn't see him coming! Known for enforcing the same laws over all his conquered land, he ruled with great power and strength. His story is fascinating. As with many of the very powerful kings, he died still fighting for land and left his heir a big mess to clean up. I found most interesting the inter-state squabbles we read about from actual quotations in their correspondence and inscriptions. They were just as irascible as some of our modern leaders and many were just as stubborn. There is truly nothing new under the sun!

It would be impossible to properly convey the vast amount covered in this resource. Here is a partial list of the table of contents to give you an idea:

  • That Battle for Troy ~ Asia Minor and Greece, 1260-1230 BC
  • The First Historical King of China, 1200 BC
  • The Rig Veda ~ India, 1200 BC
  • The Dark Age of Greece, 1200-1050 BC
  • The Bharata War ~ Northern India, 950 BC
  • Trading Posts and Colonies ~ Italy and Greece, 800-720 BC
  • Medes and Persians ~ Assyria, Babylonia, Elam, Media, and Persia, 653-625 BC
  • Cyrus the Great ~ Babylonia, Lydia, Arabia, Judah, Media, and Persia, 580-539 BC
  • The Republic of Rome ~ North Africa, Italy, and Asia Minor, 550-501 BC
  • The Peloponnesian Wars ~ Persia, Egypt, Greece, and Sicily, 478-404 BC
  • The Rise of Ch�in ~ China, 403-325 BC
  • Roman Liberators and Seleucid Conquerors ~ Greece, Macedonia, the Seleucid Empire, and India, 200-168 BC
  • New Men ~ Italy, Britain, Gaul, Egypt, and Parthia, 78-44 BC
  • The Edges of the Roman World ~ The Roman Empire, Parthia, and Britain, AD 70-132
  • Children of the Throne ~ China, AD 88-182
  • Savior of the Empire ~ The Roman Empire, Parthia, and the Persian Empire, AD 222-312

There are so many subjects and people groups within this history that it may seem a bit overwhelming at first glance. However, by reading a little at a time, you will likely not find it so. Sample chapters are available on the Peace Hill Press website for viewing.

Please keep in mind that this book is written for adults so it will not shy away from the messy business of history. Murder, adultery, and horrible atrocities were committed by many people. While this book by no means glories in them, keep in mind they are there. This history also attempts to present as rounded a picture as possible. While we all have our biases, Susan Wise Bauer does her best to keep to the facts of events as viewed at the time. I appreciated this though I found it sometimes made for interesting reading. What the early historian might have felt about something was often far different than our 21st century mind!

The History of the Ancient World From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome brings these stories of real men and women who lived and breathed, looked up at the same moon we do, accomplished amazing and sometimes unheard-of acts, alive again for us. History is something to read over and over, to be contemplated, to be pondered and learned from, and not forgotten. Susan, in her inimitable style, her polished grace, and her enthusiasm, and sometimes even her witty sarcasm, has helped us accomplish this. This is a remarkable book.

-Product Review by Kate Kessler, Product Reviews Manager, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, November, 2007