Renowned archaeologist David Wengrow creates here a vivid new account of the “birth of civilization” in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, bringing together within a unified history the first two nations where people created cities, kingdoms, and monumental temples to the gods. But civilization, Wengrow argues, is not exclusively about large-scale settlements and endeavors. Just as important are the ordinary but fundamental practices of everyday life, such as cooking, running a home, and cleaning the body. Tracing the development of such practices, from prehistoric times to the age of the pyramids, Wengrow reveals unsuspected connections between distant regions and provides new insights into the workings of societies we have come to regard as remote from our own. The book obliges us to recognize that civilizations are not formed in isolation, but through the mixing and borrowing of culture between different societies. It concludes by drawing telling parallels between the ancient Near East and more contemporary attempts to reshape the world according to an ideal image.

Out July 5th, 2010


I received this book in exchange for my honest review.

I am a huge history buff…H U G E!



Chronology chart
Introduction: A Clash of Civilizations?

PART I The Cauldron of Civilization

Camouflaged Borrowings
On the Trail of Blue-Haired Gods
Neolithic Worlds
The (First) Global Village
Origin of Cities
From the Ganges to the Danube: the Bronze Age
Cosmology and Commerce
The Labours of Kingship

PART II Forgetting the Old Regime

Enlightenment from a Dark Source
Ruined Regimes: Egypt at the Revolution

Conclusion: What Makes Civilization?

I chose to review this book because of my recent research for one of my books I’ve been working on.  I didn’t know what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised when it came in.  The book itself isn’t very thick and at first, I thought I had made a mistake.  How could information regarding ancient civilizations such as Egypt be contained in such a thin read?  Well, this book is chalk-full of useful and interesting information. The author gets down to business right away without wasting time of drivel.

I know historical scholars will look for other factors when reading this book, but for someone like me, who uses books such as this for research when writing, and of course, judge them differently, this book is perfectly informative.

This book clearly shows how the past of two major civilizations are mirrored in our own civilizations today with very few differences.  The similarities are incredible and Wengrow shows by way of comparison, how we need to learn from the past in order to avoid repeating failure in the future.

Ignoring the past will have dire consequences.

Humans learn from past experiences/mistakes and adapt to not repeating them in the future (most times).  We learn by our past’s examples as a species (or should).

The inter-relations of Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt in culture, trade, religion, and daily life are compared to our ways of life now noting similarities between the two.  What interested me the most, was how the author clearly shows that although we all claim to be different nations, in reflection, we are all influenced by one another, and ultimately very much, the same in many aspects.

I enjoyed the author’s take on ancient civilization but not so much his on modern civilization. That, I found a bit slow and boring.

He discusses the weaker points of the “Three Age System” in a notable fashion, and compares what is the same or different regarding many of the river valley cultures.  Religion for both cultures is discussed as the guiding light for collectives and he notes the similarities in practices of religion for both cultures.

Towards the end, there’s a very interesting section where the author discusses how Europe’s then sense of superiority influenced how western cultures viewed themselves above the others and the consequences of such thoughts. However, in contradiction to this sense, Wengrow notably describes how this sense of superiority had caused Europe cultures to fall from grace followed by a chaos that seemed to generate similarities in today’s current events.

If you love history, especially ancient history and want in on the academic debate concerning the nature of civilization, then this book is for you. It’s an excellent primer into a heavily influenced topic.

I gave this book:





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