The History of the Ancient World:  From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome, by Susan Wise Bauer (W. W. Norton, New York, 2007)

Despite having some initial negative reactions to Susan Wise Bauer, I've continued to find her work delightful and invaluable.  (See my reviews of The Well-Trained Mind, The Story of the World, and The Well-Educated Mind.)  I haven't read more than a small part of The History of the Ancient World, but borrowed it from the library in order to determine whether or not to buy it for myself.  I've so enjoyed—and learned from—listening to Jim Weiss read The Story of the World, which was written for elementary-age children, that I wondered if Bauer could bring as much delight into a history book for adults.

Time does not permit me to read through the book, much less review it properly, but let's just say I wish I didn't have to take it back to the library as soon as possible to remove temptation.  The History of the Ancient World is delightful to read.  Much of the delight, I think, comes from the philosophy of her approach, which she explains much better in the introduction than I have time to write, or even to copy, here.  Bauer is interested in people:  their lives, thoughts, fears, hopes, dreams, actions, and relationships.  She minimizes the general and the theoretical in favor of the personal, and includes the myths and stories of a culture as well as verifiable facts.  The stories that have come down with a people from before recorded time should inform our historical speculations as much as potsherds from an archeological dig.

This approach no doubt will anger many, some because she finds historical value in passages from the Bible, and others because she gives similar respect to the ancient stories of other cultures.  To me, it makes for great story-telling.  The History of the Ancient World has earned a place on my wish list, perhaps for the next time Borders offers me a 40% off coupon, and I certainly hope Susan Wise Bauer is working on a sequel.
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, December 10, 2008 at 9:45 am | Edit
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The History of the Ancient World -- UPDATED
Excerpt: I am republishing my initial comments, made in December 2008, when I checked The History of the Ancient World out of the library then discovered I didn't have time to read it.  Now, nearly two years later, I have finally read the book, and my addi...
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