Saturday, June 02, 2007

Off The Shelf: A History of the Ancient World

Permit me to blow the suspense right now -- you need to buy this book and read it and keep it on your shelf as a reference too.

Why, you may ask?

Quite simply, this is one of the best history overviews I've read in a long time. Author Susan Wise Bauer is a professor at William and Mary, and she's giving a high level introduction to the Ancient world -- the earliest records of history up to the Fall of Rome. Lest you think this is a dry subject, Bauer writes with a refreshing wit and clarity not often found in history tomes.

Her approach is to start as far back as we have written records and then to move forward. Thus, she doesn't work geographically (like many histories), but chronologically -- and thereby she establishes connections that we may have missed before. Additionally, Bauer does us the service of including the history of India and China alongside the more familiar histories of Egypt and Greece and Rome. This alone makes the book worth the price, for in general my knowledge of Indian and Chineese cultures has been woefully lacking.

This book is very helpful to the Christian who wants to put the Bible within a historical context -- for Bauer takes the Biblical stories seriously -- she tries to put Abraham in the context of early Mesopotamia and Egypt. We learn about the international politics of the Ancient Near East at the time of the Kings of Israel (and the great prophetic activity of the writing prophets).

Bear in mind, Bauer isn't producing a work of original research -- she's working as a synthesist, tying together the work of many scholars in many fields. Almost any expert will find something to quibble about -- some debatable issue that she has glossed over. However realize that this book is meant to be an introduction. It is for the non-scholar who wants a readable and reasonably complete overview of the ancient world. In this task, Bauer has succeeded. I hope you'll enjoy.

Soli Deo Gloria