If you saw a book titled 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed, and if the lead quote on the cover was “astonishing…with eerie relevance” wouldn’t you expect a fast-paced, readable, narrative non-fiction approach to history? Might you–dare I ask it–assume that the book would be about a year in which a civilization collapsed?
I picked up 1177 B.C. thinking it would be all of those things, but found myself wondering if the contents of the book had been swapped out with another volume. I’m a huge fan of history–both popular and academic volumes–and just did not enjoy this book at all. In spite of its hyperbolic title, subtitle, and cover quote, the book is actually about the fact that very little is known about the end of the Bronze Age and how it actually declined over a century, not in a single year. And even if there was a year in which the decline began, we have no way of knowing which year it was out of a fifty-or-so year spread.
So…basically the author came up with a random year, titled a book for sales, and his conclusion was something completely different. Also the interior of the book rambles, is full of dry facts with very little analysis and context, and jumps around in chronology so you’re left wishing for a timeline and mentally calculating how many more pages you have to read until you’re finished. It’s amazing how the book is simultaneously too long and yet too short.
If you’re interested in ancient history, skip this book entirely and read Susan Wise Bauer’s excellent, highly readable and yet deeply detailed book The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome. It’s so much better in every respect and well worth your time.
I’m sorry to completely pan 1177 B.C., but I found it thoroughly disappointing. If you’ve read it (and maybe you have–it’s a best-seller in the archaeology category on Amazon), did you like it? I’m interested to hear why or why not!
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