Student Review: An Introduction to the Ancient World

September 17, 2009

Authors: L. de Blois and R. J. van der Spek

Edition: Second

Publisher: Routledge

Pages: 352

Price: £70.00, £22.99 and £22.99 (e-book)

ISBN: 9780415458269, 86 and 0203893128

The second edition of this textbook tries to compress the richness and variety of several millennia into 352 pages. In their own words, the authors have attempted a revised "survey of the entire history of ancient Egypt, Western Asia, Greece and Rome". The task they set themselves was undoubtedly formidable, but from a student's perspective, the result leaves a lot to be desired.

Translated from the Dutch, the narrative is lucid and concise, and with regular subdivision of chapters, "chapter-menus" and integrated cross-referencing, the text is attractively presented and relatively easy to dip into. It is competitively priced, and for distance-learning courses, or libraries strapped for shelf space, an e-book edition is available.

This, however, is where the positives end. The scope is overly ambitious, with the three main parts ("The Ancient Near East", "The Greek World" and "Rome") disproportionately balanced. One is left wondering if the brief opening section on the Near East is there simply to put Greece and Rome in context. The text also fails, at times, to find a balance between over-simplicity and clarity - not helped by sensationalist assertions ("antiquity" apparently ends in 1918) and constant parallels with the present. In later chapters, it feels as if one is being bombarded with a selection of vaguely connected encyclopaedia articles, the content of which ranges from the perfunctory to the superfluous.

The basic index provided is unhelpful for revising finalists or hurrying essayists, and the "key reading" lists that conclude chapters in many equivalent textbooks are lacking here. The overlong bibliography is clunky and lacking such important works as Ronald Syme's The Roman Revolution. A frankly abysmal front cover, blurry and often irrelevant images and tiny cluttered maps through-out provide little more than a lesson in how not to illustrate a textbook. Neither detail nor range is adequately catered for, making it a poor choice for survey and specialised courses alike.

While several different textbooks may be required to cover the ground this claims (and fails) to, it would be better to invest a little more and study comprehensively than settle for this title alone.

Who is it for? First-year undergraduates.

Presentation: Good layout; otherwise poor.

Would I recommend it? Only to worried freshers seeking an overview.

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