Handbook to Life in Ancient Mesopotamia

Posted on July 2, 2015 by Tommy McGuire
Labels: books

I'll give Handbook to Life in Ancient Mesopotamia by Stephen Bertman five stars, but I'm a bit conflicted about it.

In describing life in Mesopotamia, Bertman's book is very good. It left me with a feeling of understanding of the people who lived there at that time, at least as far as I can from a textbook. They are people, not dry facts. The chapters on everyday life, arts, architecture, and transportation were very good.

On the other hand, as another reviewer has said, it is rather stuffed full of lists. Further, it does specifically focus on Mesopotamia, dealing only peripherally with the surrounding civilizations (Egypt, Mittani, Hatti, the Levant, across the mountains in modern Iran). As a result, the impression of the chronology is pretty linear. Sumeria, Babylonia, and Assyria seem to be pearls on a temporal string rather than a group of cultures that interacted constantly with their surrounding cultures.

My other complaint is that Bertman occasionally goes off the rails: for example, after discussing the rather harsh punishments of Mesopotamian, especially Assyrian, justice, he writes, "It would be a facile and self-serving exercise for us who are spectators at our own permissive culture's decline to mock the efforts of ancients, however excessive, to stave off civilization's fall."

But, limiting my review to what the book is rather than what I might like it to be, I'll give it five stars. It does exactly what the title claims, very well.

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