I have finished Volume 1 of the World History: Ancient History. I feel so smart now. Seriously, ask me anything.
Before reading this book my whole knowledge of the Ancient World could be thus summarised : Mesopotamia, Tigris–Euphrates, Egypt, hieroglyphs and pharaohs , God Ra, mummies, Greece, democracy, city-state, Athena and Zeus, Plato, Socrates et al., Sparta (crazy warriors), Romulus and Remus, Roman Republic&Roman Empire, law, Julius Ceasar, et tu Brute. , Spartacus, Caligula (these two I know mostly from movies, so most likely all bollocks), the fall of Empire (but why? All was going so well), feeding Christians to lions.
Other than that I also know at least seven letters of the Greek alphabet and some conversational Latin. Ave, Caesar, morituri te salutant – great example of the future participle (in plural nominative).
Of course, I realised all that wasn’t enough if I wanted to become an intellectual (which is my current career choice). I decided that reading all volumes of world history will give me just enough foundations and frame for further explorations through more specific works of fiction and non-fiction. (If you have any suggestions of what else I should read to become an intellectual, please leave them in the comment section).
In that sense the book did what I expected from it. It organised a chain of dates, battles, wars, rulers and dynasties. Every 50-100 pages an empire would rise, thrive, and fall. I had a bird’s eye view of their glory, knowing it would all end in the next chapter, fallen, beaten, and replaced by some upstart. It made me wonder what chapter we are in now.
While I learnt a lot from this book, I felt it neglected social and cultural history (although it did pay particular attention to the question of slavery). I really wanted to know more about how people actually lived, what they are and wore and thought. And of course, it was a very much ‘HIS-story’. When the author said ‘people’, he meant ‘men’, when he said ‘youth’, he meant ‘young men and boys’. Not even once did he mention the other half of the population. Even when he said that a certain ruler was a puppet and it was really his wife or mother who pulled the strings, he went on about the puppet ruler and we learnt nothing about that interesting wife or mother. Even Cleopatra herself got barely a paragraph.
Final note: why were all Roman Emperors called Marcus Aurelius or Antonius Augustus? It was like reading The Hundred Years of Solitude again.
And I almost forgot to mention Constantine I and his sons: Constantine II, Constantinus II and Constans I. I am serious.