Adventures in Words: In Search of the First Civilizations by Michael Wood

In Search of the First Civilizations by Michael Wood

I’m afraid this is the first book by Michael Wood that I have found disappointing.

Perhaps the main reason is that it doesn’t do what it says on the cover. I thought this would be an examination and exploration of the first civilizations – it does rather say that, doesn’t it? – but it wasn’t. While it begins with the ancient civilizations of the Near East, India, China, Egypt, the Americas, it then assumes that the founding ideas of these civilizations have been transmitted down through the ages and, with somewhat cherrypicked examples, follows these regional civilizations through the ages up to the modern age, attempting to show that each is the heir of its past.

While I have some sympathy with the idea, the brush strokes are too broad and the crucial explosions of new religions, which alone are capable of redefining the ruling myths of a civilization, are glossed over. That there are continuities between the Egypt of the Pharaohs and modern Muslim Egypt I don’t think anyone would disagree with. But the discontinuities are, if anything, even more profound.

So skip this book and read Wood’s brilliant In Search of the Dark Ages instead.


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