Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Review of Babylon: Mesopotamia and the Birth of Civilization by Paul Kriwaczek

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

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“These people were, unlike the others of their time, never slaves to tradition, never satisfied with what had gone before, but aiming for constant improvement.  In the course of some ten centuries, they tore down and rebuilt these constructions eleven times, an average of once every ninety years or so, displaying an impatience with the old and a welcome of the new on an almost modern American scale.” – Paul Kriwaczek, Chapter 2: Kingship Descends from Heaven, Page 24

“Whether based on a true disaster or not, there was another, more important reason for Mesopotamians to tell and retell the story of the Flood: it played a crucial structural role in the ancients’ view of their history.  To the Sumerians the Deluge was the boundary marker that separated the preliterate from the literate period, the age of folklore from the era of history.  More to the point, it was the gulf that lay between the time when all Mesopotamia followed Uruk’s cultural and ideological lead, and the following epoch when Sumer, the southernmost part of the Mesopotamian plain, was a land of separate city-states, each pursuing its own destiny.” – Paul Kriwaczek, Chapter 4: The Flood, Page 72

“The moral that Assyrian rulers took from the disaster was that their only safety lay in possessing incontestable military power.  War was too important to be left to the romantic heroism of kings and generals.  If traditional fighting methods could not even hold off a swarm of camel-riding sheep-herders, Ashur’s rulers would concentrate on designing and building a new kind of war-machine, one that nobody would be able to withstand.  Moreover, the only sure way to stop people migrating into Ashur was to take over their homelands and rule them with a rod of iron.  Empire was a necessity not a luxury.  If that caused them unpopularity, so be it.” – Paul Kriwaczek, Chapter 9: Empire of Ashur, Page 234


Is This An Overview?

The inhabitants of Mesopotamia were ethnically diverse.  Various peoples wanted control of Mesopotamia which generated conflict.  Ancient conflict reflected in contemporary events.  Conflicts that devastated cities.  After various disasters, military power was changed.  Concentrated to protect, but also for conquest.  To prevent being conquered, they had become conquerors.  The political system contained citizen assemblies that were needed to approve decisions, no matter who the leader was.  The political system changed from city-states to centralized power, with formalized laws. 

The culture was based on continuous change, to continuously improve on what was.  Change everything from physical structures to belief systems.  There were even references to the flood that were used to explain the changing times.  When various aspects of society had been disintegrating, many had given up on the social system.  The flood symbolized rejection of what was before.  That power, culture, and ideology have changed. 



Understanding Mesopotamian history is made difficult by a lack of sources, and challenges in translating the language. 

History is useful when applied to contemporary events.  Showcased in this book by the connection of the various related historic and contemporary events.  The connections have mixed qualities, as the references can be interesting, but also distracting.   

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•Who is part of Mesopotamian history?
•How did conflict shape Mesopotamian politics?
•What were citizen assemblies for? 
•What was Mesopotamian culture? 
•What was the purpose of the Flood? 
•How was the Mesopotamian land transformed?  
•How does Mesopotamian history effect Saddam Hussein actions?
•What kind of language is Assyrian/Akkadian? 
•How did Mesopotamians clean their water? 
•How were the armies composed?
•What weapons were used? 
•How were items produced? 
•What kind of economy did the Mesopotamians have?
•How did the laws change?

Book Details
Edition:                   First U.S. Edition
Publisher:               Thomas Dunne Books [St. Martin's Press]
Edition ISBN:         9781250000071
Pages to read:          282
Publication:             2012
1st Edition:              2010
Format:                    Hardcover 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    3
Content          3
Overall          3