Review: Between the Rivers, Alexis Q. Castor

Rating: 3 out of 5

The rating is for the content and not the presentation… Having investigated Ancient Egypt last year, it felt reasonable to move onto Mesopotamia now. Prof. Castor’s look into the region was a good starting point, though dry and slightly rambling. I also thought it went on for too long with the final chapters on the Achaemenids deserving their own title and the introduction of Hellenes into this entirely unwarranted.

There’s still a lot here that’s very interesting: to me, this was primarily the earlier part of the development of civilization, the story of Gilgamesh, and early organized states in the region. However, beyond this the second millennium BC passed quickly after Hammurabi in the author’s retelling. Given the emphasis that was accorded to Alexander later, this felt like a grave omission, especially as the international order that gets briefly mentioned regarding the Amarna letters allows for such an interesting look into Middle East.

Beyond the content, I found the style unfulfilling. Though very knowledgeable, Prof. Castor lacked the touch to include odd anecdotes where possible. Similarly, I vividly remember only one of her examples (relating to female innkeepers) while much of what she was trying to tell could have been brought across more effectively.

Nevertheless, as one of the few takes on early Mesopotamia, it is worth its time.

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