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I don't understand why other commenters have criticized this book as "dry," "boring," and "too academic," or found the narration "droning" or soporific. Stonehenge boring? An up-to-date (well, 2009 anyway) analysis of how it was constructed, as well as its likely purpose and meaning to the Neolithic community that built it, presented by an expert in the field?
How about a re-evaluation of the stunning cave paintings at Lascaux, and elsewhere in France, Spain, Italy, and a narrow band eastward through the Balkans to Siberia as a "localized" event that doesn't mark a new stage in human cultural evolution because it wasn't universal enough (like the development of farming that's generally accepted as marking the shift from Paleolithic to Neolithic, and which took place on a near-global basis)? And the theory that archaeologists have attached more significance to these cave paintings than was warranted simply because they were discovered early and were rendered with artistic sophistication?
I thought the book was perfectly pitched for a college-educated layperson, and that if it would be "boring" for anyone, it would be for another archaeologist, or even a grad student or upperclassman majoring in archaeology. I appreciated having my memory refreshed on the details of carbon dating, but I'm sure anyone specializing in the field would've skipped over that part as too basic.
My only suggestions are (1) Renfrew should write an update in a new Foreword or Preface incorporating the current debate relating to whether DNA analysis shows (as asserted by Svante Paabo and his team) that all modern-day humans except for sub-Saharan Africans carry small percentages of Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA in their genomes, (2) Renfrew should reconsider the global breadth of the book, which I think stretches him and the material too thin, and focus instead on Europe, the Middle East and Mesoamerica (which appear to be his areas of greatest expertise), while leaving South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Far East for others, or a later companion book, and (3) audible should include a pdf booklet containing the tables, charts, maps and/or any other graphic information that audio narration fails to cover. Otherwise, it shouldn't call this an "unabridged" edition.
As for the narration, if was nicely modulated across both pitch and emotion. If you enjoyed listening to someone like Alistair Cooke introducing Masterpiece Theatre, and don't harbor any vague political objections to Brits speaking with Received Pronunciation, then I think you'll enjoy Robert Ian MacKenzie's narration as well. I found it pretty much transparent, which is how I like my narrations (translations, too, and for that matter writing itself). A good narrator lets the text speak for itself, and doesn't gum it up by over-dramaticizing or chewing the scenery, just as the best writers (fiction or nonfiction) communicate ideas as succinctly and simply as possible, without gumming up the works with florid prose, "style" or jargon.
Overall, as a layperson who wanted to research prehistoric Britain for a project I'm working on, I learned a lot of fascinating stuff in an extremely easy and pleasant manner. The book made an excellent traveling companion on long drives, making the time pass quickly -- same with doing everything from running to stuffing the dishwasher. I'll look for other books by Colin Renfrew, and would be pleased to read anything Robert Ian MacKenzie has narrated.
14 of 14 people found this review helpful
Renfrew covers many topics and references the important people in the field of archaeology. I only wish Audible would feature more books of this caliber. I am very frustrated that so few books are available on this topic. The content of this book is dense and I have listened to it several times. I was so delighted to see a serious non-fiction book offered on Audible and I don't agree with the other reviewers that this book was unsuitable for audio. Apparently the other listeners were expecting lite fare such as the Idiot's Guide to Archaeology or some pop fluff a la Graham Hancock. If you seriously interested in an overview of the field, this book is for you.
37 of 39 people found this review helpful