A giant of archaeology, Colin Renfrew has immeasurably improved our understanding of human history. In this passionately argued work, he offers a concise summary of prehistory - human existence that predates the development of written records - while challenging the very definition of prehistory itself.More
We've sent an email with your order details. Order ID #:
To access this title, visit your library in the app or on the desktop website.
not for the intellectually challenged
Fascinating! Perfect for the college-educated laypersoon
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.