Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age

Annalee Newitz. Norton, $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-393-65266-6
Science journalist Newitz (Scatter, Adapt, and Remember) examines the rise and fall of four ancient cities that “suffered from prolonged periods of political instability coupled with environmental crisis” in this energetic and intriguing account. Spotlighting Çatalhöyük, a Neolithic city found in present-day Turkey; the southern Roman city of Pompeii, which was destroyed in 79 CE by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius; Angkor, the capital of the medieval Khmer Empire in Cambodia; and pre-Columbian Cahokia in what’s present-day Illinois, Newitz visits each site and interviews archaeologists to explore how residents of these cities lived and died. Newitz ruminates on the experiences of “Dido,” a woman whose skeleton was found in Çatalhöyük, and the prostitutes who lived in the only “purpose-built brothel” in Pompeii; Newitz also recounts elaborate construction projects undertaken by Angkor’s kings and human sacrifices offered on large, earthen mounds in Cahokia. According to the author, the dismissive views of Western, Christian historians have obscured the ingenuity and agency of these ancient societies, whose strides in urban planning, contrasted with their social inequalities and political failings, offer lessons for today. Newitz skillfully fuses personal reflections with scientific observations, and offers a welcome tribute to the legacy of human resilience. This richly detailed, progressively minded history is worth exploring. (Feb.)
Reviewed on : 09/28/2020
Release date: 07/07/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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