Ancient Civilizations

By Chris Auman

Just how different from us were the men and women who lived in ancient times? Their technology was very different, of course, but how were they different from us in what inspired them, what they believed in, and how they lived their lives? Much more than facts and figures, well-written histories seek to answer these questions as well as add color and context to our interpretations of the past. Check out the books, films, and television series on this list to learn more about ancient civilizations.

  • The History of the Ancient World : From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome

    2007 by S Bauer

    World histories are by their very nature broad in scope, but Susan Wise Bauer keeps the focus on ancient events that link to each other. While new information certainly changes our view of the past, new perspectives do as well and this book is an engaging read that doesn't get bogged down in the minutia of dates and data.

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  • The Landmark Herodotus : The Histories

    2007 by Herodotus

    Known as the Father of History, Herodotus was a Greek writer who lived in the Persian Empire during the 5th century BC. His only known work, The Histories, is an inquiry into the Greco-Persian war that often digresses into descriptions of various tribes and groups of people that existed in the areas he traveled through and beyond. Even though much of the information he recorded relied on apocryphal stories and cannot be trusted as fact, Herodotus provides us a fascinating glimpse into the ancient past.

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  • The King Must Die

    1986 by Mary Renault

    Mary Renault's fascinating work of fiction, The King Must Die, is premised on what the life of Theseus might have been were he a real historical figure and not a character of Greek mythology. Renault provides a plausible story for how the myth of this founding father of Athens might have formed and details his enslavement by King Minos on Crete, his time spent on the island as a bull dancer, and his eventual slaying of the Minotaur in the labyrinth.

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  • I, Claudius

    2012 by Herbert Wise

    I enjoyed reading Robert Grave's historical fiction novel I, Claudius but only recently became aware of this Emmy-winning BBC series of the same name which is based on Grave's book. The series by all accounts does justice to this ancient tale of palace intrigue and larger-than-life Romans, Tiberius, Caligula, and of course the much ostracized and highly underestimated Claudius.

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  • 300

    2007 by Zack Snyder

    Admittedly, this film takes many liberties with the conflict between the union of Greek city states and the invading Persian army that occurred in 480 BC. However, it is based on the actual Battle of Thermopylae where 300 Spartans (and roughly 600 allies) held off an invading army of 300,000 led by Persian king Xerxes I. If you like your blood and gore on epic levels, with just a little bit of history thrown in, you're in for a treat with this film.

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  • China : A History

    2009 by John Keay

    "Many nations define themselves in terms of territory or people; China defines itself in terms of history. Taking into account the country's unrivaled, voluminous tradition of history writing, John Keay has composed a vital and illuminating overview of the nation's complex and vivid past. Keay's authoritative history examines 5,000 years in China, from the time of the Three Dynasties through Chairman Mao and the current economic transformation of the country. Crisp, judicious, and engaging, China is the classic single-volume history for anyone seeking to understand the present and future of this immensely powerful nation."—Amazon

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  • African Roots

    2010 by Melody Herr

    While we all share common ancestors who originated in the African continent thousands of years ago, the history of Sub-Saharan Africa is not something that has traditionally been given much focus. Certainly not in comparison to the ancient civilizations of Greece, Rome, Persia, and Egypt. African Roots, a part of the World Black History series, is a remedy for this and tells the history of the people inhabiting Africa from ancient times through the mid-fifteenth century.

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  • 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

    2006 by Mann, Charles C.

    "In this groundbreaking work of science, history, and archaeology, Charles C. Mann radically alters our understanding of the Americas before the arrival of Columbus in 1492. Contrary to what so many Americans learn in school, the pre-Columbian Indians were not sparsely settled in a pristine wilderness; rather, there were huge numbers of Indians who actively molded and influenced the land around them."—Publisher

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