Under the tutelage of a clever scholar, a cuneiform tablet brings to life an ancient world and the genesis of a great...

THE ARK BEFORE NOAH

DECODING THE STORY OF THE FLOOD

The ubiquitous tale of the Great Flood was not new to the writers of Genesis. Finkel, the assistant keeper of ancient Mesopotamian script, languages and culture at the British Museum, offers some fresh particulars about the source of the biblical story.

It all goes back to Mesopotamia, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in present-day Iraq, and the local Sumerian and Akkadian languages recorded in the wedge-shaped cuneiform inscriptions in which the learned author is an expert. Surviving in clay tablets, the story of the calamitous inundation was recounted in epics—e.g., Gilgamesh—eons before Noah. It is likely, Finkel asserts, to have been known to Jewish writers during the Babylonian exile and used in the compilation of the Hebrew Bible. Only recently, the author deciphered a previously unread tablet that turned out to be instructions for building a vessel that would ride out the worldwide flood. His line-by-line exegesis, recounted in professional glee, reveals a huge circular craft—a “coracle,” or basketlike boat, that was still seen during that time in Mesopotamia. The ark, made up of reeds and sticks and waterproofed inside and out with pitch, would have covered about an acre. Finkel’s fresh findings offer much architectural detail about how such a lifesaving craft would be constructed. Self-described “wedge reader” Finkel is a scholarly and often witty guide to the antediluvian civilization and our shared lineage. Some readers may find the great detail so dear to the author’s heart a bit dry, but Finkel’s happy primer on historic Mesopotamia is, on the whole, wonderfully rewarding.

Under the tutelage of a clever scholar, a cuneiform tablet brings to life an ancient world and the genesis of a great biblical story.

Pub Date: March 25, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-385-53711-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

21 LESSONS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

A highly instructive exploration of “current affairs and…the immediate future of human societies.”

Having produced an international bestseller about human origins (Sapiens, 2015, etc.) and avoided the sophomore jinx writing about our destiny (Homo Deus, 2017), Harari (History/Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem) proves that he has not lost his touch, casting a brilliantly insightful eye on today’s myriad crises, from Trump to terrorism, Brexit to big data. As the author emphasizes, “humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers, or equations, and the simpler the story, the better. Every person, group, and nation has its own tales and myths.” Three grand stories once predicted the future. World War II eliminated the fascist story but stimulated communism for a few decades until its collapse. The liberal story—think democracy, free markets, and globalism—reigned supreme for a decade until the 20th-century nasties—dictators, populists, and nationalists—came back in style. They promote jingoism over international cooperation, vilify the opposition, demonize immigrants and rival nations, and then win elections. “A bit like the Soviet elites in the 1980s,” writes Harari, “liberals don’t understand how history deviates from its preordained course, and they lack an alternative prism through which to interpret reality.” The author certainly understands, and in 21 painfully astute essays, he delivers his take on where our increasingly “post-truth” world is headed. Human ingenuity, which enables us to control the outside world, may soon re-engineer our insides, extend life, and guide our thoughts. Science-fiction movies get the future wrong, if only because they have happy endings. Most readers will find Harari’s narrative deliciously reasonable, including his explanation of the stories (not actually true but rational) of those who elect dictators, populists, and nationalists. His remedies for wildly disruptive technology (biotech, infotech) and its consequences (climate change, mass unemployment) ring true, provided nations act with more good sense than they have shown throughout history.

Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-51217-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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