THE RISE AND FALL OF ALEXANDRIA by Justin Pollard

THE RISE AND FALL OF ALEXANDRIA

Birthplace of the Modern Mind
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A lively history of the legendary ancient city, from creation to destruction.

First envisioned by Alexander the Great, Alexandria rose on the shores of the Mediterranean over several decades and remained a seat of power for centuries. Although its Pharos lighthouse was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the city is best known for its library, the embodiment of the intellectual power concentrated in the region. This aspect of Alexandria provides a foundation for British documentary filmmakers Pollard and Reid on which to construct their story. The authors cover much ground, mixing narrative with fragments from historical texts to illustrate certain points. This is not a light read, encompassing as it does many disciplines—philosophy, mathematics, science, religion, politics. However, a tremendous amount of behind-the-scenes skullduggery keeps this work lively. Pollard and Reid balance some of the drier history with juicy stories of revenge, jealousy and egos run wild among a cast of characters constituting a Who’s Who of history. The authors emphasize each individual’s connection to the city and his or her contribution to the collective body of knowledge. For example, we learn that around 235 b.c., Eratosthenes, with the help of a stick, the sun and a long walk, proved that the Earth was a sphere; his estimate on its circumference was off by less than one percent. Alexandria was a magnet for advanced thought, and over time that quality came to be perceived as a threat. In 48 b.c., Julius Caesar’s impulsive (or deliberate) torching of the library destroyed a vast archive of knowledge accumulated over generations. Muslim general Amr completed the job in a.d. 646, when he demolished the city entirely.

Historical fragments and extensive research, combined to form a captivating mosaic.

Pub Date: Oct. 23rd, 2006
ISBN: 0-670-03797-4
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2006