The latest addition to the Don’t Know Much About series (Don’t Know Much About History, 2003, etc.) is an engaging handbook on gods, goddesses and the civilizations they have inspired.
A bestselling explicator of subjects as varied as history and astrophysics, Davis is clearly the owner of a questing mind. His goal as an author is to infect readers with his own intellectual eagerness, and he succeeds admirably with this idiosyncratic tour of world mythology. Davis covers material that will probably be new to many readers—the sacred stories and pantheons of India, Japan, China, Africa, the Americas and the Pacific Islands—and he offers intriguing and up-to-date perspectives on more familiar subjects. His chapter on classical mythology, for example, isn’t just a rehash of Olympian exploits; rather, it places tales of the gods in a historical context and explains how Greek religion was created from and influenced by a diverse array of Mediterranean cultures. Davis also considers the contemporary ramifications of ancient beliefs, such as court battles over Native American relics and ongoing debates about the likelihood of a matriarchal prehistory. Davis is a playful teacher, too—one who reminds his students that they probably got their first taste of Norse myth watching Bugs Bunny sing the role of Brunhilde in “What’s Opera, Doc?” Specialists in the upper echelons of academia will no doubt find something to grumble about in Davis’s popularizing methodology, but even professors will have to concede that Davis has done his research—his annotated bibliography is excellent—and that he’s a laudably conscientious scholar.
An accessible and informed guide to an always-fascinating subject, and an ideal reference for the general reader.