Dear Friends, Book Lovers, and Knowledge Seekers:
A recent government-issued report on the security threats posed by climate change warns of the potential for widespread conflict due to food shortages and competition for resources. The fragility of our interconnected and interdependent global civilization is at stake. An unprecedented event? Not at all. In the 12th century B.C., the great civilizations of the late Bronze Age came tumbling down one by one wracked by war, famine, drought and numerous other calamities which in part may have been caused, recent evidence indicates, by an apparent change in climate. The archaeologist Eric Cline tells the story of this collapse in his fantastic and best-selling new book, 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed. The book is part of a brand new series just launched here at the press: Turning Points in Ancient History, edited by ancient historian Barry Strauss. Professor Cline’s book is one the most exciting I have ever published (if you don’t believe me, watch this trailer).
The collapse of the Bronze Age is, as the ancient historian Ian Morris put it, “one of history’s greatest mysteries.” And yet so few people are aware of this pivotal event in human history. Eric Cline’s book is going a long way to remedy that. And so far, readers like it—they really like it.
Would the inhabitants of the Bronze Age World have seen it coming if they had an oracle like the famous one at Delphi? Probably not. As Michael Scott points out in his new book, Delphi: The History of the Center of the Ancient World, the oracle’s pronouncements were almost always cryptic and open to the interpretation those seeking answers wanted to give it—often with disastrous empire-ending results (see Croesus, King). Yet people from around the ancient world flocked to the site for nearly a thousand years for religious, political, and even financial reasons as Delphi was also the banking capital of the Greek city-states. A sacred site indeed. Michael Scott tells the full story of this magnificent site from its founding to its archaeological rediscovery in the 19th century. It truly was the center of the world in ancient times. In fact, the Greeks called the site the omphalos or “the belly-button of the ancient world” (which I guess is better than being “the armpit of America” like us here in NJ).
Speaking of seeing it coming, I recently came across a peculiar ad in the New York Subway system for the Manhattan Mini Storage reminding (warning?) New Yorkers that in 1789 the French aristocracy failed to see the revolution that was in their midst—a revolution which would end with many of them headed to the guillotine.
Does Manhattan Mini Storage know something we don’t? What exactly were the signs of the coming revolution that those decadent aristocrats missed (and which apparently should have had them heading for their storage lockers)? To find out more about the animating ideas of the French Revolution (and possible signs for our own times) read historian Jonathan Israel’s major new intellectual history of the French Revolution, Revolutionary Ideas.
As we head into Memorial Day weekend, I can heartily recommend any of these books for reading at the beach (or the shore if you live in New Jersey), especially if you’d like to impress your fellow beachgoers with your intellect, if not your tan. Our Bronze Age is better for your skin anyway. But as you work on your tan, it would do you well to remember that vanity has its drawbacks, as the philosopher Simon Blackburn reminds us in his wonderful meditation on the use and abuses of self-love, Mirror, Mirror.
It’s been a great pleasure to work on these books and so many other important and fascinating books this past year. I hope you’ll find one you like. Or why not more than one? After all, you’re worth it.
Happy reading this summer!
Rob Tempio, Executive Editor of Philosophy, Political Theory, and the Ancient World