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In Babylon, Paul Kriwaczek tells the story of ancient Mesopotamia from the earliest settlements around 5400 BC, to the eclipse of Babylon by the Persians in the sixth century BC. He chronicles the rise and fall of dynastic power during this period; he examines its numerous material, social and cultural innovations and inventions: The wheel, civil, engineering, building bricks, the centralized state, the division of labour, organised religion, sculpture, education, mathematics, law and monumental building.
At the heart of Kriwaczek's magisterial account, though, is the glory of Babylon - 'gateway to the gods' - which rose to glorious prominence under the Amorite king Hammurabi, who unified Babylonia between 1800 and 1750 BC. While Babylonian power would rise and fall over the ensuing centuries, it retained its importance as a cultural, religious and political centre until its fall to Cyrus the Great of Persia in 539 BC.
Recent events in Iraq, Iran, and Turkey recall ancient and equally dramatic events in Babylon and Mesopotamia, whose lands these countries now occupy. A magnificent storyteller and a careful historian, Kriwaczek (Yiddish Civilization) brings to life the world of ancient Mesopotamia and the city of Babylon, tracing their rise from a loose federation to a monarchy to the rise of ancient Sumerian civilization, with its tales of the Great Flood and the epics of semidivine heroes such as Gilgamesh. Drawing on primary sources and guiding us through the many cultural, political, social, and religious changes of Mesopotamian history, Kriwaczek, head of central Asian affairs for the BBC World Service, demonstrates that over its 2,500-year existence (before its fall to Cyrus of Persia in 539 B.C.E.), Mesopotamia served as an "experimental laboratory for civilization" and preserved a single civilization using one form of writing, cuneiform, from beginning to end. This Mesopotamian culture discovered or invented almost everything we associate with civilized life: religions, including the first stirrings of monotheism; a wide variety of economic and production systems; an assortment of government systems, from primitive democracy to ruthless tyranny. Kriwaczek's marvelous introduction offers a first-rate guide to a fascinating ancient civilization that continues to influence us today. 16 pages of b&w photos; maps.