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Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age

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A quest to explore some of the most spectacular ancient cities in human history—and figure out why people abandoned them. In Four Lost Cities, acclaimed science journalist Annalee Newitz takes readers on an entertaining and mind-bending adventure into the deep history of urban life. Investigating across the centuries and around the world, Newitz explores the rise and fall A quest to explore some of the most spectacular ancient cities in human history—and figure out why people abandoned them. In Four Lost Cities, acclaimed science journalist Annalee Newitz takes readers on an entertaining and mind-bending adventure into the deep history of urban life. Investigating across the centuries and around the world, Newitz explores the rise and fall of four ancient cities, each the center of a sophisticated civilization: the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük in Central Turkey, the Roman vacation town of Pompeii on Italy’s southern coast, the medieval megacity of Angkor in Cambodia, and the indigenous metropolis Cahokia, which stood beside the Mississippi River where East St. Louis is today. Newitz travels to all four sites and investigates the cutting-edge research in archaeology, revealing the mix of environmental changes and political turmoil that doomed these ancient settlements. Tracing the early development of urban planning, Newitz also introduces us to the often anonymous workers—slaves, women, immigrants, and manual laborers—who built these cities and created monuments that lasted millennia. Four Lost Cities is a journey into the forgotten past, but, foreseeing a future in which the majority of people on Earth will be living in cities, it may also reveal something of our own fate.


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A quest to explore some of the most spectacular ancient cities in human history—and figure out why people abandoned them. In Four Lost Cities, acclaimed science journalist Annalee Newitz takes readers on an entertaining and mind-bending adventure into the deep history of urban life. Investigating across the centuries and around the world, Newitz explores the rise and fall A quest to explore some of the most spectacular ancient cities in human history—and figure out why people abandoned them. In Four Lost Cities, acclaimed science journalist Annalee Newitz takes readers on an entertaining and mind-bending adventure into the deep history of urban life. Investigating across the centuries and around the world, Newitz explores the rise and fall of four ancient cities, each the center of a sophisticated civilization: the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük in Central Turkey, the Roman vacation town of Pompeii on Italy’s southern coast, the medieval megacity of Angkor in Cambodia, and the indigenous metropolis Cahokia, which stood beside the Mississippi River where East St. Louis is today. Newitz travels to all four sites and investigates the cutting-edge research in archaeology, revealing the mix of environmental changes and political turmoil that doomed these ancient settlements. Tracing the early development of urban planning, Newitz also introduces us to the often anonymous workers—slaves, women, immigrants, and manual laborers—who built these cities and created monuments that lasted millennia. Four Lost Cities is a journey into the forgotten past, but, foreseeing a future in which the majority of people on Earth will be living in cities, it may also reveal something of our own fate.

30 review for Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jenna ❤ ❀ ❤

    View of the central structure of Angkor Wat (built in the 12th century CE), photo by Jakub Hałun In the early days of the Pandemic, there were a number of Americans who apparently believed toilet paper was a powerful antiviral and the more you had, the better you would be protected from Covid-19. Despite the fact that neither the CDC nor the WHO vouched for its efficacy, these people bought so much toilet paper that the rest of us were unable to buy any for months. We had a number of things we co View of the central structure of Angkor Wat (built in the 12th century CE), photo by Jakub Hałun In the early days of the Pandemic, there were a number of Americans who apparently believed toilet paper was a powerful antiviral and the more you had, the better you would be protected from Covid-19. Despite the fact that neither the CDC nor the WHO vouched for its efficacy, these people bought so much toilet paper that the rest of us were unable to buy any for months. We had a number of things we could use instead - washcloths, soap, and clean water being the preferred method but also some people might have gathered fallen leaves or ripped out pages of old, moldy books they had planned to donate to the local library and thankfully now found a better use for. I think it's safe to say that while we might have substituted wash cloths, leaves, or pages from Fifty Shades of Grey, none of us considered sharing it. But that's what they did in Pompeii. As the author of Four Lost Cities relates, not only did the Pompeiians not have individual stalls (their public toilets were in rows with about a foot of space in between each seat), they also shared their toilet paper! It came in the form of a sponge on a stick, or a xylospongia. You'd take a dump then grab the sponge, dip it in water and wipe your ass. When finished, you handed it to the guy sitting next to you or simply left it for the next person to use. I think all of our imaginations can take us places we don't want to go...... Let's move on. This book is full of fascinating details about how ancient people lived in four "lost" cities. As the author explains, these cities were never lost in the true sense of the word but, for various reasons, abandoned over time. Annalee Newitz visited these four ancient cities, interviewed a number of archaeologists, and even assisted at an archaeological excavation in order to learn what has been uncovered about the past, why these cities were built and why they might have been abandoned, and how the citizens of these cities lived. They discuss the cities of Çatalhöyük in Central Turkey, Pompeii in Italy. Angkor in Cambodia, and Cahokia in present day Illinois. I found all of these riveting. Newitz studied not just the elite but also the ordinary people, and provides illuminating details of how they lived their lives... and yes, how in some places they used and re-used toilet paper. They use data archaeology to look at what the masses did and try "to reconstruct their social and even psychological lives". We learn how they built their cities, what they ate, what their beliefs might have been, and how they celebrated. We learn about Dido, a resident in Çatalhöyük who fell from the rooftop entrance to her home, breaking ribs and giving her injuries that, though they healed, made her favour one side of her body for the rest of her life. It's details like these that captivate me, elucidating the lives of our distant ancestors. The most interesting section for me was the one about Cahokia. I am ashamed to admit, though I'm American, I never heard of this city. I know of course that there were ancient Aztec and Mayan cities in Mexico, and yet it never occurred to me to ask if there had been cities in the present day United States. I simply accepted the narrative we are taught in school, that civilization didn't come to America until the white men brought it. In fact, as we learn in this book, there were sophisticated cities long before Europeans arrived, the oldest of which, "called Watson Brake, dates back 5,500 years—centuries before the first Egyptian pyramids were built." Newitz explores in depth the largest pre-Columbian city, Cahokia. It was a sprawling metropolis with a population of up to 30,000 people, more than Paris had at that time. Nearly a third of Cahokians were immigrants from all over the southern future United States. The people of Cahokia (its original name is sadly lost) built huge earthen pyramids, the greatest of which was Monks Mound, soaring 30 meters high (nearly 100 feet). The details we know from archaeologists are fascinating and Four Lost Cities is a joy to read. Newitz meticulously brings these cities alive, sharing what is known of the people who lived there and how they would have spent their days. I kept my phone with me as I read, eagerly Googling images of the places described. Anyone interested in prehistoric times, peoples, and/or cities will find much to appreciate in this book. And as for those people who hoard toilet paper - I imagine they still have mounds of rolls in their homes, lining the walls of their basements, shoved under beds and sofas, and stored in their freezers. You know who you are. And some day in the distant future, an archaeologist will dig out the remains of your home, learning how people lived in the twenty-first century. They will be baffled by all that toilet paper and struggle for an explanation. If future archaeologists are anything like present ones, their interpretation will resort to something to do with spirituality or religion. They will assume the people of the twenty-first century worshipped assholes. Their hypothesis will be confirmed when heaps of Trump flags and red MAGA hats are also unearthed. They'll write an incredible book about their discoveries and readers like me will be fascinated by the toilet paper use of the 21st century.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Nenia ✨ I yeet my books back and forth ✨ Campbell

    Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || Pinterest FOUR LOST CITIES is a really interesting concept. In this book, Annalee Newitz explores four "lost" cities that basically fell into disuse due to either environmental disaster or social change. To give this book a really personal and sensory narrative, they traveled to each of the four cities that they chose to write on: Çatalhöyük (in modern-day Turkey), Pompeii (the Roman getaway off the coast of modern-day Naples), Angkor in modern-da Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || Pinterest FOUR LOST CITIES is a really interesting concept. In this book, Annalee Newitz explores four "lost" cities that basically fell into disuse due to either environmental disaster or social change. To give this book a really personal and sensory narrative, they traveled to each of the four cities that they chose to write on: Çatalhöyük (in modern-day Turkey), Pompeii (the Roman getaway off the coast of modern-day Naples), Angkor in modern-day Cambodia (home to Angkor Wat), and Cahokia (a pre-Columbian Native American city dating back to early Medieval times). I liked that the author made a point to include cities that were not exclusively European. I learned about Çatalhöyük in an art history class (primarily the bull's head motifs and building designs), but this was my first time learning about Cahokia and I liked how, in the cases of Cahokia and Angkor, the author challenged the Anglo-centric views of anthropologists that continue to bias research and education to this day. For example, the idea that Native Americans had no idea of land ownership, or that Native peoples are too naive to appreciate their own art or cultural artifacts. This is a point that I think some people don't feel comfortable discussing and I was really glad that the author pointed that out. It's difficult to rate this book because while I enjoyed it and the writing style was exceptional, it wasn't all that entertaining-- in part, because in some of the chapters, it felt like the lack of knowledge about the ancient cities gave the writing a sort of nebulous uncertainty. I felt this most strongly in the chapter on Çatalhöyük, where the whole chapter basically continued to reiterate the point that archaeologists still aren't entirely sure what the people were like or what really caused the discontinued use of the city. Likewise, Cahokia remains a mystery in many regards, with no written records and very little surviving evidence to give us insight into what the daily life was like in such an old civilization. The chapters on Pompeii and Angkor are the most vivid, perhaps because they are the most written about and, in the case of Pompeii, so well preserved. Pompeii, in particular, was particularly fascinating because of its salacious history and the way that the day to day life of the nobility and the working class was so richly portrayed. I would have read a whole book about Pompeii, I realized, because once the chapter ended, I felt like I hadn't gotten my fill-- and sadly, it was the only chapter I really felt that way about, because everything else just raised more questions and left me feeling frustrated for answers. I do recommend FOUR LOST CITIES because I think it gives you an idea of what makes a society crumble (at least, the physical parts of it) and it really shines a light on some parts of history that you probably wouldn't learn about in your history classes (again, writing this from a U.S. lens). In my American history classes, I never learned about Cahokia, for example, even though it is literally a part of U.S. history and it goes back to the 1000s! That is so cool! I recommend reading the book in pieces and then taking a break after each chapter to let things sink in and give yourself time to look things up. Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review! 3 to 3.5 stars

  3. 4 out of 5

    Woman Reading

    3.5 ☆The "lost city" is a recurring trope in Western fantasies, suggesting glamorous undiscovered worlds where Aquaman hangs out with giant seahorses. Modern metropolises are by no means destined to live forever, and historical evidence shows that people have chosen to abandon them repeatedly over the past eight thousand years. It's terrifying to realize that most of humanity lives in places that are destined to die. Four Lost Cities described areas which are still being excavated and studied to 3.5 ☆The "lost city" is a recurring trope in Western fantasies, suggesting glamorous undiscovered worlds where Aquaman hangs out with giant seahorses. Modern metropolises are by no means destined to live forever, and historical evidence shows that people have chosen to abandon them repeatedly over the past eight thousand years. It's terrifying to realize that most of humanity lives in places that are destined to die. Four Lost Cities described areas which are still being excavated and studied today: Çatahölyük (Turkey), Pompeii (Italy), Angkor (Cambodia), and Cahokia (USA). These span the centuries with the first example as possibly the very first urban settlement while the last two overlap in time through the 14th century. In each of the metropolises, Newitz provided glimpses of the evolution of archeology as new methods of exploration have altered the interpretation of findings. History is after all his-story and has often been a subjective recasting of a past event. I found this aspect of this book to be at times more interesting than the sites themselves. In particular, the discovery of these "lost cities" had been played up in the past to promote European cultural superiority (ex. Angkor). The motivations up until and through much of the mid to late 20th century were to find treasures to exploit for museum or private collections; in other words, the archeologists had concentrated their efforts upon the rich. At Çatahölyük, Ruth Tringham presented an alternative mindset as the focus was on Dido, just one woman's household. I do try to look at lives of individual household when I'm excavating because history is not a big flow from the top down... You have to look from the bottom up, and combine small stories, and small pieces of evidence, to see a history which is dynamic. In Pompeii, the sensibilities and religious values of the earlier excavators hindered an unbiased interpretation of what they had found; such as graffiti was deemed pornographic as opposed to also being that society's shorthand graphic depicting wealth. An estimated 75 percent of Pompeii's 12,000 residents were liberti (ie. slaves) and freed liberti, who had been allowed opportunities for economic prosperity. This societal structure had been determined by meticulous aggregation of data points in order to derive an idea of this resort town's social structure and businesses. ... data archeology represents the democratization of history. It's about looking at what the masses did and trying to reconstruct their social and even psychological lives. Once the translation of writing expanded from sanskrit to khmer (a language indigenous to Cambodia), understanding of Angkor bloomed. The use of LIDAR ("light detection and ranging") technology for anthropogenic geomorphology (how humans change the land) also revealed a different pattern of urbanization and reason for Angkor's construction than expected in the late 1800s by the European explorer who had "discovered" it. Newitz seemed more speculative than not in this section about debt slavery / employment, urban settlement, and whether societal collapse preceded the abandonment of the site. Cahokia in southernmost Illinois formed Mississippian culture from 1050 through 1350. Much of this section was written in a tentative fashion, as researchers continue to contest old presumptions coloring past hypotheses because of modern findings from stable isotope analysis and magnetometry. This metropolis defied the common understanding of why cities even formed in the first place. Cahokia seemed to center around communal activities be they spiritual or festive in nature, which breaks the mold of urban settlements created for trade or purposes of defense. While intriguing, I found this section the weakest in terms of Newitz's overall thesis and goal for writing this book; in particular, the reason / cause / catalyst for its abandonment was not addressed. In the Introduction, Newitz stated that her goal was to explore the reality of how people destroy their civilizations. The author asserted that each of the four metropolises failed after prolonged periods of political instability coupled with environmental crisis. Newitz had only partially accomplished her objective. Angkor no longer has permanent residents, and yet elements of the khmer culture still exists. Some indigenous researchers argue that the Mississippian culture has left traces that persist today. Newitz didn't tie the abandonment of Cahokia to any crisis attributable to climactic change. I had read this as a buddy read with the NFBC because I had visited Pompeii and Angkor. I did learn a few new things about both, and of course, about the other two settlements. But in the second half of Four Lost Cities, I felt that more questions than answers had been raised and I became a lot more distracted. At that point, I looked up the author's bio, and I could practically see the wheels turning as Newitz contemplated material for her future sci-fi novels.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Judith E

    Piecing together what urban life on earth was all about 9,000 years ago is like imagining what life would be “in a galaxy far, far away”. Luckily archeological technology has allowed us to uncover the daily routines of ordinary people and reveal what domestic life was like in ancient cities. Using the four excavated ancient cities of Catalhoyuk, Pompeii, Angkor, and Cahokia, and concentrating on the evolution of these large urban populations, we learn what those citizens ate, how they congregate Piecing together what urban life on earth was all about 9,000 years ago is like imagining what life would be “in a galaxy far, far away”. Luckily archeological technology has allowed us to uncover the daily routines of ordinary people and reveal what domestic life was like in ancient cities. Using the four excavated ancient cities of Catalhoyuk, Pompeii, Angkor, and Cahokia, and concentrating on the evolution of these large urban populations, we learn what those citizens ate, how they congregated, and what the interior of their homes were like. I liked that the focus was on everyday lives, rather than “elite political maneuvers”. Well researched and easy to read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Joy D

    This book is part memoir and part history. It covers the history of four ancient cities that have been deserted for centuries. The four cities are: Çatalhöyük (Turkey), Pompeii (Italy), Angkor (Cambodia), and Cahokia (US). Newitz visited each site, interviewed experts, and recounts what has been discovered, focusing on how the people lived and how the city died out. My favorite is the first part set in Çatalhöyük. I think it is a brilliant move by the author to follow what can be gleaned of the This book is part memoir and part history. It covers the history of four ancient cities that have been deserted for centuries. The four cities are: Çatalhöyük (Turkey), Pompeii (Italy), Angkor (Cambodia), and Cahokia (US). Newitz visited each site, interviewed experts, and recounts what has been discovered, focusing on how the people lived and how the city died out. My favorite is the first part set in Çatalhöyük. I think it is a brilliant move by the author to follow what can be gleaned of the life of a regular person. A female skeleton, named Dido by archeologists, was found at the site, along with relics of her home life. It really helps bring the history to life. Since so much time has passed, they have to speculate, but it is based on logical reasoning and the author tells us how they came to those conclusions. The Pompeii section contains lots of information I had already known, but there are some new tidbits, such as where the people went after they evacuated in the wake of the eruption of Vesuvius. The Angkor section shows how important it is to plan a city, rather than place the water source at the whim of the person in charge. The final section portrays life in an ancient city near St. Louis. I did not know much about this site and found this section informative. This book is filled with fascinating facts about how people lived in ancient times. Other accounts call them “lost” cities, but the author points out that they were abandoned over a period of time for a variety of reasons. If you enjoy archeology or sociology, as I do, you may want to check it out.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    This is a good but frustrating book. Newitz is a first-rate writer and has done their field work and homework. A fair bit of my frustration is inherent in any book on archaeology, especially one set in the deep past -- archaeologists' opinions differ and change over time, and will change again -- especially when the evidence they have is limited and ambiguous. But I (mostly) had fun reading about the work, the ruins, and these ancient civilizations -- especially where there were some constraints This is a good but frustrating book. Newitz is a first-rate writer and has done their field work and homework. A fair bit of my frustration is inherent in any book on archaeology, especially one set in the deep past -- archaeologists' opinions differ and change over time, and will change again -- especially when the evidence they have is limited and ambiguous. But I (mostly) had fun reading about the work, the ruins, and these ancient civilizations -- especially where there were some constraints on the archaeologists' and author's interpretations. I thought the best section by far was on Pompeii, and I liked that Newitz emphasized the lives of ordinary people, the "middlers" -- who aren't quite middle-class as we think of them (this was 2000 years ago!), but this was an unusually calm period in Roman Empire history, and there was some degree of equity in provincial society then. Pompeii was a tourist and party town -- neighboring Herculaneum was quieter, wealthier and more fashionable. Pompeii was badly damaged in a powerful earthquake in 62 AD, and some of the former elite mansions were repurposed into mixed-use developments, which was news to me. I'll have to look for a recent history of ancient Pompeii (and Rome) in the first century and would welcome reading a whole book on the topic. Recommendations, anyone? More random stuff from my notes: 160 tabernas are known for maybe 12,000 residents. They served mostly takeout food -- a lot of it -- to middlers and tourists. Who got rowdy at times. Emperor Nero banned gladiatorial games for two years after one big riot. Pompeiian carts drove on the right! -- known from the scars they left on the curbs. And were restricted to certain hours, to hold down the noise. The sex stuff! Whoa. Things were different then. The Roman government was surprisingly generous with aid to displaced residents after the massive eruption 0f 79 AD. Both cities and the surrounding countryside were buried in thick, hot volcanic ash, and left useless for many years after. The Cahokia section was the weakest for me, a major disappointment. The archaeology here is especially nebulous. Except for the human sacrifices. The author wrote this up as a big party and fertility-ceremony (in part), culminating in burying 52 young women, human-sacrifice victims, in a mass grave. Newitz tried to spin this as no big deal, things were different then, Europeans did bad stuff too. True enough, but so what? Does the author really think the families of the dead girls accepted their deaths as just part of life? I doubt it. And the Epilogue! The less said about that, the better. So. I'm not sorry I read the book, but it wasn't as good as I had hoped. Happens. Still pretty good, and the Pompeii stuff is great. You may want to start there. And skip the epilogue, is my advice. Civilization is *good*, and a wealthy society is better able to adjust to shocks. Reviewer's opinion. A good professional review, at the NY Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/25/bo... He liked it more than I did, and wrote a much better and more detailed review. Read this review before you decide on whether to read the book.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Silvana

    I've no complaints. But I am biased of course. I first found out about this book when I heard Annalee talked about in Swecon - I was so excited since they are one of my favorite SFF writers and could not wait for this book. I've been an urbanite almost all my life and I've worked on urban issues - mostly health - and anything city related fascinates me. After all, 70% of Indonesians will live in the cities by 2045. The book discusses four so-called (but not really) lost cities: Çatalhöyük (Turke I've no complaints. But I am biased of course. I first found out about this book when I heard Annalee talked about in Swecon - I was so excited since they are one of my favorite SFF writers and could not wait for this book. I've been an urbanite almost all my life and I've worked on urban issues - mostly health - and anything city related fascinates me. After all, 70% of Indonesians will live in the cities by 2045. The book discusses four so-called (but not really) lost cities: Çatalhöyük (Turkey), Angkor (Cambodia), Pompeii (Italy), and Cahokia (US). I enjoyed how Annalee wove the history, academic debates, etc into a readable account. Their preference to focus on the lives of ordinary folks -not the rulers - is very appreciated. While each city had its own origins, stories, heydays and then problems, it is the people who wield their fates. The political and environmental issues play a huge part but what were decided by the people is what finally determine whether the cities would wither, or spread around, or left behind, or live somewhere in different forms. Parts of Jakarta, for instance, would be underwater in no time due to lousy government planning and execution. What have been done by the citizens? What would the northern Jakartans do when their houses are inundated (worse than before)? Move to the south? So the city will expand south/east/west part? The government now plans to move our capital to Central Kalimantan. There would be lots and lots of 5W1H questions including about the people who would be its citizens. Anyway, let me stop my rambling and say that I'd like to know more about anthropogenic geomorphology, so if you find something along that line, feel free to nudge me.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jeanette

    This holds oodles of information. My main focus was on Cahokia, yet all 4 parts were thorough. I'm glad I read it. A task that took much longer than any most usual geographical type non-fiction I've read completely as a whole, without any skimming. In driving past Cahokia Mounds at least 4 or 5 times in the last 2 decades, I have always wanted to see more and understand it better. I think I do now- understand it. But there certainly are better and more beautiful places to see in that area of Lit This holds oodles of information. My main focus was on Cahokia, yet all 4 parts were thorough. I'm glad I read it. A task that took much longer than any most usual geographical type non-fiction I've read completely as a whole, without any skimming. In driving past Cahokia Mounds at least 4 or 5 times in the last 2 decades, I have always wanted to see more and understand it better. I think I do now- understand it. But there certainly are better and more beautiful places to see in that area of Little Egypt in Illinois. I've been within Pompeii and watched digs there in the late 1990's. I walked within dwellings back rooms and could go all over then, but this is no longer doable I have heard. The pornography and translations graphs (graffeti) are the most foul I've ever read. (Believe me, many do NOT have to be translated either.) Nothing is sacred. Nothing. It is extremely interesting because unlike these other 3 cities, the ending was so alive. Fully. Yet so abrupt. And it was nearly all libertii (former slaves or offspring of slaves or freedom earned themselves etc. of the first 2 generations) and the mixtures of ethnic peoples of so many tribal areas made it even more tragic. If that is possible. I never knew that if a woman had 3 children she was automatically considered freed. Or that with 4- you got all the kids free too. Or that slavery under Nero was changing and that he gave women rights of ownership in their own names for one of the first times. He was crazy but he wasn't all bad. But I have to warn you a tiny bit. Annalee Newitz does summersaults over gymnastic triples over backwards flips to parse the slavery and manual labors and mass executions of the indigenous cultures. Western civilization BAD, indigenous cultures GOOD- you know. So 1000 dead slaves for one ceremony is not as bad as Henry VIII killing two of his wives. That's the kind of parsing I'm posting about. Made me laugh. It didn't ruin the book for me, but did make me question a few of her main premises about economics vs spiritual substance being the urban imploding etc. When you are sacrificing people in droves of 100's for certain ceremonies, I would believe that the volunteers become skimpy after not too long. It's mind-blowing that the Ankor sites could have been excavated by hand, manual labor. It would be similar to digging out the Panama Canal with a shovel and a pail. I do not think all that labor was done for such periods of time without huge slavery classes. For more than just a few decades. More like 2 or 3 centuries. The author doesn't deny that at all, and yet she vastly underestimates the economics of some of these causes for such outcomes, IMHO. Even within the structural spiritual cultures of highly ritualized living there comes a point what the substance would just not "be there" for the core games or the show. Climates always change, rivers bend into other directions- and economics of trade and possible growth of crops always matters. She never denies that, but her scales are skewed, IMHO.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sue Myers

    I am definitely an outlier here which surprises me because I generally like nonfiction and love archaeology. This book was downright boring and rather moralizing. The section on Pompeii was the best, particularly because we have written records of that city. The civilization in modern day Turkey was rather interesting, but I felt that Ankor cities and Cahokia was extremely technical and did not flow. Was truly interested in the life of the ordinary people of each of the cities. The drawn maps we I am definitely an outlier here which surprises me because I generally like nonfiction and love archaeology. This book was downright boring and rather moralizing. The section on Pompeii was the best, particularly because we have written records of that city. The civilization in modern day Turkey was rather interesting, but I felt that Ankor cities and Cahokia was extremely technical and did not flow. Was truly interested in the life of the ordinary people of each of the cities. The drawn maps were helpful and interesting, but actual photographs would have added to one's understanding.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Rachel (Kalanadi)

    3.5 stars

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    Four cities from throughout human history spread across the world - who were the people who lived there? What was it about these places that attracted people and why did they end up leaving? If you have an interest in human history and archaeology but don't have much in-depth knowledge or want anything too academic or dense then this is certainly worth a try. The style is more like a newspaper long-read and, although there is some basic archaeological information, there is a lot of speculation a Four cities from throughout human history spread across the world - who were the people who lived there? What was it about these places that attracted people and why did they end up leaving? If you have an interest in human history and archaeology but don't have much in-depth knowledge or want anything too academic or dense then this is certainly worth a try. The style is more like a newspaper long-read and, although there is some basic archaeological information, there is a lot of speculation about the motives of people who occupied and then deserted these cities. Were their choices political, religious, purely practical? What must they have been thinking and feeling? I should say that this speculation seems to largely come from the experts and specialists that the author meets & speaks with and isn't just their own imagination. I learnt quite a bit, even about Pompeii which is probably the most well-known of the four cities, and I'll certainly now look for more reading about the other cities covered. I also liked that the author spent the time discussing why these cities have never really been "lost" because the people and cultures still survive elsewhere or because the local population still knew the location but finding a "lost" city gave notoriety to the western colonial explorers/forces. Personally, I didn't find the style for me - I felt it wandered away from a point to circle back around later or to mention similar things again. I think some photos or sketches may have helped focus the stories being told. Thanks to NetGalley and W.W. Norton & Company for the review copy.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Monika

    We all would’ve learnt about ancient civilisations in history. But what do we really know about them? Why did people abandon those sophisticated civilisations? These may be questions for archeologists, but as a history seeker I’ve always had these questions in mind. The Four Lost Cities - we follow the exploration of four ancient forgotten civilisations along with the author Annalee Newitz. Newitz explores the rise and fall of four ancient cities, each the center of a sophisticated civilization: We all would’ve learnt about ancient civilisations in history. But what do we really know about them? Why did people abandon those sophisticated civilisations? These may be questions for archeologists, but as a history seeker I’ve always had these questions in mind. The Four Lost Cities - we follow the exploration of four ancient forgotten civilisations along with the author Annalee Newitz. Newitz explores the rise and fall of four ancient cities, each the center of a sophisticated civilization: the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük in Central Turkey, the Roman vacation town of Pompeii on Italy’s southern coast, the medieval megacity of Angkor in Cambodia, and the indigenous metropolis Cahokia, which stood beside the Mississippi River where East St. Louis is today. With fascinating details, archeological insights and rich cultural background, this is how ancient history should be written. Anyone who is interested in history would like this book. The author is a cohost of Hugo award winning podcast Our Opinions are correct! She is the author of Future of another timeline that will interest time travel enthusiast and scifi lovers alike!! Thank you Netgalley & publisher for the eARC in exchange for an honest opinion!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Katie P.

    Blog ✍ | Facebook 👩 | Twitter 🐦 | Instagram 📸 Four Lost Cities is an incredibly interesting and topical monograph that isn't a monograph. The author, Annalee Newitz, takes readers through a conversation about the rise and fall of four ancient cities. Many scholarly works get bogged down in jargon, but this book takes the reader on a journey with an easy to read style and makes it all the more effective in bringing it's central message to the reader. The ancient cities are Çatalhöyük in Central Tur Blog ✍ | Facebook 👩 | Twitter 🐦 | Instagram 📸 Four Lost Cities is an incredibly interesting and topical monograph that isn't a monograph. The author, Annalee Newitz, takes readers through a conversation about the rise and fall of four ancient cities. Many scholarly works get bogged down in jargon, but this book takes the reader on a journey with an easy to read style and makes it all the more effective in bringing it's central message to the reader. The ancient cities are Çatalhöyük in Central Turkey from the Neolithic period, Pompeii in Italy, Angkor in Cambodia, and Cahokia near the Mississippi River in North America. Going into this book, I knew about two of the four cities and was astounded to read about both Çatalhöyük and Cahokia. Contrary to popular belief, Newitz concludes that the residents of these cities did not die out, rather they migrated from their close-quarters homes. Through the narrative, Newitz analyzes the cultural and historical implications that led to migrations from these ancient metropolis sites. Detailing new and innovative techniques in the field of archelogy, Newitz presents conclusions and findings in a compelling way. Though the author's background is journalism, the research that was put into this book is evident in every paragraph. Though I do not live in a metropolitan area, I see the effects of urbanization within my community and region. Like other reviewers, I focused on the message about urbanism and it's effect on society. I enjoyed reading the historical and archeological analysis of urbanism and migration in ancient cities. Newitz makes a clear statement that the subject civilizations migrated as a result of necessity. This is the message I held on to at the end of the book. We, as humans, must change as a result of necessity, be that migration from urban centers or changing other habits. This is an incredibly timely message for the world!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    I found this book to be somewhat uneven. Some parts are fascinating and informative,, such as the first large human city and Pompeii. (Note to self--I hope that you didn't find that one interesting because of the sex stuff). The other two cities are full of speculation and not that informative. I was going to give it a four star rating anyway until I read the epilogue where, with almost no evidence, the author describes a future in which all cities eventually collapse leaving piles of rotting bo I found this book to be somewhat uneven. Some parts are fascinating and informative,, such as the first large human city and Pompeii. (Note to self--I hope that you didn't find that one interesting because of the sex stuff). The other two cities are full of speculation and not that informative. I was going to give it a four star rating anyway until I read the epilogue where, with almost no evidence, the author describes a future in which all cities eventually collapse leaving piles of rotting bodies behind and this after earlier savaging Jared Diamond's book "Collapse.""). You might want to skip that part.

  15. 5 out of 5

    John

    Sure, this book is full of interesting anecdotes and theories about the four lost (somewhat lost, at least) cities. The first city described, in particular, fascinated me--Catalhoyuk. However, two things irritated me. First, the evidence--fossils and shards and post holes filled in with garbage, etc.--invites a great deal of speculation, but much less certainty. Pompey is a bit different in that accounts and records of that era survive in print. I don't thing the author can be faulted here--we'r Sure, this book is full of interesting anecdotes and theories about the four lost (somewhat lost, at least) cities. The first city described, in particular, fascinated me--Catalhoyuk. However, two things irritated me. First, the evidence--fossils and shards and post holes filled in with garbage, etc.--invites a great deal of speculation, but much less certainty. Pompey is a bit different in that accounts and records of that era survive in print. I don't thing the author can be faulted here--we're going on what they left behind, and it doesn't always add up to a coherent story. What irked me more was this constant moralizing tone that suggested we shouldn't make judgements (about human sacrifice, for example; or engineering) because we are bad too, in our modern era. It strikes me that the evidence from both ancient societies and our own is that we need to be much more willing to call a spade a spade and make the tough calls to change our track. There is a cloying admiration for all ancient societies here, one that serves as a presupposition that detracts from this books overall story.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

    Just OK. The first two cities were the most fascinating. Catalhoyuk because I knew nothing about it and it was all fresh. And Pompeii because we know so much about what happened there and it is fascinating in a very real and terrifying way. The final two cities, Angkor and Cahokia, did not catch my interest at all. It seemed the author wrote about these in a drier, more technical manner. I was especially disappointed in the Cahokia chapters. I live in the Midwest and really wanted to hear more a Just OK. The first two cities were the most fascinating. Catalhoyuk because I knew nothing about it and it was all fresh. And Pompeii because we know so much about what happened there and it is fascinating in a very real and terrifying way. The final two cities, Angkor and Cahokia, did not catch my interest at all. It seemed the author wrote about these in a drier, more technical manner. I was especially disappointed in the Cahokia chapters. I live in the Midwest and really wanted to hear more about the ancient doings in the neighborhood. I was skimming at the end just to finish.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mal Warwick

    To say that Annalee Newitz’s interests are eclectic grossly understates the point. They—Newitz’s personal pronouns are they/their/theirs—are the author of two science fiction novels and two works of nonfiction that sprawl across a broad swath of issues and preoccupations. Newitz has also edited or co-edited a number of other nonfiction books and contributed chapters to several more. And a third novel is scheduled for publication later this year. The subjects of these works include mass extinctio To say that Annalee Newitz’s interests are eclectic grossly understates the point. They—Newitz’s personal pronouns are they/their/theirs—are the author of two science fiction novels and two works of nonfiction that sprawl across a broad swath of issues and preoccupations. Newitz has also edited or co-edited a number of other nonfiction books and contributed chapters to several more. And a third novel is scheduled for publication later this year. The subjects of these works include mass extinction, race and class in America, popular culture, robots, and alternate feminist history, among many others. In Four Lost Cities, their latest outing into the realm of the printed word, they venture into urban history through the lens of archaeology. With Annalee Newitz as your guide, you’ll join archaeologists at work in some of the most fascinating spots around the world. A wide-angle portrait of archaeologists at work This book is, above all, a wide-angle portrait of archaeologists at work. Over the course of seven years, including many summers spent at dig sites across the world, Newitz interviewed scores of archaeologists. The picture that emerges is likely to revise the impression most of us have had of what archaeologists actually do. Of course, few take seriously the mythical figure of Indiana Jones as representative of the field. But the far more sober picture of archaeologists on their knees in godforsaken places, sifting through the earth for pottery shards and ancient weapons isn’t much closer to the truth. (OK, it’s a big part of the picture.) Today, archaeologists employ science in manifold ways to suss out the story of the past. How science and technology have revolutionized archaeology Contemporary science and technology come into play in several ways in the pages of Four Lost Cities. Stratigraphic mapping To distinguish among the layers beneath a settlement built atop a series of earlier communities, archaeologists employ stratigraphic mapping analogous to the method used to distinguish one geological epoch from another. Computational archaeology In data archaeology, or computational archaeology, investigators study long-term human behavior and behavioral evolution by discerning patterns in the data sets that emerge from close observation of the tiny details in a dig. For example, they may count the number of times they find pottery produced elsewhere versus pottery produced at the site they’re studying. The might suggest the importance of trade to the inhabitants. Lidar With lidar (Light Detection And Ranging), specialists can probe the location, depth, and dimensions of structures long buried under the earth, even in the midst of a forest or jungle. Newitz’s description of these methods merely hints at the sophistication of the science brought to bear by archaeologists at work today. Dig deeper into the field, and you’ll find a bewildering array of other scientific methods that now figure in this increasingly demanding discipline. Radiocarbon dating is only the most familiar of these techniques. The four “lost cities” Çatalhöyük Located in present-day south-central Turkey, Çatalhöyük was a Neolithic (Stone Age) community that flourished from approximately 7100 BCE to 5700 BCE. At its peak, the city’s population is estimated to have reached 10,000 at most. Many of its inhabitants “were only a generation or two removed from nomadism.” Thus, it may be misleading to characterize the place as a city. Elsewhere, Newitz refers to it as a “Neolithic mega-village.” Çatalhöyük predated the age of empires; “there were no kings or big bosses.” Like most of the other cities Newitz studied, Çatalhöyük is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The site was first excavated in 1958 by James Mellaart, who did his work in the 1950s and 60s and is not among among the many working archaeologists Newitz interviewed for this book. They take him to task for his thesis of “goddess worship,” a discredited analysis of Çatalhöyük’s belief system. Newitz’s emphasis, like that of a great many of the scientists they spoke with, was on daily life in the city and on analyzing why and how Çatalhöyük could have become “lost.” But even when most of the city’s inhabitants had moved on to other, smaller cities or back to village life, “nobody ‘lost’ the city . . . The place remained special, long after people left it.” For archaeologists at work today, Çatalhöyük is most interesting for the light it shines on the rise and fall of cities. Pompeii It’s well known that in 79 CE the volcano Vesuvius erupted violently, burying the Roman resort town of Pompeii and several neighboring communities under up to six meters of burning ash. Largely preserved under the ash, the excavated city offered a unique snapshot of Roman life, frozen at the moment it was buried. But, in Newitz’s telling, what we have learned about Pompeii was not truly representative of Roman lifestyles. Like other communities in the empire, the city, home to an estimated 12,000 people, was specialized. Pompeii was a resort and trading center. It was “a diverse urban community, whose population came from many places, and fused the traditions of of North Africa and Rome into something that was uniquely Pompeii.” It was also wealthy and offered an unusual number of large villas. Some were owned by Romans who summered there to escape the greater heat of the capital, others by those who did business in the bustling nearby warehouse town and port of Puteoli (Pozzuoli today). Newitz writes in fascinating detail about slavery in Pompeii. This was not the chattel slavery experienced by Africans dragged to the Americas but something more closely akin to indentured servitude like that which brought so many settlers to the American colonies. “The typical Roman household,” Newitz notes, “would have been roughly half slaves, and a quarter to a third liberti [ex-slaves]. Up to three-quarters of free people in cities were either ex-slaves or their descendants.” Angkor Wat Angkor Wat is a twelfth century temple complex in Cambodia and the largest religious monument in the world by land area, comparable in size to Los Angeles, but it was also a populous city. According to Oliver Wainwright in The Guardian, “At its peak in the 12th century, when London had a population of 18,000, Angkor was home to hundreds of thousands, some estimate up to three-quarters of a million people. . . [but] it was the prototype of modern-day suburban sprawl.” There was no central city. Newitz goes further. “Eleven hundred years ago,” they write, “Angkor was one of the biggest metropolises in the world, thronging with nearly a million residents, tourists, and pilgrims.” It was the capital of the vast Khmer Empire, which subjugated most of present-day Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam and parts of Southern China. Unlike most accounts of Angkor Wat, Newitz avoids a detailed description of the striking architecture and dwells instead on the lives of the inhabitants. Cahokia Even today, most Americans labor under the illusion that the native peoples Europeans encountered here in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries lived exclusively in tiny settlements, if they had settled anywhere at all. But history tells us that, in what is today upstate New York and surrounding states, the Iroquois Federation had achieved a level of sophistication in the organization of its communities and in its government that helped inspire the writing of the United States Constitution. And more than a thousand years before European contact, the city of Cahokia on the shore of the Mississippi River housed a population of over 30,000 people from the ninth through the fourteenth centuries—more than lived in London or Paris at the time. It “was the largest city in North America before the arrival of Europeans,” and Newitz cites the conclusions of archaeologists who have devoted years to studying Cahokia that the city’s purpose was ceremonial rather than economic. “It was a spiritual center rather than a trade center,” they write. Is there any pattern to the rise and decline of these four cities Newitz studied? They think not. “By the 1970s,” they write, “archaeologists and urban historians had accumulated loads of evidence that urban civilizations have no set developmental pattern . . . [and] urban abandonment does not mean some kind of cultural death,” Jared Diamond’s bestseller, Collapse, notwithstanding. Diamond’s environmental determinism “leaves out the crucial political aspects of urban transformation. . . What he gets wrong is that the public is diverse and always changing.” A multitude of other “lost cities” In the course of more than ten millennia, thousands of cities have been founded on every one of the six inhabited continents on Earth. Many have long since passed into history, abandoned or destroyed for reasons that are often difficult to discover. Newitz might have picked a great many other examples in addition to the four she chose. Today, archaeologists are at work on many other sites around the world. Among the best known and potentially most interesting of those she avoided are four. Great Zimbabwe Great Zimbabwe, located in present-day Zimbabwe, is believed to have been the capital of a great kingdom during the Late Iron Age. Built in the eleventh century, it could have housed up to 18,000 people for several hundred years until it was abandoned in the fifteenth century. Petra The ruins of Petra lie in southern Jordan, which has been inhabited since approximately 7,000 BCE. From the second century BCE through the first century CE, Petra served as the capital of a Nabataean kingdom with a population that peaked at an estimated 20,000 inhabitants. Mohenjo-daro and Harappa Archaeologists believe that the Indus Valley Civilization centered in present-day Pakistan during the Bronze Age was contemporaneous with those in the Middle East and China, flourishing from 3300 BCE to 1300 BCE. Mohenjo-daro was one of its principal cities with a population estimated to contain between 30,000 and 60,000 individuals. (Harappa was a similarly large city nearby.) The cities anchored an area containing as many as five million people. Xanadu Xanadu, or Shangdu, was the summer capital of the Yuan dynasty of China that ruled the Mongol Empire, before Kublai Khan moved his throne to what is today Beijing. At its zenith, over 100,000 people lived within its walls. The city flourished for a century until conquered by a Ming army in 1369. Western accounts of the city inspired the famous poem Kubla Khan by the English Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Newitz on “lost cities” “The ‘lost city’ is a recurring trope in Western fantasies,” Newitz writes. But, as they amply demonstrate in the pages of this illuminating account, “modern metropolises are by no means destined to live forever, and historical evidence shows that people have chosen to abandon them repeatedly over the past eight thousand years, It’s terrifying to realize that most of humanity lives in places that are destined to die. The myth of the lost city obscures the reality of how people destroy their civilizations.” Clearly, given how ineffectually we’re responding to the climate emergency and rising sea levels today, it would be naive for us to think that the future of cities is unrelievedly bright. “Eventually,” they argue, “some of today’s megacities will look like something out of a far-future science fiction movie, full of half-drowned metal skeletons covered in incomprehensible advertisements for products we can no longer afford to make or buy.” About the author Berkeley-based writer Annalee Newitz (born 1969) is a prolific author, editor, and columnist who divides their time between fiction and nonfiction. Their continuing roles include work as a contributing opinion writer at The New York Times, co-editor with their partner Charlie Jane Anders of the technology and science fiction website Gizmodo, and occasional appearances in the pages of such magazines as New Scientist, Wired, and Popular Science. They hold a Ph.D. in English and American Studies from UC Berkeley.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Charlotte (Romansdegare)

    I picked up Four Lost Cities on a recommendation from the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, and I'm so glad I did. I rarely read nonfiction for fun, since I have to read so much of it for work, so I was skeptical... and I know it doesn't really fit in with the rest of what I read here, but I enjoyed it so much that I kind of just want to yell at everyone I know to read it. This is one of those "interrupt your long-suffering partner every 5 minutes to tell them a new anecdote" books, and I'm here I picked up Four Lost Cities on a recommendation from the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, and I'm so glad I did. I rarely read nonfiction for fun, since I have to read so much of it for work, so I was skeptical... and I know it doesn't really fit in with the rest of what I read here, but I enjoyed it so much that I kind of just want to yell at everyone I know to read it. This is one of those "interrupt your long-suffering partner every 5 minutes to tell them a new anecdote" books, and I'm here to share the joy just a little bit wider. Basically the premise is that the author writes about four "lost" cities - though not lost in the Atlantis "sunk under the sea and nobody knows where it is or if it existed" sense, so much as the "once bustling urban centers that were eventually abandoned" sense. The cities in question are Çatalhöyük (Turkey), Pompeii (Italy), Angkor (Cambodia), and Cahokia (North America). I'll admit that what got me to pick the book up was a bit of a sensationalist hook - there was an 11th century city larger than Paris that used to exist around where St. Louis is now and I've never heard of it?? - but what I ended up appreciating the most about this book is how the author resisted sensationalism. They're much more invested in asking about how average people lived their lives in cities, why nomads gave up their lifestyles to live next door to strangers, the different purposes cities could serve, and the myriad ways things went wrong, from the catastrophic (volcano) to the mundane (political mis-management). Which isn't to say that there's not something rather sensational about learning things like the fact that an entire city of honeycomb-like houses where sidewalks were on the roof and doors were in the ceiling existed? And then kind of... ceased to? But really, this book is at its best when it's tracing the lives of private citizens. And talking about the work of the modern-day archaeologists who figure out what they can about those lives. Newitz is not an archaeologist themselves, but they do a really stellar job of presenting specialist knowledge for a non-specialist audience. They especially shine, I think, when talking about how archaeologists of the past came to believe certain things about cities, and how new technology and new interpretations have changed those beliefs. Like how a plethora of female figurines found at Çatalhöyük led to a hypothesis of a matriarchal goddess-worshipping society for years, and how that hypothesis was revised (in the face of the figurines sheer numbers and shoddy material) to understand them as kind of a... throwaway spell-casting device you might make out of mud in the morning for good luck and throw in the trash in the afternoon. Part of the fun of the book was seeing how archaeologists can look at a line in the mud and figure out and entire history of house construction, or how pottery shards can tell us when people started eating dairy, or how changes in diet led to changes in bone structure led to changes in the way the mouth can produce sounds, which led to entire new phonemes emerging in human languages (WHAT). But part of the fun was also seeing how, exactly, specialists got things wrong in the past, and came to revise those ideas. You can definitely see the bones of this book starting as a series of articles, and there are times when the author seems to be stretching for an over-arching narrative. I found the sections about Çatalhöyük and Pompeii way more compelling than the ones about Angkor and Cahokia, mostly because the latter abandon the "day in the life of a resident" approach and try to make bigger points about politics, environmental catastrophe, and what that might mean for modern cities. Which is a totally reasonable goal, but I'm not sure the type of data really warranted the scale of the conclusions? I was much more engaged when I was being left to make my own connections between city life now and city life in the past. As a convinced city-dweller (who hopes to never live anywhere else), I know what I think of as the benefits and disadvantages of modern cities. But it was really fascinating to think about a time when the concept of that kind of population density didn't even exist, and ask why people would have made the decision to live that way, and how it would have changed their lives. Plus, now I know that if there was one thing that united citizens of ancient civilizations, it was that they really, really enjoyed decorating things with dicks. Phallic interior (and exterior) decorating was absolutely On Trend for thousands of years. Can't imagine why we stopped doing that. (CW- the author talks about the suicide of a family member in the introduction to the book)

  19. 5 out of 5

    Suzanne

    Annalee Newitz traces the founding, evolution and eventual abandonment of four ancient cities in a detailed and very entertaining fashion, talking about the lives people lived in each of these places, their social constructs, rituals and routines, the how and the why of what they did in their cities (as best as archaeologists can ascertain), and the ways they utilized the natural resources in their particular area and acted upon their environment. The major premise is that cities don’t collapse Annalee Newitz traces the founding, evolution and eventual abandonment of four ancient cities in a detailed and very entertaining fashion, talking about the lives people lived in each of these places, their social constructs, rituals and routines, the how and the why of what they did in their cities (as best as archaeologists can ascertain), and the ways they utilized the natural resources in their particular area and acted upon their environment. The major premise is that cities don’t collapse apocalyptically for one specific reason. Population loss often results from a combination of causes: climate change, yes, but also a perhaps-simultaneous accumulation of bad city management decisions, societal shifts in relationships between different classes, economic instability, conflicts with outside groups, and a whole stew of influences that sooner or later create a perfect storm of dysfunction. Newitz does note some parallels with present day situations and in the Epilogue speculates about the future of urban living. I found this fascinating from start to finish: lively, engaging, and not the least bit dry or academic as such a well-researched book could have been. But it is chock-full of footnotes and bibliographic references to guide you to further info if you’re so inclined. I liked the chapter on Catalhoyuk because of its status as a very early Neolithic proto-city; the chapter on Pompeii was great in the way it portrayed the very lively city-life enjoyed by residents (although there were times when TMI); Angkor was all new information to me; and I was particularly intrigued by Cahokia, perhaps because it was closer to home, North America’s own ancient pyramid city near the site of present-day East St. Louis. And Newitz can write. This was a great reading experience and I’ve put their other book, Scatter, Adapt and Remember, on my to-read list near the top.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Glen

    I won this book in a goodreads drawing. An examination of the rise and fall of 4 cities, in different parts of the world. I found the book fascinating, but it also shows the limits of archaeology. A fairly good popular history.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Crystal

    Non-fiction, history of urban cultures -- 4 Stars Newitz definitely enjoyed digging into these cities to tell the theories of their heyday and demise. The book is broken into 4 sections that could be read alone as there are some but not many cross-references between the sections. Catalhoyuk--The oldest of the cities discussed and therefore not a whole lot of facts are certain about this city but what can be determined by archaeologists today is fascinating. Reading this description of a time when Non-fiction, history of urban cultures -- 4 Stars Newitz definitely enjoyed digging into these cities to tell the theories of their heyday and demise. The book is broken into 4 sections that could be read alone as there are some but not many cross-references between the sections. Catalhoyuk--The oldest of the cities discussed and therefore not a whole lot of facts are certain about this city but what can be determined by archaeologists today is fascinating. Reading this description of a time when humans were just beginning to 'settle down' reminded me of a question posed in Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind: Did we domesticate wheat [=(insert also a different crop or animal here) or did it domesticate us? Pompeii--Having taken Latin as a foreign language in school for 3 years I learned quite a bit about Rome. It's interesting how varied the lands that were all a part of 'Rome' can be, however. Pompeii is definitely a city that had its own flair and culture. This is the most well-known of the cities that are discussed IMO. Angkor--This is a lot like the first city for me because I knew nothing of it. Aside from ethnocentric reasons, the area is hard to investigate so many centuries later because of the climate. Humid, green, hot swampy places don't preserve their past as well as dry and arid places do. I was fascinated at how the more sprawling parts of the city were hidden in plain sight for so long...just taken over by the jungle but lying there waiting for the technology to put them on the radar (er...LIDAR). Cahokia--This ancient Native American city is fascinating. I had read an alternative-history a while back, [book:Clash of Eagles|22570784], where Rome didn't fall as early and was the first European civilization to 'find' North America. A Roman soldier stays with the Cahokians. I enjoyed reading here about how real the very large mounds were. This section also brought to mind 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (non-fiction) which discusses the most up-do-date estimates and understanding of what Native American settlements/cities/culture/populations were like pre-Columbus. This was a quick read that was very easy to break into its intended sections. This would be a nice one to fill in between books when you're waiting on a BoTM or BR to start and just want something to read for today--read one section then move on tomorrow to your other reads. You can easily come back to it. And you will because it's interesting. I was a little disappointed that there wasn't more explanation for "why these 4 cities?". What did they really have to do with each other? I understand she was making a point that not all cities collapse overnight nor for the same reasons...the sections just seemed very disjointed to me. If there is an over-arching theme Newitz creates amongst the sections it's this: 19th and 20th century scholars messed up a lot of interpretations with their own ideas, suppositions and various -isms. From assumptions of matriarchal systems just bc women are portrayed as regular humans to outright hiding of artifacts that don't fit the predetermined message, some of the earlier endeavors to understand these civilizations were unlikely to produce honest results from the get-go.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

    This is a really interesting study of the rise and fall of four cities: Çatalhöyük in Central Turkey, Pompeii, Cahokia along the Mississippi River, and Angkor in Cambodia. The author traveled to all these locations, interviewed and often even worked with the archaeologists excavating them. What's really interesting to me about archaeology is how open to interpretation everything is. Ms. Newitz covers some of the earlier theories about the various civilizations, and what the common popular belief This is a really interesting study of the rise and fall of four cities: Çatalhöyük in Central Turkey, Pompeii, Cahokia along the Mississippi River, and Angkor in Cambodia. The author traveled to all these locations, interviewed and often even worked with the archaeologists excavating them. What's really interesting to me about archaeology is how open to interpretation everything is. Ms. Newitz covers some of the earlier theories about the various civilizations, and what the common popular beliefs are. But what if those are wrong, too? Without written documentation (and even that is open to interpretation), we'll never know.

  23. 4 out of 5

    E.

    What a great dang book. Two of the cities I'd never heard of, and getting to explore them was fantastic. Yay archaeology! What a great dang book. Two of the cities I'd never heard of, and getting to explore them was fantastic. Yay archaeology!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Rick H

    It’s hard to rate this book - I enjoyed learning about the cities the author selected to write about and I liked their focus on the lives of non-elites in these cities. The epilogue however was utterly bizarre and the conclusions drawn in it are completely incongruous with the more studious writing about each city’s trajectory through time. Finally, is the title supposed to be ironic? The author repeats over and over again that none of the cities were lost when modern people “found them”. Or is It’s hard to rate this book - I enjoyed learning about the cities the author selected to write about and I liked their focus on the lives of non-elites in these cities. The epilogue however was utterly bizarre and the conclusions drawn in it are completely incongruous with the more studious writing about each city’s trajectory through time. Finally, is the title supposed to be ironic? The author repeats over and over again that none of the cities were lost when modern people “found them”. Or is this just a title focus-grouped by the publisher’s marketing department?

  25. 4 out of 5

    Arista

    Just fell flat for me. A cool concept that probably would have been fascinating in the hands of another author. A memoir would have more personal story, a history would have more citations and less seemingly random personal observations, a work of narrative non-fiction would have a . . .coherent and engaging narrative? I don’t know. As it is, this book is trying to be all of these things and failing on all fronts. Did mine her Notes section for better options, though.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Galloway

    This was a pleasant, light anthropological read that explores four cities around the world and some of the theories about why they were abandoned. I knew a lot of it from my anthropology degree, but it was still fun to listen to and to get some updates on ideas published after I graduated.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Oleksandr Zholud

    This is a non-fic, written by a SF author, Annalee Newitz about four cities and their collapse (or not). I read is as a part of monthly reading for June 2021 at Non Fiction Book Club group. The author’s initial intentions was to find out why some cities fail and what history can advise us for our current urban development. She follows life-cycles of four cities, about each of which I knew virtually nothing before reading this book and here follows some nitpick I found most interesting. The first c This is a non-fic, written by a SF author, Annalee Newitz about four cities and their collapse (or not). I read is as a part of monthly reading for June 2021 at Non Fiction Book Club group. The author’s initial intentions was to find out why some cities fail and what history can advise us for our current urban development. She follows life-cycles of four cities, about each of which I knew virtually nothing before reading this book and here follows some nitpick I found most interesting. The first city is Çatalhöyük in Central Turkey, possibly the earliest known town, even if definitions vary regarding what a town means. It was found during Neolith, 9000 years ago and existed over a millennia with maximum population about 10,000 – a great figure if one remembers that most human groups were nomads, 50-150 persons. The town was surprisingly egalitarian on the surface – roughly similar houses wall to wall (no streets), with exits on the roof and one could go by roofs around the town. There are no definite temples, market places or other ‘communal’ buildings. In the 1960s some findings suggested that it was a matriarchy, the hypothesis is debunked now. The town was founded before they started using diary products. They had their deceased literally below their beds. The second is Pompeii, the Roman vacation town. When it was covered with ash after the famous eruption of Vesuvius, quite a lot of inhabitants managed to escape and the empire supported their resettlement. The ill-famous emperor Nero actually helped women to move from the domestic sphere into the public realm. He used theatrical productions to make political arguments that previous leaders would have made in the Forum like the present politicians use social media. Under Nero, the theater is opened up and more women enter the performance space. Up to 1/3 of roman population were freed slaves, libertus/liberta. When people of the 19th and 20th centuries came upon sculptures of genitalia or dirty graffiti, they locked these things away in “secret cabinets” because it was too hard to step outside their Christian values and look at those artifacts with Roman eyes. Roman sexuality is so alien to modern people’s sensibilities in the West that it was practically illegible. Museum curators in previous centuries treated lucky penis charms like pornography, and historians didn’t consider prostitutes worthy of study. The third is the medieval megacity of Angkor in Cambodia (population up to 1 million in the 8th century). Before ladar search was performed it was assumed a much smaller temple city, for the remainder was much more fluid and made of perishable materials. Cambodia is known for its climate extremes, with rainy season floods and dry season droughts. The city had giant basins for water. Some were ordered to be constructed on east-west axis, even while west part wasn’t flat, which created big problems. There is now clear evidence for the use of tropical forests by [humans] in Borneo and Melanesia by c. 45,000 years ago; in South Asia by c. 36,000 years ago; and in South America by c. 13,000 years ago – much earlier than ‘traditional’ grain agriculture. It is hard for archaeologists to identify urban remains that aren’t as recognizable as stone walls and figurines. To find early cities in Southeast Asia, scientists look for what they call “anthropogenic geomorphology.” Finally, the indigenous metropolis Cahokia that stood beside the Mississippi River where East St. Louis is today. It was not a trade or defense center, but a church-city. At the city’s apex in 1050 AD, the population exploded to as many as 30,000 people. It was the largest pre-Columbian city in what later became known as North America, and bigger than Paris at the time. There are purpose-built structures throughout the city devoted entirely to the masses. Plazas were places for people to form crowds, whether to watch sports or listen to a sermon. This was a city devoted to the transformative power of public life. Its urban plan includes no permanent marketplace, nor merchant halls. The city was a spiritual center rather than a trade center. As evidence, he points to the kinds of objects that people took home with them from Cahokia: a distinctive form of ceremonial pottery, called Ramey, that was made exclusively at Cahokia. Ramey pots were aesthetically beautiful and technically complex. After the author described the cities above, she found out that they don’t collapse, but transform, often people still live there after the authorities leave (so, vanish from ‘official history’). Environmental disasters matter, but the don’t define the fate.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kimberly

    An interesting, and thoroughly researched review of four cities that were presumed to be "lost." Two of these cities were unknown to me prior to reading this book. The author gets involved at the excavation sites and accesses the expertise of anthropologists, urban planners, architects, linguists, and of course archeol0gists. Many theories are upended with new information garnered only recently with the benefit of technology. The old theories promulgated by old, wealthy, white, European men were An interesting, and thoroughly researched review of four cities that were presumed to be "lost." Two of these cities were unknown to me prior to reading this book. The author gets involved at the excavation sites and accesses the expertise of anthropologists, urban planners, architects, linguists, and of course archeol0gists. Many theories are upended with new information garnered only recently with the benefit of technology. The old theories promulgated by old, wealthy, white, European men were based on their inherent biases without regard for differing urban evolutions and with the lives of servants and slaves held in disdain. The author's goal is to find how common people lived in these cities rather than just to how the wealthy and elite lived. She succeeds, for the most part.

  29. 5 out of 5

    laurel [the suspected bibliophile]

    This was brilliant. While some sections of cities were bare in terms of telling why people did the way they did, the overall basis of overturning the myth of "lost" cities or cultures was paramount. No cities are truly lost—that is a Eurocentric ("westernized") myth conducted by white explorers who had various political and ego-driven agendas, and one that (rather sinisterly) removes the experiences of the peoples who have lived in those cities and civilizations for generations. I also loved the t This was brilliant. While some sections of cities were bare in terms of telling why people did the way they did, the overall basis of overturning the myth of "lost" cities or cultures was paramount. No cities are truly lost—that is a Eurocentric ("westernized") myth conducted by white explorers who had various political and ego-driven agendas, and one that (rather sinisterly) removes the experiences of the peoples who have lived in those cities and civilizations for generations. I also loved the theme of society as one where the only constant is change, and change driven by any number of factors. Cities are never static, they are constantly in motion—now, then and in the future—and it's a fascinating process that can be good, can be bad, can be neither. Sometimes people come together to create a city and live together in a state of constant social flux (even the most rigid hierarchal structures have much change), and then sometimes cities are abandoned, rarely suddenly, through thousands of small decisions and strokes usually coupled by political instability and environmental change, but sometimes not. The key takeaway is that even though the cities no longer exist, the people who inhabited them move on and take parts of the city with them, even if how they live no longer looks quite the same. Another theme is the evolving nature of archeology, and how more and more is being discovered on the hows and whats and whys because of the focus on gathering amalgamations of data from laypeople. Previous focus had been on those at the top of the political hierarchy, but current studies are focused on commoners, and it's providing such a fantastic overview of how things were for ordinary people. It's so cool, and so interesting on how the changing nature of our current societies reflects how we gather, view, examine and display history. Definitely a must read. The overall contents and themes far outweigh the weaker chapters where I was like, but why did they do that?? what did they believe/revere and what was their society like??? and the overall offering is so wonderful and ultimately, hopeful, particularly as we are entering the middling stages of climate chaos, while surrounded by weakening political instability and health crises culminating in a failure of active or effective response to the long-term issues. Ultimately, however, the takeaway is this: yes, our current way of life is more than likely coming to an end. However, that does not mean that humanity as a whole is ending. It's just going to look a lot different—because the only constant throughout human history is change. Also, I greatly appreciated all of the dunking on Jared Diamond's categorically unproven pop-sci theories.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Nina

    Very well researched and well written. The cities chosen for this book - Çatalhöyük, Pompeii, Angkor and Cahokia - all have very different stories and backgrounds, which makes this book a real treasure. I especially like that Newitz focuses a lot on the daily life and culture of the common people in the cities, not just the ruling elites. That is something I often missed in history class at school. Another highly recommended book by this author!

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