Book Reviews 2006 #51: The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Civilizations

A birthday gift from My Friends The Olsons™, this is another in the happy borderland between my love of history, and my love of maps.


The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Civilizations (Penguin Historical Atlas)
I love historical atlases.
Putting together history with maps is like putting together chocolate and peanut butter. When both are in harmony and taste well, the combination, in the right proportions, can be better than the sum of the parts.
Penguin is a company which seems to like to put out a number of these Atlases, having several dozen in their line. They even seem to fall into several categories and varieties, ranging from the weird pair of translated German historical atlases, to the “flipbook” sideways atlases, to the more conventional ones from Britain.
The Ancient Civilizations one falls into the last category.
It has some overlap of content with The New Penguin Atlas of Ancient History (one of the flipbook ones), but this one has a less comprehensive look at the peoples of the ancient world, rather taking snapshots across the first civilizations in each part of the world. This does make for an experience which is less deep than many of its counterparts, with, for example, only a couple of pages devoted to each civilization, but on the other hand, it feels less dry than the New Penguin Atlas, which takes more of a birds eye view. The Ancient Civilizations has color maps, and a few pictures to enliven the text.
One problem with the book is a physical one. Twenty pages of the book in my copy were put in upside down and backwards. All of the pages are there, but this shoddy production value puts a dent in the book overall.
Still, for a one volume overview of the ancient world with maps that isn’t overwhelming, the Penguin Atlas of Ancient Civilizations does a fairly good job. And, flipping through such a book provides plenty of opportunties for ideas for roleplaying games. I recently created a shadow world for an Amber game I am in when I flipped through and read and looked at the map about the conflicts between the Assyrians and the Mitanni.
I look forward to getting more Penguin Historical Atlases.