Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Great Cities of History: A Review of John Julius Norwich's Book

• I was eager to read this book, as I knew for a fact that my hometown of Hamilton "the Hammer" Ontario would be making an appearance.

• I was hoping that I would learn the correct pronunciation of Thebes from this book. I did not. I did, however, learn that persons from Thebes are referred to as Thebans.

• I still do not know how to pronounce Thebans.

• This book has a lot of great pictures. I guess this is a coffee table book. I read it on the bus, which has no coffee tables.

• Contrary to what one might expect, the Memphis in this book is NOT in Tennessee.

• This is an actual transcript from September 2003 between two American army officers:

“Hey Chad, where do you think we should put our helicopter landing pad for this here Iraq invasion?”

“I dunno, bruh, but there is a lot of space on this here ancient Babylonian ruin. Right beside this Ishtar Gate that had existed here undamaged for over two thousand years before the United States of America was even a vague concept.”

“Oh, good call.”

“You know what would truly honor the memory of this road that the feet of Nebuchednezzar, Darius, and Alexander walked on?”

“What’s that, Chad?”

“To drive these freakin’ tanks over top of it!”

“Won’t that wreck the surface of this amazing archaeological relic of civilizations that predate ours by thousands of years?”

“. . . what?”

“I don’t know what I was saying, whoever those guys were, they would be super pumped to know that we’re wrecking this road with our awesome tanks.”

“You said it, bro.”

• One of the limitations of only having two to four pages dedicated to each city is that a city with a long and continuing history like Jerusalem only has parts of its story told until the infamous fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. I was interested in learning more about Jerusalem’s later history, but that would have been a very difficult task in a book that is laid out this way.

• The mixture of Roman, Iberian, and Spanish architecture in Cordoba and the mixture of Greek, Italian, Arab and Norman architecture in Palermo are breathtaking. I want to visit these two cities.

• I am feeling good about Hamilton’s incoming entry. Rome has had two entries so far, one for ancient Rome and the other for renaissance Rome. Constantinople snuck in twice under both Constantinople and Istanbul. And Mexico City appears under its former name of Tenochlitan. They are running out of places!

• London and Paris also appear twice by my count.

• Defenestration. Apparently that’s the preferred method of execution in Prague. The more you know.

• Defenestration is the act of throwing someone out of a window.

• Simon Schama wrote the section on Amsterdam. Simon Schama’s section on Amsterdam is the most well-written, the most concise, and the most beautiful entry so far.

• One of my fellow commuters has asked me about the book, asking if I am learning about civilizations. I gave him a withering glare and then clarified that I am merely researching the great city of Hamilton, pointing out the title of this book “great cities of history.”

• Actually, I mumbled some things about this being a coffee table book but that, yes, I was learning about civilizations and that it was a book about great cities of history. He seems nice.

• Copenhagen – apparently there’s a song that contains the old cliché about Copenhagen being a nice place? I was unaware of such a song and in my cursory research was only able to find a country song about a chewing tobacco named Copenhagen.

• The entry on Los Angeles spent most of the time talking about movies. No real mention of the (lack of ) urban planning or the sprawl.

• Art Deco is important, of course.

• Guess what? Hamilton, Ontario does NOT appear in this book. What? Dundurn Castle not good enough for you? It’s a flippin’ castle! I don’t see Uruk rocking a castle. So what if Uruk is four thousand something years older than Hamilton. Hamilton still has its castle and Uruk is just a mound of rocks. Yeah, yeah, Gilgamesh is kind of impressive, but Hamilton is where Martin Short hails from. Martin Short, he’s waaay funnier than Gilgamesh.

• Clearly there is a volume two coming out: Even Greater Cities of History.

7.5 Aldermen out of 10

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