BABYLON: Mesopotamia & The Birth of Civilization by Paul Kriwaczek

I found this book both fascinating and inspiring. As someone who is NOT an expert on Mesopotamia, but looking for background material for a possible forthcoming novel, I found this volume to have just the right amount of detail. I would have wilted before a blast of Academic jargon and detailed discussions of various theories about the dating of events. Instead, Paul Kriwaczek’s BABYLON possessed gorgeously written prose with detailed descriptions of what life might have been like for the inhabitants of the area between the two great rivers, the Tigris & Euphrates, which both empty into the Persian Gulf.

Due to the geography of the region, the southern part of Mesopotamia, near the Persian Gulf, developed first, with cities such as Eridu rising to prominence over 6,000 years ago (before 4,000 BCE.) To understand why a dusty backwater in Iraq (as the site of Eridu now is) was a prominent place, we have to reimagine the geography of the region. Eridu was much closer to the Persian Gulf than it is today. It was beside a great river (the Euphrates,) which is now distant and out of site. There were extensive salt marshes teeming with fish and game. The currently bleak sandy landscape was a steppe populated with grasses, shrubs and sparkling lakes.

As waves of conflicts surged and ebbed, the centers of power moved north to the cities of Nineveh, Mosul and Ashur. Here, the region is hemmed in by the Zagros Mountains, which rise up to 14 thousand feet and run along a 1,000-mile stretch beginning in what is now north-western Iran along Iran’s western border, before curving around to take in south-eastern Turkey. These northern cities were vulnerable to hordes of Steppe Nomads sweeping down onto the fertile plain, where some of them (like the Amorites) stayed, changing the language and culture of the previous inhabitants.

Paul Kriwaczek knows his Bible, and points out the fascinating differences between Biblical accounts of what happened to Father Abraham and his Amorite tribe, and what the Assyrians had to say about them. Five stars.

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