“Four Lost Cities” by Annalee Newitz

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Thanks to W.W. Norton & Company and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.  

I do love a lost city…although as Newitz is quick to highlight, some of these cities are far from lost.  

Newitz explores four cities, Pompeii, Angkor Wat and the less known Cahokia and Çatalhöyük. What I really enjoyed in this book was Newitz’s writing style. They managed to straddle the line between being intellectually stimulating and engaging enough for the layman reader to enjoy.  

The book follows a simple format, exploring each city in turn. Newitz discusses the history, society and the eventual downfall of each of these lost cities. 

I thought the strongest chapters were the Çatalhöyük and Pompeii chapters although I’m conscious that perhaps my personal interest may have coloured this. I really enjoyed the author’s own reflections and thoughts as they explored these cities which elevated it from what might have been quite dry in some parts. The author’s background as a journalist was clear and I think their style really worked in this book. I also liked the parts about the innovative technologies used in modern archaeology and the way in which they can enhance our understanding of these ancient cultures.  

I thought out of all the chapters the Angkor Wat chapter was perhaps the weakest. There was a lot of discussion of political machinations and chat about water management features and I just found it all a bit boring. Sorry Cambodia. 

Newitz also explores themes of cultural resilience and touches upon the future challenges humanity is likely to face with regards to issues such as climate change and increasing urbanisation. By discussing how other cultures in the past have survived and adjusted to a new normal we can see that these peoples and cultures were never really “lost”. This is a note of hope in the doom and gloom of the current discourse surrounding humanities chances of future survival.   

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