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The Rise and Fall of Alexandria [Audio]


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About the Author

Justin Pollard, a freelance writer and producer specializing in historical documentaries, has written for PBS and A&E. He is currently providing script and historical consultancy for Sam Mendes's upcoming feature film, Tom Fool. Howard Reid has made award-winning documentaries for National Geographic, the BBC, and Channel 4, including The Story of English. He is the author of five books. Simon Vance, a former BBC Radio presenter and newsreader, is a full-time actor who has appeared on both stage and television. He has recorded over eight hundred audiobooks and has earned five coveted Audie Awards, and he has won fifty-seven Earphones Awards from AudioFile magazine, which has named him a Golden Voice.


Ancient Alexandria was first and foremost a Greek city. Its history, however, is framed by two religious events that were alien to Greek intellectual traditions: Ptolemy's creation of the cult of Serapis, which helped him establish rule, and the Christian riots that massacred the pagan philosopher Hypatia in A.D. 415. Between these two events is an unmatched record of intellectual achievement, elegantly chronicled by documentary makers Pollard and Reid. Among the many scientific advances they cover, from Euclid and Archimedes to Claudius Ptolemy, perhaps the most illustrative of the city's cosmopolitanism is human anatomy, the Greeks' limited understanding of which was tremendously aided by contact with Egyptian mummification. Throughout, the authors are eager, at times overly eager, to demonstrate ancient Alexandria's modernity. So it is curious that little is said about the famous feud between Callimachus, poet and cataloguer of the great library, and his former pupil Apollonius. The ingredients of the feud plagiarism, obscenity, professional envy are strangely contemporary. The authors also paint an incomplete picture of the city's literary culture and its museum, which functioned like a modern university. These criticisms aside, most readers, especially those interested in the history of science, will find this a nourishing account. (Oct. 23) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

"Alexandria was the greatest mental crucible the world has ever known,'' assert Pollard and Reid, whose backgrounds are in documentary film. They tell the story of Alexandria from its founding by Alexander the Great in 331 B.C.E. to its destruction in 646 C.E., focusing on the distinctive intellectual milieu created by its museum and library a thread throughout the narrative which was said to hold all the world's written knowledge. Using both classical and secondary sources to reconstruct Alexandria's intellectual, religious, and political history under the Ptolemies and then the Romans, the authors tell of such men as Aristotle, who was Alexander's tutor; Strato, Ptolemy II's teacher; Euclid; and Archimedes; as well as Eratosthenes of Cyrene, mathematician, scientist, and one of the Alexandrian librarians, who held that Earth was a sphere. From this crucible came the translation of the first five books of the Bible from Hebrew into Greek; Aristarchus's hypothesis that the sun, not Earth, was the center of the universe; Galen's advances in medicine; and the growth of Christianity and its bloody clash with paganism. Alexandria's library was set on fire by Julius Caesar in 47 B.C.E. and fully destroyed over time. Many of its volumes come down to us in references by later writers, and those that survived elsewhere were ultimately disseminated to the world beyond Alexandria. An ambitious undertaking, colorfully written, this book includes a massive amount of material without footnotes, but it has a good bibliography. For literate laypersons and public libraries. Joan W. Gartland, Detroit P.L. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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