We own all four volumes of The Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer, which are history texts for children, told in a narrative form. When I heard that she was beginning a series for adults, I was thrilled. I got The History of the Ancient World: from the earliest accounts to the fall of Rome at the beginning of March and spent the next month or so reading it. All 777 pages, excluding notes, appendices & bibliography.
Overall, I really enjoyed it. Ms. Bauer has an engaging style, and my husband would hear me snorting over particular passages, especially in the notes. She traces the history of several different areas of the world, beginning in the Mesopotamian Valley, but also including the history of China and then the developments in India, Africa and Europe. I found it helpful to read about the various cultures concurrently; often history texts focus only on one area at a time and it becomes difficult to figure out how they are related at different time periods. This is a technique that she used in the Story of the World books as well and it is equally effective here. I also really appreciated the charts at the end of each chapter, showing the progression through different rulers & cultures. And the maps were extremely helpful as well, especially when I just couldn't quite remember where that particular tribe or king was from!
One thing that particularly caught my attention was her treatment of Old Testament history. She first includes the OT history, which is a major accomplishment in itself, but then she treats it in such a fashion as to take it seriously. We see how the kings of Israel relate to the various other rulers of world cultures, in both good and bad ways, and it really helps to put it all into context.
I have already required my 12 & 14 year olds to read some chapters that correspond with our history studies. I only wish that it had been published at the beginning of the year instead of near the end so it would fit better with our studies. But that is only quibbling.
Overall, the subject matter is suitable for young to mid-teens and I have no problems with most of the book. There is one small section at the end of one of the chapters about the Greeks that parents will probably want to preread and decide if it's suitable for their children to read.
My preference for non-fiction books is normally to have footnotes. The History has end notes, which I was a little disappointed to see. However, Ms. Bauer strikes a nice compromise with some annotations at the bottom (notes, rather than footnotes) of the pages which are not so scholarly, although have some scholarly sections (referring the reader to other works on the subject at hand); her notes add details or opinions that are very enjoyable to read.
There is a lot of material covered in the book. Even the number of years covered must be daunting. I found that near the end of the book, it seemed as though perhaps Ms. Bauer was either running out of steam or words allowed (I suspect the latter - it did finish at 777 pages). I was a little disappointed, after such a complete treatment of the Old Testament history, to have the New Testament history largely reduced. Included - yes. But I was looking forward to more detail and was a trifle disappointed. But again, that's quibbling.
Ms. Bauer is hard at work on her next volume and I, for one, am hoping that it will be released well within what I think is her deadline of Spring, 2008. I would highly recommend this first book in the series to have as a resource on your shelves. But not only that - treat it like a novel and read from beginning to end - it's fascinating stuff!