I can't believe how quickly summer is slipping away. In just a few weeks I will have to report back to school for the new year and my baby is somehow going to be in Kindergarten. I can't even.
So, I am in the process of trying to knock out as many reviews as possible while Eleanor is at her dad's for the weekend, while also continuing my own research and writing about Eleanor of Aquitaine. We are also going home to Minnesota for a visit with family for two whole glorious weeks, and I won't be around much at all. Best to get as much done as possible now while I can.
I first have to say that the only reason this one is getting a full three stars is because I want so badly for Atlantis to be real. And when you take everything in the book at face value, you can almost believe it too. It is not a terrible book in that it gives the reader exactly what they are hoping for (assuming one is reading it because they, like me, want Atlantis to have been a real place with a thriving culture). Ultimately you will have to decide for yourself whether you believe or not, but the journey toward either conclusion is half the fun.
One of the main reasons that I could not rate this book any higher is due to the author's seemingly disdainful attitude toward those who dismiss Atlantis as merely a myth. In so many words, he basically alludes to those experts who study the ancient world as lacking imagination. This is troubling, because it simply is not true. There are so many discoveries that have been made explicitly because archaeologists, anthropologists, and a whole host of other -ologists DO have imagination, and seek out what they must to find what they believe is there. And truthfully, it weakens his arguments when he wants to present himself as a credible historian, traipsing all over the world to find evidence. What he appears to be saying, whether it was his intention or not, is that HE is right and every other expert in all those previously-listed fields are wrong. Can we really believe that? Not really.
Despite all of that, I still found myself enjoying much of the book, because turning the idea of Atlantis over in one's mind is a fun thing to do. You can't take the book to seriously, but you can enjoy a few hours wondering 'what if...'
Luckily the author also managed to stick to facts when discussing the main topic, and that is items that have been stolen from various countries, sold to other countries, and now reside in big fancy museums in wings dedicated to their time period, ripped completely out of context from their place of origin.
Going into this book, I was a firm believer in the fact that those items should be returned. After reading the book, I still stand by that, in most cases. Because, I also want that history to be cared for, and available for future generations to learn from and about. The destruction of Palmyra by ISIS weighed heavily on my mind while reading this though it was published in 2008, because instability is a huge issue when trying to care for these relics of the past. So much of Palmyra has been destroyed, beautiful ancient structures that can never be replaced. What if the same thing were to happen say, to the Rosetta Stone, one of the specific artifacts that Waxman touches on? Without the Rosetta Stone, we may still be wholly unable to decipher the Egyptian hieroglyphs that this piece of history allowed us to finally read. The stone certainly does not belong to the French or the British, despite their discovering and deciphering. It belongs to Egypt. So, do American and European museums have the right to demand that these items be cared for a certain way, before they are willing to return them? Can they even be forced to return the items? I completely understand the fears of great museums, so worried about being emptied of their treasures, but the items never belonged to the countries where they now reside.
Basically, everyone involved in this whole process is guilty of something - the source countries for creating a climate that allowed looting, the looters and smugglers for stealing the items, and the brokers and buyers for not caring too greatly that the pieces they're acquiring are likely stolen. As long as there is money to be made in this, it will continue to happen, whether the pieces are going to large museums or private collections.
The author also spends a bit of time delving into the strange case of Marion True. Her own saga is no less intriguing than the artifacts in question throughout the book. I wonder what she really knew, and why she was the only person prosecuted when it is clear she could not have been the only one guilty in that case. It hardly seems fair, especially if she was trying to do things the right way. Surely though she had to have realized how suspicious the loans for the purchase of her new home looked? What a mess.
I feel like there is a trade-off: either these stolen pieces remain where they are in these internationally renowned museums where millions of visitors get to view them each year - not in their proper context but accompanied with placards describing the very details one could witness for themselves if seeing the works of art in a museum, or historical site, in their country of origin. The downside to the latter part is, as mentioned previously, the care and upkeep of the returned pieces. What if artifacts were returned, only to be stolen again and then sold off into the hands of a private collector or worse, destroyed like so much of Palmyra and other ancient sites? In either case, those artifacts would be gone forever.