I received a free digital ARC from the publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
This book would definitely best be enjoyed as a giant coffee table book, where you can peruse at your own discretion, even jumping around from one topic to another if you would like. You can of course also read it straight through, it is not as though it is a drag. I just have a soft spot in my heart for books that are meant to be perfectly lovely and large and demand attention. This book is one of those. It also happens to be the guide that was to accompany the Mesopotamia exhibit on display at the J. Paul Getty Museum that was to run from mid-March through July 27th. The pieces were on loan from the Louvre, though I have not yet looked up whether the exhibition will be extended, or not due to COVID-19 storming on up in here and ruining everyone's year.
Mesopotamia was home to easily some of the greatest civilizations ever - namely Babylon and Ninevah. Though they, and many others, have long since vanished from our world, we never stop wondering about them, never stop looking for them, never stop imagining what it would have been like to live there, in that time. Archaeologists continue searching for whatever lost pieces of these mighty civilizations they can find, and as a result we end up with amazing collections. Though, truly, the collections should be returned to the places they came from. But that is a whole different conversation, meant for a different kind of book. This simply could have been a beautiful catalog of amazing objects that have survived for thousands of years. The problem is, the idea of French colonialism is never actually addressed, yet the archaeologists who discovered and stole these priceless artifacts to begin are presented as some kind of saviors and that does not sit well with me. You can not present one side of the story, but not the other. Just think of how many artifacts were lost in those years where pretty much anyone could be an archaeologist and go tramping around wherever they pleased, digging up what they wanted, taking what they found most valuable, and throwing away things they thought they didn't need. So much history has been lost by simple incompetence and arrogance. It makes me sick.
The book begins with those very first civilizations, and onto a fair amount of what it was like at the time Alexander the Great showed up. There exists here such a variety of objects that tell so many stories, and I am insanely jealous that the Louvre has such a stunning collection. Everything you could possibly imagine is showcased here - seals, jewelry, and of course the cuneiform tablets that fascinated me endlessly as a child. Though, to be fair, I can still stare at them for a good long minute as an adult.
In addition to beautiful photos, there are several essays on a wide range of topics - history, religion, economy, and yes, cuneiform writing, plus so much more. I appreciated the attention to detail given in the essays, while also being concise and realizing that the reader was likely just as much here for the photos as the essays. Again, addressing the theft of these artifacts and objects would have been a great idea, but you will find no such thing within these pages.
The photos are absolutely stunning and as a reminder, this book is 100% meant to be a physical book - digital did it no justice. Seeing as how I will not be able to visit the Getty any time soon, and the Louvre is a ways off until Eleanor is older (fun fact: the only known object still in existence that belonged to Eleanor of Aquitaine is there so yes, we are going to France in the future to see one item and one alone: the Eleanor rock crystal vase. I know I will cry and I won't even be embarrassed.)
The book is well-designed, the layout is perfect, and it serves it purpose well. Recommended, as long as you remember that archaeologists stole massive amounts of priceless treasures that did not belong to them, and colonialism is a bad, bad thing.