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After The Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000-5000 B.C.

4.05  ·  Rating Details  ·  615 Ratings  ·  56 Reviews
This is the story of the human race during one of the most momentous periods of change the earth has ever seen

20,000 BC was the peak of the ice age and humans lived in small groups, scratching out an existence in whatever way they could. But over the next ten millennia, all that was to change. as the earth went through a period of global warming, the ice sheets began to re
Paperback, 622 pages
Published March 4th 2004 by Phoenix (first published 2003)
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Dec 28, 2015 Forrest rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Years ago, as an undergraduate at BYU, I was a teaching assistant to Dr. Dale Berge for a semester. Much of my time was spent boiling down textbooks into study notes for students, like an alchemist trying to extract gold from lead. It was a lot like real work. For the life of me, I can't recall the names of the textbooks (that may be a subconsious effort to forget the difficulty of the work), but they were broad world surveys of archaeology that were state-of-the-art at the time (the mid-'90s). ...more
Simon Mcleish
Feb 18, 2013 Simon Mcleish rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned
Review of hardback edition, originally published on my blog here in October 2004.

In the last few years, the understanding that professional archaeologists have of life in the prehistoric world has advanced rapidly, but the new ideas have generally been quite slow to filter through to the level of the interested amateur, apart from the odd newspaper article when a particularly sensational story has been unearthed, such as the disproving of the "Clovis first" theory about the earliest inhabitants
Aug 25, 2011 Nicholas rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed, history
An amazing look, and in some ways, seminal look into the very earliest parts of human history. Mithen's work is oddly presented in the form of a journey through time by a fictional character, but the meat of the scholarship is found in the author-asides that explain how the fictional scenes were extrapolated from the very real archaeological evidence from the various sites. The book is daring in its scale, not many authors would be brave enough to try and cover fifteen thousand years of history ...more
Akira Watts
This book could have been far better than it turned out. The topic is hugely interesting and is constantly in flux, as new archaeological discoveries enter the field of knowledge. But the text is fatally flawed by a few poor decisions.

First among these is the choice to inject a fictional, 20th century, character into the mix, apparently as a way to describe Pleistocene/Holocene society in a relatable fashion. It ends up being incredibly distracting, repetitive, and (for me) a constant reminder
Jim Good
Sep 24, 2010 Jim Good rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I must admit that when I first started reading this book I was put off by the manner in which Mithen provided information. The insertion of a fictional character with the same name as a Victorian age author who published a book about early archeology and sociology was hard to place within the well-researched and insightful history. Even now I find myself tempted to discuss this abstraction rather than the meat of the book, though I must admit that it accomplishes his desire to both show how view ...more

This has been my dip-in-and-out of book for the past few months. I didn’t intend it to be so, but ARC’s kept on popping up and the requisite read-and-review commitments along with them. I think I would’ve preferred to have read it as one continuous narrative, as by the end a couple of the sites mentioned earlier in the book were a little hazy, but it does work read in this way – each chapter covers a certain region and range in time, making it quite digestible in one or two chapter chunks.

Apr 20, 2008 Elfie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is Mithen at his very best! I would say that "After the Ice" is rather an encyclopedia than a book, particularly if one also studies the many pages of endnotes.
We travel with Mithen and and the invisible John Lubbock who only shares the name with the real Victorian John Lubbock around the world and witness the great changes that occurred from the last glacial maximum of c. 20,000 BCE with perhaps a world population of about one million and the soon following dramatic climatic fluctuations
This isn't the sort of book I read often. Like many of my generation, when I go looking for facts, I go to Wikipedia, not to 600-page history books. But Mithen does an admirable job of tracing the lifeways of Stone Age people, and does it in an engaging way. Sure, it's a bit repetitive, sure, the sheer number of facts presented in a row without much of an extended argument gets a bit exhausting, and sure, you almost feel like he would rather have written a Borgesian sort of novel rather than a h ...more
Elizabeth Sulzby
Published in 2003, this book covers the period from 20,000-5,000 BCE. Mithen uses a device of "taking" a man modelled on "John Lubbock, namesafe of the great Victorian polymath and author of Prehistoric Times,"
back through the sites he wrote about earlier. Mithen describes each of these sites and historical developments across sites from current day archeological, paleontological, genetics, geological, botanical, etc., tools and discoveries. I learned a good bit through the device, but would h
Jan 18, 2012 Maria rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book that takes you to the time it describes: the European Mesolithic, a period where everything merged: culture, Hunting, gathering and farming, the first ceramics and the cultivation of plants and the taming of animals. A fascinating time in human history and the author is able to give you the impression that you are a part of it.
As an arcaheologist, I got a perfect overview of this period, learning a lot of details even about my own region, South America. And I will never forget the moment
Aug 15, 2012 Saschki rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Unusual approach to communicating a sense of wonder and curiosity about the generations that came and went before recorded history - the author balances descriptions of past cultures around the world in the period following the last glacial maximum as witnessed by a time traveling alter-ego with detailed explanations of the archaeological evidence underlying the vignettes. Surprisingly readable given the depth of the scientific research he covers, and the breadth - human activity on every inhabi ...more
Daniel Tideman
Mar 22, 2007 Daniel Tideman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History geeks
This is a fantastic account of early homo sapien history starting with the end of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) 20,000 BCE progressing through to 5,000 BCE. The author creates a fictional modern man who wanders the globe during the time span noted above "observing" humanity and its early progression from nomadic hunter/gatherers to early civilization and villages and back to the nomadic wanderers as the planets climate swings back and forth and humanity learns to domesticate crops and animals. ...more
Marc Towersap
Feb 16, 2013 Marc Towersap rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One thing about this book i find odd is a fictional character called John Lubbock, named after a real person, who 'visits' each of the archeological sites. There's some speculation about what this "John" actually observes, since Mithen doesn't have a time machine to actually see it. I don't know if I really like this device, sometimes it's nice, but at the same time, I'm thinking, this is pure speculation, Mithen doesn't actually know, and it kinda unnecessarily taints the description of each si ...more
Jan 25, 2016 Johanne rated it liked it
It is just too huge, and to be honest if you attempt to read it cover to cover all the groups merge into each other with insufficient difference to really hold the reader. He gives roughly equal number of chapters to each of the continents and so by the time he is on Australia it seems that the story has already been told, the differences are more minor.I also actively disliked the narrative trick of including the Victorian paleo-anthropologist John Lubbock as a observer/ driver - clunky and jus ...more
Lise Quinn
Jul 29, 2012 Lise Quinn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a great book! It covers the period of between 20,000 BCE to 10,000 BCE all over the world. The author uses stories of individuals to give life to the artifacts that have been found. He takes you around the world and you really get a feel for the commonalities and yet beautiful uniqueness of the cultures visited. This book is very well researched and at the end of each story the author goes over the artifacts and explains in layman's terms the detail over each one. This would be a fantast ...more
May 25, 2015 Thea rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love the way he covers the world and the millenia. Great combination of anecdotal and archaeological detail that really put me there with the people struggling to live. Learning how these people live through forensic anthropology is great. I hated the modern John Lubbock that traipsed around the world and through the centuries stealing people's boats and what not. He added nothing but confusion. Was he really there? If so, why didn't the ancient peoples freak out at what was a man that looked ...more
May 20, 2015 Emily rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The trouble with 20,000BC to 5,000BC and almost all human history predating Sumer, is that there are no stories. What we have are burials, querns, ashes, seeds, pot shards, paintings, shoes, and guesses. We have newer stories that are probably retellings of old, old stories, but we don't know and we can guess, but we can never prove or disprove our guesses because we can't reanimate the dead. We only have objects and guesses and the mechanics of life based on scatters of husks and butchered bone ...more
Sep 01, 2015 Mark rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
When this arrived in the mail I was struck dumb by the size of it. It’s thicker than a triple club sandwich.

Mithen’s ambition is not only to cover five continents and over 15,000 years of human history, but also to offer a detailed, everyday account of life after the Ice Age. To do this he creates an imaginary observer, John Lubbock, who is able to travel through time, walk great distances, and generally remain unseen as he inspects the intimates of Palaeo-Mesolithic life. Mithen’s narrative ju
This book is not an easy read as it presents a plethora of research and draws attention to minute detail - this is precisely why it took me so long to read. That said, it is well worth the effort. I especially liked his forays into the domestication of plants and animals.
Aug 30, 2015 Rgauthie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Reviews archaeological evidence concerning the period 20,000 BC to 5000 BC, covering all the continents. Very encyclopedic and at time quite interesting, I have two complaints which almost made it a one star review. The author uses a fictional character , John Lubbock, who travels to each of the sites named (and there are dozens of them), and describes what he sees when the sites were actually in use. I found this technique detracted from the book. Besides that, Lubbock seems to travel criss cro ...more
Jul 26, 2015 Paul rated it really liked it
An absolute epic of a book, although to be fair, the tagline gives it away: A Global Human History 20,000 to 5000 BC.

I have to admit this was a slog to read, an enjoyable slog to be honest, but still a slog. Mithen has an absolutely mind blowing amount of information from an incredible amount of sources, which he references and sometimes expands upon in the abundant foot notes. But don’t be put off, this is far from a dry thesis of history, he creates a fictional character called John Lubbock, b
Kally Sheng
Nov 05, 2015 Kally Sheng rated it liked it
Shelves: steven-mithen
1. The Birth of History
History, the cumulative development of events and knowledge, is a recent and remarkably brief affair. - Pg. 1
By 5000 BC the foundations of the modern world has been laid and nothing that came after - classical Greece, the Industrial Revolution, the atomic age, the Internet - has ever matched the significance of those events. If 50,000 BC marked the birth of history, 20,000-5000 BC was its coming of age. - Pg. 1
Our modern-day global warming is a product of human activity al
Sep 15, 2013 Harry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
I found After the Ice to be absolutely fascinating. Mithen has a fictional John Lubbock, namesake of the Victorian author of Prehistoric Times, "tour" each of the world's continents from 20,000 to 5000 BC. By doing so, the reader can appreciate the unique climatic and geographical challenges faced by hunter gatherers all over the world as they made the transition from a way of life they had followed for millennia to that of agriculture-based civilization. I gained a new appreciation for the amaz ...more
Kam Oi
Dec 29, 2013 Kam Oi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a fantastic book! As some other reviewers have noted, it's a textbook that reads more like a novel. The author's choice to insert the fictional time-traveling character John Lubbock into the prehistorical narrative may seem odd at first, but I think it's actually brilliant. From
the last glacial maximum at 20,000 BC, through thousands of years of climate change until 5,000 BC, Lubbock travels the world as an unseen observer, and we are right there with him, watching as the people, their comm
Apr 14, 2009 Rebecca rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read most of this book a few months ago but just finished it. The interruption was not due to lack of interest; it's a good read. Draws on archaeology, paleoanthropology, population genetics, and climatology to paint a picture of the emergence of early modern human cultures around the world in the wake of the last glaciation.

Mithen ties the far-ranging story together with an unusual device: an imaginary time-and-space traveling scientist named John Lubbock, a descendant of the Victorian of the
Tyler Hickey
Holy crap, what a monster. It took some months to finish this book. As many other reviewers have noted, I too found the insertion of a fictional character into the narrative to be distracting and unnecessary, but given the size of the book I had managed to adjust by the end.

After the Ice is incredible comprehensive, and while the information it provides is still being revised by the scientific community, I do feel it represents the best of currently available knowledge. There are probably bette
Jan 11, 2012 Patricio rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Habia leido muy poco de esta parte de nuestra historia, asi que ha sido muy instructivo. Mihen describe la historia valiendose de un explorador virtual, por lo cual el relato se hace ameno y el libro que es ambicioso por los tiempos y la geografia que trata, no se hace pesado.
Como es que pasamos de ser cazadores nomadas a agricultores sedentarios ?, como afecto la vida en Europa la ultima glaciación ?, como podemos saber como fue el clima y la vida en esa epoca ?, porque murio la megafauna que e
Susan Slack
Jun 01, 2015 Susan Slack rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing early archeology. A look at humans at the beginning of civilization, the very beginning, from several angles. Eye opening. Still with me.
Fascinating book, sweeping in scope, well worth reading. Lubbock didn't feel gimmicky, even though he sometimes was. The balance between human narrative and archaeological discovery was well-struck, though I might have preferred a stronger lean toward the former. Covers some of the same ground as Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies but looks more for details than general trends. A good base for figuring out which prehistorical societies are most interesting. Wealth of story idea ...more
Shana Watkins
Dec 16, 2014 Shana Watkins rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful!!! This book is a fantastic read that is enormously informative, entertaining, and even moving.
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