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After the Ice: A Global Human History 20,000-5000 BC
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After the Ice: A Global Human History 20,000-5000 BC

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  879 Ratings  ·  73 Reviews
20,000 B.C., the peak of the last ice age--the atmosphere is heavy with dust, deserts, and glaciers span vast regions, and people, if they survive at all, exist in small, mobile groups, facing the threat of extinction.

But these people live on the brink of seismic change--10,000 years of climate shifts culminating in abrupt global warming that will usher in a fundamentally
Paperback, 622 pages
Published April 1st 2006 by Harvard University Press (first published 2003)
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May 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The LRB review can be read here:

I did ramble at length initially in this review-space but deleted it all as entirely irrelevant. Simply put this book is just about as good a piece of work as one could expect from such a thing, and I unhesitatingly recommend it to all and sundry. Absolutely fascinating from start to finish, with a willingness to explore controversy and be clear when he moves on to guess-work.

Some quotes:

From the intro:

“I make use of Jo
J.M. Hushour
Dec 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
If you've wondered what humanity was up to between the last glacial maximum and the rise of "civilization" (always the most fun parts of the game of the same name), this is the book for you. Taking a global approach, since all we ever hear about is Europe, Mithen gives you the full dilly. Every continent is covered as well as the archaeological evidence allows for, he digs into controversies over interpreting data and isn't afraid to weigh in with his own ideas.
Climatology enthusiasts will be pl
Simon Mcleish
Feb 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Akira Watts
May 10, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Aug 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Scott Davies
Jan 08, 2016 rated it it was ok
Well I struggled through to the end of this, but only because the subject matter is so interesting and there are so few non-specialist books available.

Mithen likes to paint little pictures of life as it might have been in prehistory. That in itself is fine, except that it's not always clear what is based on hard evidence and what is pure conjecture. I found myself having to re-read passages or search the footnotes to try to figure it out.

Even worse is the supremely annoying presence in these vi
Jim Good
Jun 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
May 30, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: owned-and-read
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

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 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
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 rated it really liked it
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 07, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 08, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: prehistory
Not what I was looking for: instead of list of events, causes and effects it sounds as an attempt to write fiction story somewhat supported by archeological findings, but assumptions scream at you. Very annoying.

The facts are interesting, extensive time coverage - I like it, but in form of one hundred pages summary without drifting out all the time.

Real pity, not many books cover such period range at advanced level, beyond oversimplifying for popularization and being overly scholarly for speci
Lise Quinn
Jul 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Daniel Tideman
Mar 22, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Dec 18, 2014 added it
Shelves: history
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
Marc Towersap
Jan 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
May 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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.
Chris Jaffe
Mar 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a good book, but it can be a bit exhausting. It's a 500-page overview of major archeological sites around the world, going continent-by-continent. On the one hand, it's deeply informative as you do get a sense of what was going on from the end of the Ice Age until the build up to civilization, and how it varied from region to region. On the other hand, it can be a bit repetitive and wearying. My eyes started glazing over at times, and I think that mentally I came to an end before the boo ...more
Richard Murchie
Feb 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
After the Ice is a mammoth compendium blending anthropology, archaeology, and naturalism. It is well worth the read for anyone with a slight interest in any of those subjects.

Mithen’s unconventional approach of using a fictional observer as a vehicle to humanise and illuminate the archaeological findings certainly played off. Not once did the book feel like a mere list of discoveries, but rather as a journey throughout our prehistory.

Without dissecting the entirety of the book, I’ll list some
Julien Rapp
Oct 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: earth-science
Is climate change real? Of course, it is. The earth is a dynamic place. The sun is a dynamic star. The universe itself is ever changing.
I am writing this as a review of three books I have reread this year. Two are by Brian Fagan, and one by Steven Mithen. They cover ice ages, warming periods, and their effects on human development and the rise of civilizations.
Climate change is a natural phenomenon. What isn’t natural, is how our behavior is a new element in the equation of climate change. We h
Carolyn Fitzpatrick
May 30, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
If I had been assigned this book as a grad student, I would have been delighted. It is incredibly informative about the prehistoric world but is written in a very engaging tone. However, I've not been in grad school for some time, and eventually the scope of the book got to me and I had to set it aside. The first section of the book is on prehistoric life in the Middle East from 20,000 to 5,000 BCE. There is a lot of great information about the ice ages and how fluctuating temperatures affected ...more
Su McLaren
Oct 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Told in a story-teller type of setting with the facts behind the fantasy added, this is an engrossing book that can take you back to the possibilities of human life after the ice ages. Following from those early hunters through to the birth of agriculture; tracing trade and migrations, and walking through history makes it much a more immediate and engaging reasonably studious work. I loved it enough to have read it several times now, and I would imagine I will be reading it several times more.
Ira Carter
Dec 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
See the other comments for this book. I found the use of a fictional protagonist easy to follow, and thought the book was clear when there was conjecture as part of the narrative. The subject matter is fascinating. IMNSHO, the description of how archeological research creates an image of prehistoric life is well done. Recommended for anyone wanting to be more up to speed about the time between the last Ice Age c 20,000 BC and the beginning of "civilization" c 5000-3500 BC.
Steven Wendell
Feb 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Seriously one of the best ancient history books you could read. Not a lot of researchers look into that period of human development even tho its probably one of the most important because of little things like ya know animal domestication, the development of agriculture, building permanent settlements. Little things like that...
Apr 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
A fantastic journey into the past. I felt as though I was hiding in the grassy fields of ancient Europe, looking over the wild steppes, and even feeling the pain of making my own Flint tools with unskilled hands. Truly marvellous.
Jun 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
A bit drawn out, but interesting.
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