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Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  889 ratings  ·  147 reviews
A quest to explore some of the most spectacular ancient cities in human history—and figure out why people abandoned them.

In Four Lost Cities, acclaimed science journalist Annalee Newitz takes readers on an entertaining and mind-bending adventure into the deep history of urban life. Investigating across the centuries and around the world, Newitz explores the rise and fall
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published February 2nd 2021 by W. W. Norton Company
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Annalee Newitz Çatalhöyük, Pompeii, Angkor, and Cahokia
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Feb 22, 2021 rated it it was amazing

View of the central structure of Angkor Wat (built in the 12th century CE), photo by Jakub Hałun

In the early days of the Pandemic, there were a number of Americans who apparently believed toilet paper was a powerful antiviral and the more you had, the better you would be protected from Covid-19.

Despite the fact that neither the CDC nor the WHO vouched for its efficacy, these people bought so much toilet paper that the rest of us were unable to buy any for months.

We had a number of things we co
Nenia ✨ I yeet my books back and forth ✨ Campbell

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FOUR LOST CITIES is a really interesting concept. In this book, Annalee Newitz explores four "lost" cities that basically fell into disuse due to either environmental disaster or social change. To give this book a really personal and sensory narrative, they traveled to each of the four cities that they chose to write on: Çatalhöyük (in modern-day Turkey), Pompeii (the Roman getaway off the coast of modern-day Naples), Angkor in modern-da
Rachel (Kalanadi)
Feb 26, 2021 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars
Katie P.
May 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arcs, ew-netgalley
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Four Lost Cities is an incredibly interesting and topical monograph that isn't a monograph. The author, Annalee Newitz, takes readers through a conversation about the rise and fall of four ancient cities. Many scholarly works get bogged down in jargon, but this book takes the reader on a journey with an easy to read style and makes it all the more effective in bringing it's central message to the reader.

The ancient cities are Çatalhöyük in Central Tur
We all would’ve learnt about ancient civilisations in history. But what do we really know about them? Why did people abandon those sophisticated civilisations? These may be questions for archeologists, but as a history seeker I’ve always had these questions in mind.

The Four Lost Cities - we follow the exploration of four ancient forgotten civilisations along with the author Annalee Newitz. Newitz explores the rise and fall of four ancient cities, each the center of a sophisticated civilization:
Mar 06, 2021 rated it really liked it
This holds oodles of information. My main focus was on Cahokia, yet all 4 parts were thorough. I'm glad I read it. A task that took much longer than any most usual geographical type non-fiction I've read completely as a whole, without any skimming. In driving past Cahokia Mounds at least 4 or 5 times in the last 2 decades, I have always wanted to see more and understand it better. I think I do now- understand it. But there certainly are better and more beautiful places to see in that area of Lit ...more
Mal Warwick
Feb 24, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
To say that Annalee Newitz’s interests are eclectic grossly understates the point. They—Newitz’s personal pronouns are they/their/theirs—are the author of two science fiction novels and two works of nonfiction that sprawl across a broad swath of issues and preoccupations. Newitz has also edited or co-edited a number of other nonfiction books and contributed chapters to several more. And a third novel is scheduled for publication later this year. The subjects of these works include mass extinctio ...more
Mar 02, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Very well researched and well written. The cities chosen for this book - Çatalhöyük, Pompeii, Angkor and Cahokia - all have very different stories and backgrounds, which makes this book a real treasure. I especially like that Newitz focuses a lot on the daily life and culture of the common people in the cities, not just the ruling elites. That is something I often missed in history class at school.
Another highly recommended book by this author!
Matthew Galloway
Feb 25, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook, nonfiction
This was a pleasant, light anthropological read that explores four cities around the world and some of the theories about why they were abandoned. I knew a lot of it from my anthropology degree, but it was still fun to listen to and to get some updates on ideas published after I graduated.
Feb 09, 2021 rated it really liked it
So much of what we learn about the history of civilizations is based on big, larger than life concepts: a neat arc of rise and fall, and a focus on what life was like within the elite. Annalee Newitz's Four Lost Cities tells the story of four ancient cities through different lenses. The book questions the idea of collapse and cities being "lost" in the first place, and talks to archeologists who are trying to figure out what everyday life was like in these places and what transformations attract ...more
Rick H
Mar 09, 2021 rated it it was ok
It’s hard to rate this book - I enjoyed learning about the cities the author selected to write about and I liked their focus on the lives of non-elites in these cities. The epilogue however was utterly bizarre and the conclusions drawn in it are completely incongruous with the more studious writing about each city’s trajectory through time. Finally, is the title supposed to be ironic? The author repeats over and over again that none of the cities were lost when modern people “found them”. Or is ...more
Mar 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
(Note:I received an advanced reader copy of this book courtesy of NetGalley)

I found Annalee Newitz’s Four Lost Cities to be, among other things, an engrossing look back through the past into daily life in these select ancient cities across, and a very informative glance at the modern-day archaeology that is able to open such windows through history in the first place.

However, I would have to say that my unexpected favorite takeaway by far was the way that the author covered these respective cit
Feb 27, 2021 rated it liked it
Sure, this book is full of interesting anecdotes and theories about the four lost (somewhat lost, at least) cities. The first city described, in particular, fascinated me--Catalhoyuk. However, two things irritated me. First, the evidence--fossils and shards and post holes filled in with garbage, etc.--invites a great deal of speculation, but much less certainty. Pompey is a bit different in that accounts and records of that era survive in print. I don't thing the author can be faulted here--we'r ...more
Mar 04, 2021 rated it really liked it
Excellent and thoughtful book. Well written and an easy read. Newitz conveys nuanced concepts in a manner that contemporary readers will be able to easily relate to and absorb.
May 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Thanks to W.W. Norton & Company and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.

I do love a lost city...although as Newitz is quick to highlight, some of these cities are far from lost.

Newitz explores four cities, Pompeii, Angkor Wat and the less known Cahokia and Çatalhöyük. What I really enjoyed in this book was Newitz’s writing style. They managed to straddle the line between being intellectually stimulating and engaging enough for the layman reader to enjoy.

Dec 17, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
Four cities from throughout human history spread across the world - who were the people who lived there? What was it about these places that attracted people and why did they end up leaving?
If you have an interest in human history and archaeology but don't have much in-depth knowledge or want anything too academic or dense then this is certainly worth a try. The style is more like a newspaper long-read and, although there is some basic archaeological information, there is a lot of speculation a
Apr 24, 2021 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lis Carey
Apr 09, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The allure of "lost cities" is a strong one; many of us love the story of one lost city or another. Annalee Newitz gives us the stories of four of them--Çatalhöyük, a Neolithic site in Turkey; Pompeii, on the Italian coast and the slope of Mt. Vesuvius; medieval Angkor in Cambodia; Cahokia, an indigenous North American metropolis at the site that's now East St. Louis.

Newitz looks at each of these cities using new developments and techniques in archaeology to consider the cities and their culture
Lori L (She Treads Softly)
Jan 17, 2021 rated it really liked it
Four Lost Cities by Annalee Newitz is a highly recommended entertaining and informative look at four cities from history that were abandoned. Everyone loves a good lost city story, but these cities weren't actually lost, people knew they existed, but they were deserted.

Newitz writes: "Modern metropolises are by no means destined to live forever, and historical evidence shows that people have chosen to abandon them repeatedly over the past eight thousand years. It’s terrifying to realize that mos
Dec 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley-books
I first picked up this book because I really enjoyed Annalee Newitz’s 2019 book called The Future of Another Timeline. Since I enjoyed their fiction writing, I was hoping that their newest nonfiction book would be equally entertaining and enjoyable. Luckily, I was correct! This book was a great read and very informative about the history of civilizations of which I had very little prior knowledge. It is easy for a book packed with this much information to be dry and boring, getting lost in the d ...more
Stephanie Fleming
Apr 05, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A really interesting, thought-provoking book! I really enjoyed all parts of this and learned a lot of interesting things.

The author puts forward that these cities didn't so much die as were just slowly left by their inhabitants to shrink, and in some cases, disappear (save Pompeii, but she goes into that in detail). If you've ever read Collapse by Jared Diamond, this is the other side of it- where one or two big events don't destabilize things, it's an ongoing process that probably involves uns
Jonna Higgins-Freese
May 04, 2021 rated it really liked it
An archaeologist in Pompei, talking about his study of the shopkeepers along the roads, "For me, this isn't about the Julius Caesars and emperors who we know too much about already -- it's the people we don't know anything about. Even if we never know their names, we can manage to reconstruct a bit of their lives" (100).

Angkor was built by labor, which is not easy to categorize as slave, indentured servitude, etc. "The khnum debt slavery scenario sounds brutal until you consider that most capita
Mar 21, 2021 rated it really liked it
Ancient Lost Cities? Sold! It pretty much doesn’t matter what the message or topic is supposed to be. The writing is friendly and easy, which must be a challenge when the author has to teach so many words and concepts from other cultures. Ultimately, though, Newitz is trying to illustrate that urban lifecycles turn on the fickleness of both environmental disasters and poor human governments that make “boneheaded” engineering decisions and cannot recover from the environmental effects of them.

George Otte
Apr 17, 2021 rated it really liked it
The title Four Lost Cities is a bit of a misnomer. Newitz herself constantly reminds the reader that the cities she discusses were never truly lost, and wonders whether cities are fated to "churn endlessly through cycles of violent change and abandonment" that are not short-lived, that can span centuries. The first of these she treats, Çatalhöyük, was actually a vital city (or proto-city), for over a millennium, peaking about 7000 BCE. Pompeii and Angkor both thrived for about eight centuries. P ...more
Feb 27, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book got my roughly-annual nonfiction book out of the way early, and on the whole, I very much enjoyed it.

The book is an examination of four "lost" cities - cities which were built thousands of years ago, and have mostly or completely been buried. As the book itself points out, calling them "lost" is a bit of a misnomer - in all cases, the locals knew about the former city, and in at least one case, still lived there when it was "discovered" by explorers, but the city itself had mostly fall
Apr 23, 2021 rated it really liked it
Enjoyable and interesting, if a little lighter than I'd expected based on that secret history subtitle. I've not heard or seen much except surface detail about these four cities, with the exception of Pompeii. Many of the details in that section were familiar from other sources. The conclusions draw by the experts quoted in the book were quite interesting. The author's conclusions were solid, but didn't add much for me. I was able to see the author's conclusions in their writing in the other sec ...more
May 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I pre-ordered this book!

Once you read it, you should listen to the Flash Forward podcast episode on Smart Cities here.
Then you should listen to the podcast Ideas episode "Feminist Cities." There were so many cool overlapping ideas.

This book was so great. The illustrations were awesome. I loved reading it and Annalee's voice comes through with storytelling, poetry, and imagery. I loved that they spoke to so many women involved in researching these cities, but I wish that each researcher's posit
Dan Trefethen
Feb 08, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, science
You may think you know what comprises a city, but Newitz shows us that the definition of 'city' can be fluid. After all, people have figured out innumerable ways to band together over time. Also, despite the title, she argues that these places were never truly 'lost' because it was commonly known in the area that they were there. It's a blindered version of discovery that a 'lost city' only becomes found when European explorers 'rediscover' it.

She focuses on four very different urban places: Cat
Thanks to Annalee Newitz, Netgalley, and the publisher for providing this advanced reading ebook copy to me in exchange for an honest review.

Four Lost Cities is the first nonfiction book I've read by one of my favourite science fiction writers, Annalee Newitz. An experienced journalist, Newitz travels to four archaeological sites to explore what the cities that once stood there were like and how their citizens lived. This is very much focused on common people, providing a fresh perspective in a
Jane Bigelow
May 10, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: archeology
This is a well-done, thoroughly researched exploration of four cities which once were mighty and no longer exist. We know a great deal more about Pompeii than about the other three: Catalhoyuk, in Turkey; Angkor, in Cambodia; and Cahokia, primarily in the US state of Illinois.

I do wonder why there are absolutely no illustrations, not even a diagram or two. It would be especially helpful for the lesser-known (at least to Western readers) sites. Newitz is good at description, though. It helps that
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Annalee Newitz is an American journalist who covers the cultural impact of science and technology. They received a PhD in English and American Studies from UC Berkeley, and in 1997 published the widely cited book, White Trash: Race and Class in America. From 2004–2005 they were a policy analyst for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. They write for many periodicals from 'Popular Science' to 'Wired ...more

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You’d never know it from reading the books listed here, but good science writing is incredibly difficult to pull off. There is both an art...
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“As long as we tell our urban ancestors' stories, no city is ever lost. They live on, in our imaginations and on our public lands, as a promise that no matter how terrible things get, humans always try again.” 0 likes
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