History

27th October 2000 at 01:00
PEOPLE WHO MADE HISTORY IN ANCIENT EGYPT. By Jane Shuter. PEOPLE WHO MADE HISTORY IN ANCIENT GREECE. By Nicola Morgan. Hodder Wayland pound;10.99 each

Harkhuf, Hekanakhte, and Hatshepsut - a tongue-twisting triumvirate from the ancient past, are just three of the characters brought alive through the pages of these two hard-backed volumes aimed at the primary history market.

Approaching the past through personalities (Aeschylus, Archimedes and Alexander - if you want another mouthful) is one way of breathing life into it, although the problem with the ancient past is that what we have by way of biographical detail is often very thin.

For example, evidence on Socrates, who is included in Nicola Morgan's book, is scanty and mainly from Plato and Xenophon, who can only have known him in any ral sense after about his 60th year.

That the biographies in these books are therefore brief is understandable, but that they are also rather too precise is a bit worrying (Socrates' job is given as "Putting conceited fools in their places"). One could have wished for the authors to have communicated a little more uncertainty.

What is lacking, apart from a brief paragraph in the introduction to the ancient Greece book, is an indication of how we came to know about these people, which, bearing in mind the requirements of the national curriculum in relation to evidence, is a major flaw.

Nevertheless the information is presented prettily enough and the pithy summaries will be valuable for any children aspiring to be contestants on Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

Paul Noble


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