No kidding. And did Felipe Fernández-Armesto really read it, or did someone just tell him about it? You’re bound to ask that kind of question of an author who drops so many names.
Civilizations has been my bedtime book for weeks, and I’ve been falling asleep with suspicious promptitude most nights. It ought to be very interesting: an attempt to group and analyse human cultures by the natural environment in which they developed, and by the extent to which they modified nature. There are peoples and cities here of which I have never even heard. But because each culture receives so little space, it’s like having someone read you a list – and only Spike Milligan could get away with that (anyone else remember the Directory of Huntingdonshire Cabmen?)
It might be the comatose state in which I read it, but I don’t really know if the book has an argument or a unifying thesis; it all seemed a bit muddled. Maybe there is one in the final chapter, but I ditched on page 491. The jig was up on page 339 anyway. In the section on Easter Island, Fernández-Armesto writes of ‘… proud monoliths, left to collapse in indignity and lie in neglect … the undecipherable inscriptions, howling inarticulately from the faces of the tablets …’. I tried to overlook it, but it was no good. The posy style was already annoying me, and I’m not about to forgive anyone for howling inscriptions.