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Za Siedmimi divmi sveta by Vojtech…

Za Siedmimi divmi sveta (1960)

by Vojtech Zamarovsky

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[Vojtech Zamarovsky]

[The Seven Wonders of the World]

[Sofia: Nauka i Izkustvo, Paperback, 1985.]

8vo. 247 pp. In Bulgarian. "Instead of a Foreword" by the author [5-10]. Translated from the Slovakian by Radka Malinova.

First published in Slovakian as Za siedmimi divmi sveta, 1960.
Revised edition, 1975?
This Bulgarian translation first published, 1985.


I suppose this book is virtually unknown in the West. I don’t think it has ever been translated into English, French, Spanish or Italian. It has appeared in German, courtesy of the German Democratic Republic, but that’s as far West as it ever did reach. On the other hand, it was quite a bestseller in Eastern Europe before the fall of the Iron Curtain, enjoying translations (and sales, no doubt) in Czech, Polish, Hungarian and Bulgarian. I first read the last of these as a kid, many years ago, and though a good deal of it went high above my head, the rest caused many a sleepless night with dreams of ancient civilisations. The book remains one of my sentimental favourites to the present day.

So far as I know, Vojtech Zamarovsky (1919–2006) never studied any history after high school. This is yet another proof that formal education, or lack of it, doesn’t really mean anything. This is a book aimed at the general reading public. It doesn’t have footnotes with citations or even a short bibliography in the end. Yet this is not some sort of fanciful and self-indulgent speculation. Zamarovsky knows well many of the ancient authorities, from Herodotus and Strabo to Philo of Byzantium and Diodorus of Sicily, and he examines them carefully and critically. When modern works are quoted, they usually are formidable historical studies by passionate pioneers or respected academics (identified in situ). Zamarovsky makes wonderful fun of the seekers of cheap sensations like the infamous Erich von Däniken who is dismissed as “a Swiss hotelier”.

In short, this book is closer to historical study than to popular introduction. And the scope is quite impressive. Far from merely stating the little that is known about the Seven Wonders, Zamarovsky goes into relatively substantial detail about the history of Egypt, Greece and Babylon, including the modern (up until the middle of the last century, let us remember) attempts to uncover the past in a scientific way; the chapter about the Pyramids, for instance, includes a fine account of Champollion’s life and work. Zamarovsky’s very reasonable idea is that we cannot dissociate the Seven Wonders from the social, political, cultural and religious context of the civilisations which produced them. He is packed with fascinating information that appears well researched and likely to resist the onslaught of “modern scholarship” (whatever that means). He is little tainted by the noxious political climate in which he wrote.

But the greatest asset of this volume is not the content, however stimulating or little dated it may be. It is the lively and charming style that makes the book more readable than many other, and lighter, exercises in pop-history. Zamarovsky is refreshingly informal, chatty, irreverent and witty. He obviously loves his subject and his enthusiasm is contagious. The ability to evoke the magic and wonder of the ancient world is rare, but Zamarovsky certainly has it.

The worst that can be said about the style is that sometimes the author indulges in comparisons that require a somewhat thorough grasp of modern Czechoslovakian history. He is also prone to Brysovian overdose of statistics, but he puts even the dubious ones to a good use. For example, he remarks that the material of all pyramids in Egypt would be enough to restore the damaged buildings in all military conflicts between the Thirty Years’ War and the Second World War (wacky proposition impossible to confirm or reject), but he then adds that this leads us to the bold conclusion that the futility of stone piles like the Pyramids is no less appalling than the destruction of war.

It is no wonder that a lavishly illustrated hardcover edition of this book was published in Slovakia as late as 2003 (and reprinted in 2010 together with a bonus CD), even though the text seems to have been revised for the last time circa 1975. Even the drab Bulgarian edition, illustrated only with indifferent black-and-white photos and never reprinted since 1985, can still be read with pleasure and profit. By no means can I say this about every sentimental favourite of mine. ( )
  Waldstein | Mar 24, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Vojtech Zamarovskyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Malinova, RadkaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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