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Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age

by Annalee Newitz

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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5492044,184 (3.8)34
"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 of four ancient cities, each the center of a sophisticated civilization: the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük in Central Turkey, the Roman vacation town of Pompeii on Italy's southern coast, the medieval megacity of Angkor in Cambodia, and the indigenous metropolis Cahokia, which stood beside the Mississippi River where East St. Louis is today. Newitz travels to all four sites and investigates the cutting-edge research in archaeology, revealing the mix of environmental changes and political turmoil that doomed these ancient settlements. Tracing the early development of urban planning, Newitz also introduces us to the often anonymous workers--slaves, women, immigrants, and manual laborers--who built these cities and created monuments that lasted millennia. Four Lost Cities is a journey into the forgotten past, but, foreseeing a future in which the majority of people on Earth will be living in cities, it may also reveal something of our own fate"--… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
A great look at urbanism and updated thought in archaeology. I expected to enjoy it but was happy to learn new things about these four settlements. ( )
  Kiramke | Jun 27, 2023 |
An interesting, and thoroughly researched review of four cities that were presumed to be "lost." Two of these cities were unknown to me prior to reading this book. The author gets involved at the excavation sites and accesses the expertise of anthropologists, urban planners, architects, linguists, and of course archeol0gists. Many theories are upended with new information garnered only recently with the benefit of technology. The old theories promulgated by old, wealthy, white, European men were based on their inherent biases without regard for differing urban evolutions and with the lives of servants and slaves held in disdain. The author's goal is to find how common people lived in these cities rather than just to how the wealthy and elite lived. She succeeds, for the most part. ( )
  Kimberlyhi | Apr 15, 2023 |
This book is part memoir and part history. It covers the history of four ancient cities that have been deserted for centuries. The four cities are: Çatalhöyük (Turkey), Pompeii (Italy), Angkor (Cambodia), and Cahokia (US). Newitz visited each site, interviewed experts, and recounts what has been discovered, focusing on how the people lived and how the city died out.

My favorite is the first part set in Çatalhöyük. I think it is a brilliant move by the author to follow what can be gleaned of the life of a regular person. A female skeleton, named Dido by archeologists, was found at the site, along with relics of her home life. It really helps bring the history to life. Since so much time has passed, they have to speculate, but it is based on logical reasoning and the author tells us how they came to those conclusions.

The Pompeii section contains lots of information I had already known, but there are some new tidbits, such as where the people went after they evacuated in the wake of the eruption of Vesuvius. The Angkor section shows how important it is to plan a city, rather than place the water source at the whim of the person in charge. The final section portrays life in an ancient city near St. Louis. I did not know much about this site and found this section informative.

This book is filled with fascinating facts about how people lived in ancient times. Other accounts call them “lost” cities, but the author points out that they were abandoned over a period of time for a variety of reasons. If you enjoy archeology or sociology, as I do, you may want to check it out. ( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
This book examines 4 cities that eventually stopped being cities (Çatalhöyük, Ankor Wat, Pompeii, and Cahokia), and explores what the end of a city looks like: why did people leave these cities? How long did it take? Did it feel like an apocalypse, or a process of change? Obviously the answers are different for each city. In looking at the ends of these cities, Newitz also writes about current catastrophes, particularly climate catastrophes, and whether there are any useful lessons in history as modern cities face existential crises. I already knew quite a bit about some of these cities (although of course I learned more!), so I was particularly interested in thinking about the ends of modern cities, but Newitz didn't go into as much detail as I was hoping she would. Still, this is an interesting read. ( )
  Gwendydd | Jul 31, 2022 |
I would have liked this book better as a print book because I had a hard time picturing some of the structures, mainly Çatalhöyük and somewhat Angkor. The section on Cahokia was particularly strong and I think Newitz made excellent points about popular misconceptions about Native American civilization. The epilogue was possibly the most thought provoking art of the book and I immediately saw Newitz's skills with speculative fiction grounded in reality. ( )
  Bodagirl | Jun 7, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Annalee Newitzprimary authorall editionscalculated
Cannon, ChloeNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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This book is given as a humble offering to Iaso, Acesco, Hygieia, and Panacea.

But most importantly it is dedicated with love to Chris Palmer, who survived.
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I stood on the crumbling remains of a perfectly square island at the center of an artificial lake created by hydraulic engineers 1,000 years ago.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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"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 of four ancient cities, each the center of a sophisticated civilization: the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük in Central Turkey, the Roman vacation town of Pompeii on Italy's southern coast, the medieval megacity of Angkor in Cambodia, and the indigenous metropolis Cahokia, which stood beside the Mississippi River where East St. Louis is today. Newitz travels to all four sites and investigates the cutting-edge research in archaeology, revealing the mix of environmental changes and political turmoil that doomed these ancient settlements. Tracing the early development of urban planning, Newitz also introduces us to the often anonymous workers--slaves, women, immigrants, and manual laborers--who built these cities and created monuments that lasted millennia. Four Lost Cities is a journey into the forgotten past, but, foreseeing a future in which the majority of people on Earth will be living in cities, it may also reveal something of our own fate"--

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Investigating across centuries and around the world, acclaimed science journalist Annalee Newitz explores the rise and fall of four ancient abandoned cities, each the center of a sophisticated civilization: the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük in Central Turkey, the Roman vacation town of Pompeii on Italy’s southern coast, the medieval megacity of Angkor in Cambodia, and the indigenous metropolis Cahokia that stood beside the Mississippi River where East St. Louis is today.

In Four Lost Cities, Newitz blends an engaging account of their travels to all four sites with an exploration of cutting-edge research in archaeology—including new discoveries about who lived in these cities and the tools they used to create monuments that lasted millennia. The result is a thrilling journey into the urban past that reveals the mix of environmental changes, social transformation, and political turmoil that doomed ancient cities—and could be a sign of things to come.
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