This book was sent to me by Faber & Faber in exchange for my honest opinion.
04.10.2018 / Faber & Faber / Non Fiction / Hardback / 304pp / 978-0571348411
Target Audience: History lovers and people who are looking to learn more about the creations and innovations of recent history as well as how these affected the progress of civilisations around the world.
For thousands of years, humans have built walls and assaulted them, admired walls and reviled them. Great Walls have appeared on nearly every continent, the handiwork of people from Persia, Rome, China, Central America, and beyond. They have accompanied the rise of cities, nations, and empires. And yet they rarely appear in our history books.
Spanning centuries and millennia, drawing on archaeological digs to evidence from Berlin and Hollywood, David Frye uncovers the story of walls and asks questions that are both intriguing and profound. Did walls make civilization possible? Can we live without them?
This is more than a tale of bricks and stone: Frye reveals the startling link between what we build and how we live, who we are and how we came to be. It is nothing less than the story of civilization.
‘The creators of the first civilisations descended from generations of wall builders. They used their newfound advantages in organization and numbers to build bigger walls. More than a few still survive. In the pages that follow, I will often describe these monuments with imposing measures – their height, their thickness, sometimes their volumes, almost always their lengths. These numbers may begin to lose their impact after a while. They can only tell us so much. We will always learn more by examining the people who built the walls or the fear that lead to their construction.’
David Frye’s Walls is a classic non-fiction read that left me not only well informed but with a deeper appreciation and understanding of world history. From 10,000 B.C right up to the present day, David Frye explains how fundamental the invention, construction and development of walls were (and still are) to the progression of humanity. If you are here purely for a history of walls then you may be disappointed as DF is more interested in the influence instead of the existence of walls. DF took me on a guided tour through key periods in the history of mankind and how the creation (and protection) of walls allowed us to flourish as a species but also the ramifications and innovations that they led to later on.
DF lead me through civilisations that either accepted or rejected the concept of being walled (or caged) in and how their decisions affected the population and also the other nations around them. Walls redefined our ability to exist in a barbaric world and allowed us to focus on scientific and cultural advancements. It also allowed some kingdoms to go soft, so to speak. DF also focuses on the absence of walls and how it changed the civilisations who refused to hide behind them; nations like the Spartans, Mongols and Native Americans who lived to fight for what was theirs or claim new lands for themselves.
The amount of coverage is exceptional, from the Roman Empire, Mesopotamia and China (with their many great walls) to Greece, Constantinople and Berlin. Walls are essential to the telling of history and David Frye did a fantastic and immersive job with his writing. Informative, concise, engrossing (narrative elements), well structured and paced out, David’s writing made this book totally worth my time. He could have easily knocked out this book with his extensive knowledge of war and culture but he went the extra mile. Making connections, observations and theories that made the content more comprehensive and digestible (with some hilarious comments too).
Recent history seems in part to be governed by a chain reaction that saw the building of more and more elaborate walls. Each emperor saw fit to out do their predecessors or competition. Each iteration of wall has its successes and failures, while destroying them advanced weaponry and military tactics along the way. I loved spending time with different time periods and walking amongst the mythos, history, socio-economic backgrounds, knowledge and statistics surrounding the world’s walls and those compelled to build them for their own needs or the needs of many. I especially enjoyed how David Frye’s message about walls was fluid and how it evolved over the course of the book. How humanity grew out of their need for walls and yet still see them in a symbolic nature. How destroying a wall can be as powerful as building one.
DF knows perfectly where to stop and elaborate or move on to new points. He also doesn’t shy away from the darker shades of history so be aware of graphic detail. There is a lot to learn in this book but DF has written it in a way that it is never too much and I always wanted to know more. There are many highlights to Walls and I can’t recommend it enough to Non-Fiction lovers of many varieties. If you like detail, history, mythology (and ghost stories), the many aspects of building civilisation and humanity’s past then Walls is a great book to get stuck into. We owe walls our lives and without their protection our societies would have never been the same.
‘The walls alone have seen the truth, and they are mute’
About David Frye
A native of East Tennessee, David Frye received his Ph.D. in late ancient history from Duke University in 1991 and is presently a professor of history at Eastern Connecticut State University, where he teaches ancient and medieval history. Frye’s academic articles have appeared in the UK, Germany, Sweden, and Denmark, as well as the United States, in journals such as Nottingham Medieval Studies, Classical World, Byzantion, Historia, Hermes: Zeitschrift fur klassische Philologie, The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, and Classica et Mediaevalia. In addition, he has published in various popular archaeological and historical magazines and on the online humor site McSweeney’s. As part of his research, he has participated in archaeological excavations in Britain and Romania. (Goodreads Bio)