Felipe Fernández-Armesto, 2000

I saw this book at Cody's and the premise made me want to snap it up: a survey of world civilizations organized by biome. It's hard to imagine a book better engineered to attract my interest. But then I noticed the name of the author: Felipe Fernández-Armesto. I'd read his book Millennium, which attempted to survey the history of the years 1005 to 1995 but dissolved into a tract against abortion and euthanasia. So I decided to check Civilizations out of the library. Good idea: I wound up bailing after about a hundred pages. Collapse may have spoiled me, because after reading Diamond's treatments of Greenland and Easter Island and Chaco Canyon, I had little interest in Fernández-Armesto's much shallower accounts. He's known for his prose style, but he seems much more interested in alliteration and allusion than he is in arresting turns of phrase, so I wasn't really all that impressed. And reading his asides was even more like listening to Dana Carvey's Grumpy Old Man than watching the last half hour of No Country for Old Men was. Bad enough when he talked about the virtues of unhappiness, or badmouthed the idea of building sustainable societies — when he started going off about how clothes don't have enough starch these days, I checked out.

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