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Author Kenneth C. Davis sets out to fill in the gaps of the average reader’s knowledge of mythology. Don’t expect a book of stories about Zeus and Hera; they’re here but so are gods from Egypt, Celtic lands, Africa, the Americas, Asia, India, and just about every culture you can think of.
This was not what I expected. I thought I was getting something along the lines of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology–the actual myths in one big collection. I should have paid more attention to the subtitle, “Everything You Need to Know About the Greatest Stories in Human History but Never Learned” (emphasis mine). Davis definitely took a historical approach to all these legends and myths. It was interesting and I learned a lot, but it wasn’t necessarily what I was looking for.
Each part began with a timeline of important events for a specific culture or country and then there were a series of questions about the mythology. Most of the answers were framed in history. It makes sense, but it didn’t make for very riveting reading for me. There were also little sections called “Mythic Voices” that did excerpt as directly as possible from the original sources. A list of the important gods/spirits/tricksters/etc. and a brief synopsis of each god’s most significant stories was at the end of each part. These were my favorite bits but they felt like afterthoughts.
I was pleased when I realized that lesser-known cultures were included, but they were necessarily vague. I’m specifically thinking about the sections on Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific Islands. There are a lot of different peoples living across a big area and they didn’t necessarily have the same beliefs. Davis did what he could to draw out their commonalities and focus on those. He was hampered by the fact that these groups have more of an oral tradition and not a lot is known about them. I applaud the effort at inclusion and truly enjoyed reading these parts.
I knew if I ever put this book aside, I would never get back to it and I didn’t want that to happen. So at a rate of a couple of pages a night, if that, it took me four months to read this. That’s right. Four months to read just over 400 pages. I’m so ashamed. I wouldn’t recommend reading it straight through but rather a piece at a time as the mood strikes.
History buffs looking for a more cultural take on things should enjoy this.
Buy Don’t Know Much About Mythology at
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