At barely a hundred pages, Lost Civilizations isn’t a hefty tome, by any definition. It’s the kind of book you find in the discount bin at Barnes & Noble. It’s the kind of book my uncle would get me when I was twelve, because he knew I liked history but had no idea which books I had, or which subjects, specifically, I was interested in.
Which is fine. There’s a place for those books.
But I’m usually looking for more than that. These books were not a deep dive into any of the civilizations discussed, which is disappointing because there were some fascinating cultures here that were barely talked about.
For anyone wondering which civilizations “vanished without a trace” (which isn’t remotely true), they are: Roanoke, the Pueblo people of the American southwest, the Maya, the Indus Valley, the Egyptians, the kingdom of Aksum, the Cucuteni-Trypillian Culture of Romania, Mycenae, the Nabataeans), and……Atlantis.
The problem with this book isn’t that it barely scratches the surface of what happened to these civilizations. The problem for me was that it wasn’t remotely scholarly. This book is riddled with irrelevant movie references – but not the kind of references we all like (smart, irreverent, or whimsical). While talking about the Nabataeans, Rank talks about the use of Petra (which they built) in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, before saying something along the lines of, “and then George Lucas ruined the franchise by making Kingdom of the Crystal Skull).
It felt wrong and out of place. This book has the feel of a quick overview of the historical and scientific understanding of what happened to these cultures. That’s not the best context for opining about George Lucas.
But that’s not even the biggest issue. Freaking Atlantis?
Atlantis isn’t a “lost civilization”. It has nothing to do with Bimini, or Doggerland, or even Thera. It’s a myth. It’s entirely possible that it was ever intended to have been thought of as a real place.
Beyond that, Rank delves into theoretical aliens building the pyramids or constructing Mayan and Olmec cities. So much of this book felt like an episode of In Search Of…. Which I enjoyed as a kid, but am not really looking to read as an adult.
If you are into that sort of thing, though, you’ll be disappointed to know that Rank rejects all supernatural or extraterrestrial explanations for these cultures achievements or collapse.
Beyond those complaints, the book as okay. A nice overview, but not particularly insightful or thought provoking.