The Jericho River: A Magical Novel About the History of Western Civilization
by: David Carthage
Have you ever wished you had a better sense of the scope of our world history? Do you feel like you vaguely recall some major or random moments you once learned in high school or while sitting in your Western Civ class, but that generally those tidbits are disconnected and ad hoc and, despite your years of schooling, you’re still not sure how all those pieces fit?
I’m kind of like that. I’m a big picture thinker, which means I often have trouble recalling details and minutiae. And history, the way it was taught to me, felt like nothing but a series of details: facts with no framework, puzzle pieces but no picture.
That’s just one reason why I was impressed with David Carthage’s book,The Jericho River: A Magical Novel About the History of Western Civilization, a young adult novel drawing on fantasy to reveal history’s grand themes and little surprises. When I first picked up the book, I thought it might be like the history of Western Civilization, Cliff’s Notes style – Western Civ 101 recapped. But it’s not like that at all!
The Jericho River opens with the story of a modern day teenage boy, Jason Gallo, who has a problematic relationship with his father, a history professor consumed by work. But trouble quickly emerges when Jason’s father falls into a sudden, mysterious coma–which it turns out is the effect of him being sucked into an alternate reality: the world of Fore. It falls upon Jason to follow his father there, rescue him, and bring him back home. Along the way, Jason meets mystical beasts, battles minotaurs, barbarians, and pirates, falls in love, and discovers he’s made of stronger stuff than he ever thought possible. As the reader gets sucked into this engaging and enchanting tale – with a bit of a surprise at the end! -footnotes and chapter intros highlight tidbits from Professor Gallo’s lectures and writings which give a sense of the larger trends going on in the world around them, as well as interesting and humorously told trivia about things like the origin of the story of Moses, where cherubs come from, how we get the word “lesbian” from the Greek poet Sappho, evidence Cleopatra might have been a redhead, and (my personal favorite) where coffee was first introduced.
It tells the trajectory of the world as it grew, as civilization emerged and spread, as empires rose and fell, and as major developments in technology and world thought shaped the future. It tells us our story in a much more thematic manner, with a fast-paced and engaging plot to pull us along the way – an amazing feat in just 300 pages!
If I have any quibbles with the book, I might say it was a little slow at the start, and, as a reader of historical fiction, I might have liked to see a little more richness in detail about the world of Fore: what people wore, what they lived in, what the world around them looked, smelled, tasted, felt like. I’m not saying descriptions needed to be lengthy, but a few well-chosen, precise descriptors can go a long way toward helping the reader feel she is there in the world of the author’s creation and that the characters are grounded in a world that feels real. But these are minor quibbles because the book does pick up the pace and hit its stride about a third of the way in. And I can understand wanting to keep the book on the shorter side as well, so one can’t wallow in too much detail.
This book was a really fun read, one I’d love to keep on my bookshelf. I would highly recommend it for classroom use, for teachers who’d like to give their students a great overview of history to read alongside learning the factual details, and I would recommend it for adults who’d like a light read that offers the bonus refresher on the major developments in the the history of Western Civilization.
Photo courtesy of pintsofhistory.com
The Jericho River: A Magical Novel About the History of Western Civilization is available for purchase on Amazon. If you want to learn more about the book, check out the book’s website: www.JerichoRiver.com. There, you can also find the book’s table of contents, an excerpt, and get a sneak peek at some of the book’s illustrations. The author, David Carthage, who is a lawyer with a BA in history, can also be found on his personal blog: Pints of History - also a fun read where you can find out fascinating tidbits like: why so many of history’s kings married their sisters (including Thailand’s King Chulalongkorn who married four!) and how armor made of cotton might have been better than the ones made of steel.
This book review is in exchange for receiving a free advance copy of the book, which the author sent to me (all the way here in Thailand!), and I agreed to read and review in return. The opinions in this book review are my own, and are an honest representation of my response in reading the book.