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Publisher's Summary

In Four Lost Cities, acclaimed science journalist Annalee Newitz takes listeners on an entertaining and mind-bending adventure into the deep history of urban life. Investigating across the centuries and around the world, Newitz explores the rise and fall of four ancient cities, each the center of a sophisticated civilization: the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük in Central Turkey, the Roman vacation town of Pompeii on Italy's southern coast, the medieval megacity of Angkor in Cambodia, and the indigenous metropolis Cahokia, which stood beside the Mississippi River where East St. Louis is today. 

Newitz travels to all four sites and investigates the cutting-edge research in archaeology, revealing the mix of environmental changes and political turmoil that doomed these ancient settlements. Tracing the early development of urban planning, Newitz also introduces us to the often anonymous workers-slaves, women, immigrants, and manual laborers-who built these cities and created monuments that lasted millennia. 

Four Lost Cities is a journey into the forgotten past, but, foreseeing a future in which the majority of people on Earth will be living in cities, it may also reveal something of our own fate.

©2021 Annalee Newitz (P)2021 HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books

What listeners say about Four Lost Cities

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  • Andy
  • 26-04-2021

A view from the inhabitants in these lost cities

This book was a great find for me. It paints a picture of the people who lived in these ancient cities, and evolution of their civilizations from growth to collapse, or in some cases to abandonment. I found this fascinating, and much more interesting than just an exploration of the lost cities themselves.

It also makes you compare the peak and decline of these ancient cities to our own contemporary cities, and it makes you wonder where in the lifecycle we are now. And when you get to the city of Ankor, you realise how bad urban planning can turn success into a disaster and accelerate the demise. I kept relating Ankor to modern-day New York, and I wonder if the work-from-home movement is the start of human relocation and urban decline.

If you live in a big city, then this is a must-read.

Great narration too. The author and narrator really bring the ancient worlds back to life.

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  • Twang
  • 17-04-2021

Very basic info with left political slant

Early on author goes into extreme depth trying to explain that archeological layers near the top are younger than those below - and then comments on just how confusing the upper/younger terminology is.
I lasted a little longer but between the verbosity and the 'mankind is evil' I
montra finally gave up.

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  • David E. Ahmuty
  • 02-03-2021

informative and entertaining

I enjoyed this history lesson about these "lost" cities and the inhabitants who occupied them

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  • Binban
  • 06-06-2021

Lessons from our past, Benefits for our Future

Valuable lessons from Archaeology, well presented. An easy, entertaining, and valuable work that takes us on a journal across time.

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  • Elisabeth Carey
  • 12-04-2021

What really happened to four "lost" cities

The allure of "lost cities" is a strong one; many of us love the story of one lost city or another. Annalee Newitz gives us the stories of four of them--Çatalhöyük, a Neolithic site in Turkey; Pompeii, on the Italian coast and the slope of Mt. Vesuvius; medieval Angkor in Cambodia; Cahokia, an indigenous North American metropolis at the site that's now East St. Louis.

Newitz looks at each of these cities using new developments and techniques in archaeology to consider the cities and their culture through the lives of the average residents as well as the elites.

Çatalhöyük is built in layers--houses being abandoned and, after some gap in time, new houses being built over them, with streets and walkways on top of the current layer of houses. Workers carried something very like business cards, identifying their trades and other affiliations, in the first human settlement large enough that you didn't, couldn't know everyone.

In Pompeii, freed slaves, their offspring, and lower-ranked citizens would buy the former villas of the elites, and turn them into shops, workshops, and apartments--often trying to preserve the look of an elite villa as much as they could. Freed slaves took their former owner's family name as their own new family name, and maintained connections and obligations to them. As a vacation city, Pompeii had a thriving commercial culture, until the volcano ended it.

Angkor was a city of temples, and dependent on excellent water management because of its environment. Unfortunately, while some of the water management decisions were grounded in solid engineering, others were grounded in politics and religious ideas of advantageous orientation. Labor management was also very much top-down, and not every ruler did that wisely or with a sense of the limits of what people would tolerate.

Cahokia, center of the Mississippian culture, was built around a series of public squares, where public meetings, religious meetings, sports, and entertainment all happened. There was not one single center to the city, but public squares in every part of it, with people coming from all over to participate in major festivals. There seems to have been no particular organized system of economic exchange, with families, neighborhoods, and other types of groups reaching arrangements that worked for them. Cahokia wasn't about economics; it was about their thriving, shared religion.

What's really striking and exciting about Newitz's account, though, is about how none of these "lost cities" were ever truly lost. The local populations not only knew where they were, but in the all except Pompeii, which became a toxic ruin in the aftermath of the Vesuvius eruption, continued to use the area, though in different ways, as the environment and the local culture changed. Angkor in particular is an outrageous case of misrepresentation. A Frenchman "found" the city around the time the French took control of Cambodia as a colony. At the time, the population was low compared to earlier periods, but monks were at the temple still conducting religious ceremonies, and there's ample documentation of foreign visitors, including from China, visiting the city. The French had to kick the monks out of the temple in order to pursue their own plans of making it a French "discovery" and tourist attraction.

Çatalhöyük's neighbors knew where it was, dug up artifacts while ploughing their fields, and sometimes using bits and pieces from it. Cahokia's population dispersed but didn't disappear, though the Eurasian diseases brought by Europeans eventually devastated what was left before Europeans even reached the area--and it's still populated now. Mostly by the descendants of Europeans and Africans, and we do call it East St. Louis, now. Yet the area never ceased to be a population center, even though the uses and organization have changed.

Pompeii did die, of course, but not due to the fall of its civilization. The place merely became uninhabitable. Rome's government organized a major humanitarian relief project, originally intending to rebuild as had happened after earthquakes. When that clearly couldn't be done, the relief went to resettling the surviving residents instead--and many of those people continued to identify as being from Pompeii, and maintained contact with their Pompeiian neighbors and connections.

Urbanization changes, but it doesn't go away.

And yes, Newitz makes this much more interesting than I do, while Chloe Cannon helps by doing an excellent job as the narrator.

Highly recommended.

I bought this audiobook.

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  • Gareth Berg
  • 07-08-2021

Absolutely fascinating

I loved the angle of this book. Focusing more on the lives of the average citizens of "anchient cities", the interactions they made and how the cities rose and fell into decline. The narration was technically flawless, but i jyst didn't marry the presentation style with the subject. Maybe I'm being too picky.
This is an excellent book tgat i would recommend to anyone interested in anthropology.

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  • JAKo
  • 15-07-2021

Food for thought

This book has an interesting premise, but admittedly I had a hard time getting through it. There are some interesting details about ancient societies and the way that lived but much of it felt irrelevant to why cities decline.

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  • Andy
  • 16-06-2021

Informative about recent trends

I enjoyed learning about, with some physical digging, how we gather insights into past lives.

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  • Ronald
  • 10-06-2021

Deeply disappointing

I am interested in history, archeology, anthropology. Mislead by positive reviews in the New York Times and elsewhere, I found this book mostly to be a series of essays expressing over and over the authors biases about urban life. The author seemed unwilling to tell us about the nature of the evidence revealing what is known about these sites, substituting instead her conjectures. All of it was at a tedious, flighty level that did not inspire thought. I like to finish audiobooks that I start, but had to force my way through 3/4 of this one, after I realized that it wasn't going to get any better.

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  • E M Jane Dunbar
  • 04-05-2021

Very poor narration

Interesting topic ruined by a toneless flat reading;I could not listen to the end.

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  • Jen
  • 17-03-2021

Absolutely awful!

The narrator sounds like a soft porn actress and at times the prose doesn’t do much better - a respected female archaeologist “removes a stray strand of hair from her face”. It gets 2 stars rather than for the selection of cities but that’s about anything good I can say about this book.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 07-07-2021

Very interesting

Not my usual sort of choice for non fiction but this was really enjoyable. The narrator has a slight nasal twang which got a bit wearing ( sorry ) but the subject was fascinating.

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