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The Looting of the Iraq Museum, Baghdad: The Lost Legacy of Ancient Mesopotamia [Hardcover]

Milbry Polk , Angela M.H. Schuster


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Book Description

May 1 2005
In April of 2003, the world reacted in shock at the news of the looting of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad. Priceless antiquities, spanning ten thousand years of human history, were smashed into pieces or stolen, and one of the most important storehouses of ancient culture was forever compromised. This exquisitely illustrated volume is a reconstruction in book form of one of the world's great museums, and it stands as the definitive single-volume history of the art and archaeology of ancient Mesopotamia-the cradle of civilization.

The contributors to this book consist of a cadre of international archaeologists whose excavations helped piece together the rich tapestry of Mesopotamian life from earliest prehistory to the advent of Islam. A portion of the book's royalties will aid in the reconstruction of the museum and in the preservation of Mesopotamia's cultural treasures. Told through the art and artifacts that were lost recently in Iraq, this fascinating history of the civilizations of the Near East is sure to be a timeless and enduring book.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Harry N. Abrams (May 1 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0810958724
  • ISBN-13: 978-0810958722
  • Product Dimensions: 25.4 x 22.6 x 3.2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 Kg
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #855,805 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

As Baghdad fell in the spring of 2003, the thin deployment of coalition forces, it was said, made it impossible to protect cultural sites-which were immediately stripped-despite a legal obligation to preserve them. This book records the enormous, devastating losses (more than 15,000 pieces, only half of which have been recovered) of a major world museum, one that much of the world never had a chance to discover. Over 12 chapters, varied contributors lightly detail the depth and breadth of the collection, presenting highlights in 284 illustrations (most in color) from the collection as it was, with some asides about pieces that have been "reported missing" or are otherwise no longer there. Yet the text accompanying these abundant photos feels thin. A seven-page history of the museum is barely informative; the seven pages on "The Ravages of War and the Challenge of Reconstruction" feel woefully inadequate for a book of this title. With its lack of a unified perspective and the inclusion of previously published material, the book has a quickly-stitched-together feel. A percentage of the book's sales will be donated to the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage; the director of the Iraq Museum, Dr. Donny George, will tour the U.S. in June.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

After the Iraq Museum was looted in April 2003, a remarkable group of historians, archaeologists, and curators created a "virtual" version of "one of the greatest collections of cultural treasures in our world" so that not all would be lost. The museum contained thousands of artifacts created in the cradle of civilization over the course of 10,000 years, including the earliest known forms of pottery, jewelry, clay figurines, carved statues, bas-relief carvings, and clay tablets. Fortunately these exquisite and historically invaluable ancient objects had been carefully photographed and cataloged before the catastrophic looting, enabling the editors to richly illustrate more than a dozen fresh, incisive essays covering the dramatic history of the region up to the present, and the development and preservation of its arts. A movement to rehabilitate the Iraq Museum and its precious holdings is under way, an effort that sales of this finely produced, sensitive, and illuminating volume will support. Testimony to humankind's capacity for creativity and destruction, this unique project began in chaos and despair, and became a vehicle for hope and restoration. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
30 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "My goodness, were there that many vases?" May 20 2005
By Karl Vogler - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I remember Secretary Rumsfeld getting a laugh when he tried putting the looting of Baghdad in proper perspective. "The images you are seeing on television you are seeing over, and over, and over," he said, "and it's the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase, and you see it twenty times, and you think, 'My goodness, were there that many vases? Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?'" Well, this book shouts out from the audience, "Yup!" and in doing so, puts a new face on the war in Iraq, and tells a story as ironic and poignant as what we saw in the Iraqi soccer team at the Olympics last summer. Here the team is a group of experts -- a kind of dream team of Iraqis, Americans, Italians and Brits -- each taking a turn as an expert witness in the most talked about art heist in history. Unlike most of the reporting at the time, this book doesn't presume you already know your Ancient Near Eastern and Islamic history. Ralph Solecki takes us to the very beginning and recalls his prehistoric discoveries in Northern Iraq, where we have possibly the earliest known evidence of human compassion. Harriet Crawford's coverage of the dawn of civilization brings the dawning realization that ancient Mesopotamia is a lot closer to life today than we thought. Paul Collins presents an account of the amazing developments in Sumer, illustrated with some of the most beloved pieces from the Iraq Museum. All right, the Iraqis invented human emotion, agriculture, cities, empires -- what else? Robert Biggs adds writing and literature, using macro lens close-ups and a cuneiform comparison chart. And if you wonder why a quarter million people in America call themselves Assyrians, you'll certainly know after reading Julian Reade's chapter about these great achievers 2500 years ago. The East-meets-West story, starting with Alexander the Great, is vividly told by Elisabetta Fino. After seeing news photos of the mosque in Samarra vandalized, reading Alastair Northedge's piece on Islamic architecture was a form of grief counseling for me. Now as I watch daily footage of car bombings in Baghdad, I think of Vincenzo Strika's review of Baghdad through the ages, and put my hope in his last line: "Baghdad, for all its tumult and suffering, has the potential to become again, as it was in the Middle Ages, the cultural bridge between East and West." Other parts of the book use the museum building itself or specific artifacts as a point of departure: the essential "A Museum is Born" by Lamia Al-Gailani Werr and the exquisite "Small Treasures of the Iraq Museum" by Fiorella Strika. When I first opened the book, I skipped through it reading the double-page spreads here and there by Diana McDonald, and that made me want to read everything else. It was strong stuff for me to read kidnapping survivor Micah Garen's words on universal ideas - heroism, friendship, and our fear of death - drawing a comparison between the quest of Gilgamesh and the purpose of archaeology. Garen and his partner, Marie-Helene Carleton, remind us that we are all Gilgamesh, and archaeologists are our genius scribes. This elegant invitation to preserve our historical memory is echoed throughout the book, in most urgent terms by Selma Al-Radi, by Angela Schuster and Zainab Bahrani, by William and Milbry Polk, by Usam Ghaidan and Anna Paolini, and by the tireless Iraqi archaeologist, Donny George. All of these contributors are within two degrees of separation from everyone else in the cultural heritage community that reacted to the looting of the Iraq Museum. Although they are distinguished writers individually -- worthy of their own Listmania List -- this is a fine ensemble piece. Of course, the real stars of the book are the antiquities themselves, the figurines, bas reliefs, stelae and other vocabulary-building artifacts, along with, yes, the vases. The 190 color pictures on heavy paper make this a compact coffee-table book, but not too heavy to read in bed as well. University archaeology departments would be nuts not to make this required reading for new students. I can't think of a book that will more directly engage and motivate the newcomer, and possibly spark a thousand careers as luminous as those referenced in its pages. The book itself is an example of how people can work together across borders, across cultures and civilizations, clash or no clash. Many of these writers were first responders, rushing in to protect fragile human knowledge, and in the process modeling for the rest of us what we most need these days in Iraq: charity, hope and faith.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Much needed book on the looting of Mesopotamian treasures May 2 2005
By Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I found this to be an excellent volume that opens with the looting of the Iraq Museum at the beginning of the war and develops into an elegant and expert history of Mesopotamia spanning 60,000 years. Although the looting has been covered in newspapers and magazines, this is the only attempt to my knowledge to bring the topic to mainstream readers in book form. Archaeological sites throughout Iraq are still being looted daily, and a percentage of the royalties earned by this title will go to Iraq's State Board of Antiquities to help bring awareness and policing to the illicit trade in antiquities as well as help the Museum function again. The authors of each chapter comprise a formidable cadre of international archaeologists who have worked in Iraq sometimes for decades, and bring here the many voices needed to describe the long and fascinating history of Mesopotamia. The editors, Milbry Polk and Angela Schuster, really have done a fantastic job and have brought us a much needed book.

Beautifully designed and expertly written, this is a must for lovers of history and those with an interest in the cultural background of Iraq. Highly recommended.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Pity of War Aug. 22 2005
By Grady Harp - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
As discontent over the continued American presence and the mounting loss of lives of not only soldiers from this country but also from other supporting countries and certainly for the countless loss of civilian lives in Iraq, artists and writers are responding in kind to the woe of war. One of the saddest tragedies of the Iraq invasion was the decimation of the Iraq Museum of Baghdad. Many of the rarest of antiquities housed there are now reduced to dust while others suffered irreparable damage.

This fine book provides many illustrations of the collection of the Iraq Museum and with that, naturally, comes a timeline of civilization as we know it. The treasures are/were wondrous and the history as summarized by Milbry and William Polk, Selma Al-Radi, Angela Schuster, Zainab Bahrani, Usam Ghaidan, Anna Paolini, and Donny George in their fine essays should be required reading for all of us.

This fine and beautifully designed book marks a sad moment in our history, but it also provides an invaluable resource guide for those interested in the cradle of civilization that was Mesopotamia - aka Iraq! Highly recommended. Grady Harp, August 05
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Looting of the Iraq Museum, Baghdad July 15 2005
By G.Reed - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This gorgeously illustrated and very detailed guide to the cultural atrocoties committed in April of 2003 is a masterpiece of literature. I am very glad that someone took the time to make a wonderful guide to this event. Flipping through the pages and looking at the many artifacts, one cannot help feeling a sense of melancholy. Looking at the gorgeous photos of the artifacts taken much before the looting occured, admiring them, and knowing that they are now damaged are destroyed is very unsettling, but it is wonderful that many of these brilliant archeologists, curators, and journalists took the time to create such a wonderful book to aknowledge the horrible event and show the world, even just the few people that actually buy the book and spend the time reading it. I truly enjoyed the book, which has so much information not just about the looting, but of the history of Mesopotamian, Persian and Islamic society, and the country of Iraq, specifically Baghdad, a beautiful, but tragic metropolis between the Tigris and Euphrates. The Land Between Two Rivers is brought back to life, for a brief, but beautiful, glimpse.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lootng of the Iraq Museum July 27 2005
By Brian Fagan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This edited book offers a summary of archaeology in Iraq and some assessment of the damage done by the Iraq war. It will serve as a basic source, which can be amplified by a growing specialist literature. Useful for students and people teaching about conservation and the archaeology of Mesopotamia.

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