Walls: A History of Civilization in Blood and Brick

Scribner. Aug. 2018. 320p. maps. notes. ISBN 9781501172700. $30; ebk. ISBN 9781501172724. HIST
No human invention has had a greater effect on civilization than defensive walls, states Frye (history, Eastern Connecticut State Univ.). The safety they afforded those who lived within them allowed the flourishing of what we think of as civilized culture—but with the result that such cultures began to lose their martial skills and readiness for conflict, relying on specially trained armies and mercenaries for protection and pouring a staggering amount of money, effort, and lives their construction and repair. Following a rough chronology, Frye illustrates how advancing conflicts and technologies shifted walls from occasional to necessary to essentially symbolic, with the structures of Europe, the Near and Middle East, and Asia receiving the most attention: walled Athens vs. unwalled Sparta; Hadrian's Wall in England; the various Long Walls and Great Wall in China; Constantinople's walls and their destruction by cannon. A single-chapter hop touching on barriers in the Americas and concluding chapters on the Maginot Line, the Berlin Wall, and the various borders of today complete the volume.
VERDICT Though occasionally guilty of stretching facts to enhance his points, Frye on the whole delivers a lively popular history of an oft-overlooked element in the development of human society.

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