The trouble with books based on television series is that they often carry TV's whiff of superficiality. History, especially, is compromised by "characterful" presenters delivering sound-bite scripts, all in the name of accessibility.
This book, however, is an exception, as is the BBC series on which it is based. Richard Miles, a former Cambridge lecturer who now teaches classics at the University of Sydney, knows how to convey his passion for his subject engagingly, without sacrificing credibility.
From a glance at the contents page it might seem we are in for a breathless six-part dash through 6,000 years of human history. There are, for example, only 14 pages devoted to the emergence of civilisation in Mesopotamia and the creation of Uruk, "the mother of all cities". Yet Miles packs his pages densely and manages to cover the ground in fascinating detail.
His forte is investing his subject with 21st-century resonance. The search for the origins of civilisation, he persuades us, is not merely an entertaining story of ancient worlds long past. "It's the story of us, then". A perfect primer for anyone new to the old.