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Check It Out: Civilizations by Laurent Binet

Farrar, Straus & Giroux

This is Michael Maxwell with the Sioux City Public Library and you’re listening to Check It Out.

Today, I am recommending Civilizations by Laurent Binet.

Civilizations reimagines history, and flips situations around to make the colonizers the colonized. In Binet’s story, the civilizations of Central and South America encounter Vikings early on and because of this, they are able to develop weaponry that enables them to neutralize Christopher Columbus and cross the Atlantic themselves- landing in Portugal following a massive earthquake. From there, they overtake Europe step-by-step with both amusing examples of culture shock and sly twists on familiar narratives.

Civilizations works as both a novel and a fun thought experiment, making for engaging reading for history buffs. Readers will encounter familiar players- like Martin Luther and Machiavelli, but under completely different circumstances from how their lives played out in our reality. If you know your history facts, then you’ll really appreciate the situational humor at play between the many real-life personalities who appear in this book.

Binet writes this story as if it’s a collection of primary sources and personal narratives, so reading Civilizationsalso kind of feels like doing research. This writing style gives it an air of realism which makes the events feel even more plausible. The drama is Shakespearian enough that it doesn’t feel too much like a history lesson, though. Readers will walk away thinking about how many slight changes in fortune could have resulted in a completely different world.

Binet, gives readers plenty of food for thought and manages to be both highly intellectual and humorously entertaining. Check out Civilizations by Laurent Binet at the Sioux City Public Library today!

Support for Check It Out on Siouxland Public Media comes from Verde Outdoor Media.

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