Grumpy book review: 1177 B.C.

The book’s complete title is 1177 B.C. The Year Civilization Collapsed. The book addresses the mysterious collapse of the Iron Age civilization. The author, Eric Cline, claims that recent findings prompted him to update his book that was originally published in 2014. I am reviewing the Audible version.

If you’re asking “What is the Iron Age collapse,” this book might be interesting to you. If like me, you already know about the topic, you’ll be disappointed.

The Audible book is hard for me to get through. Displaying a lack of judgment, the author decided to record the narration himself. The narration is simultaneously jarring and tedious–a rare combination. In an attempt to liven things up, the author embroiders his voice with uncalled-for dramatics. This is especially sour considering that the book might be summarized thus: some say this, some say that, no one knows for sure. Imagine that repeated with breathless melodrama for 10 hours and you have the audiobook.

The Mediterranean’s Iron Age civilization contained powerful and sophisticated nations. The civilizations, such as Egypt and Babylon, created monuments that inspire awe even today. Writing, knowledge, and commerce were widespread. Then during a period around 1200 B.C. civilization suddenly declined and entered a dark age. What happened?

The conventional explanation is that invaders swept through the region leaving destruction in their wake. The enormous carnage collapsed civilization. These mysterious marauders (called ‘Sea Peoples’ because contemporary accounts say the invaders arrived by ship) came from unknown places, driven by unknown forces.

Of course, the conventional narrative was more nuanced. The Sea Peoples were actually many different peoples, and–by the way–not all arrived by ship. Plagues, famines, earthquakes, and volcanoes contributed to the collapse. The story is complicated and provides a rich field for archaeologists and historians to build their reputations.

What breathtaking discoveries have led Cline to update his book? Some scholars believe, and Cline agrees, that the tipping point that transformed normal Iron Age problems into catastrophe was prolonged drought. Drought as a contributing cause has been a long-held belief by scholars, but the unexpected length of the Iron Age drought is the headline. (Not all or even most archeologists agree with this, by the way.) Cline attributes the long-lasting drought to climate change(?!). 

 Also, recent scholarship has morphed the Sea Peoples into something kinder and gentler. Cline maintains the evidence that shows the Sea Peoples living side-by-side with the native populations in some areas means the Sea Peoples were akin to immigrants–not ruthless marauders. However, if the invaders lived with the enslaved remnants of the local population the evidence would be the same.

Grumpiness aside, who is this book for? If this topic is new to you, you might enjoy this book. Cline does a pretty good job of surveying the current scholarship. But do yourself a favor and buy the print version; avoid the audiobook at all costs!

If you are already familiar with the material, and putting aside Cline’s PC memes, there isn’t much new here. Droughts were acknowledged as contributors to the collapse long ago.  The picture of the Sea Peoples was softened long ago too, so nothing new here either.  

author Eric Cline




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