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I did not expect to enjoy this book, but surprisingly it sucked me in and I found myself reading most of it on a night that I really needed to sleep.
Even so, we don't buy archaeology books for entertainment. Most of us, anyway. The information in this book is great. If you are not a scholar of archaeology, I recommend trying this one before more detailed explorations.
The regional perspective is one of the book's greatest strengths. There were so many interactions between the cultures of China, Korea and Japan that I recommending beginning by studying the cultures broadly. After you have the bigger picture, you can explore the details more closely with books like Sarah Nelson's The Archaeology of Korea (Cambridge World Archaeology).
The breadth is another. Not only are settlement patterns and diets explored, but also architecture, symbolism, trade, and the exchange of ideas. Barnes considers textual evidence when it's available, and unlike some of the nationalistic scholars in this field, she does not simply take the texts at their word. The book reads so smoothly as it traces the development of the region from nomadic paleolithic cultures to large iron age states--it's almost as if it has a plot.
According to information on the back page, she wrote this to use as a textbook at Cambridge University, which probably explains why it's so readable. Unlike most academic books, this was written for students, not other scholars. If you are a scholar, surely you're familiar with the most recent discoveries and interpretations, and you'll get little from this book. But if you are new to the field, this is almost certainly the best book you'll find on the topic.China Korea and Japan: The Rise of Civilization in East Asia Overview
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