The usual suspects are here--Atlantis, the pyramids, Easter Island, early discoveries of America, King Arthur, and Robin Hood. While many of these stories will be known by general readers, James and Thorpe pull in varied research and ideas in their search for the truth behind the mysteries. They are also ready and willing to say "We don't know" when the research isn't conclusive.
The most interesting story for me was the lesser-known one of the Glastonbury Spiral in the southwest part of England, at the center of a region of mysteries (including Stonehenge, Glastonbury Abbey, and others discussed separately in the book). The spiral is a tor or hill thought to be either natural or shaped by millennia of farming into terraces--but the authors present compelling evidence that the hillside is a man made maze that spirals up the hill to a holy area that may have played a role in the life (and death) of a historical King Arthur, and may even be the mythical Avalon.
Another shocking story is the Amazons, that mysterious tribe of female warriors who have been typically dismissed derisively, but probably have a historical basis far from the river that bears the name of the tribe. There are 600+ pages of this kind of history here.
The only things that might have improved the book are better maps to enable readers to locate the mysteries in today's world. And an updated edition would be welcome. The 1999 date means the theories of China's treasure fleet being an early discoverer of America are missing here, as are Jared Diamond's Collapse, where he explains Easter Island and the Mayans from his excellent study of societal collapses.as symptoms of environmental failure.
What did you think of this review?
Did King Arthur really exist? Who was Robin Hood? How did the enormous stone heads of Easter Island find their way to their resting places? Why did the Mayans disappear? These are some of the 37 big questions tackled by James and Thorpe in nearly 700 pages. A few of their selections may seem curious when compared to the puzzles that have gripped us for centuries, but overall their penetrating analyses of legend and archaeological data are fascinating and engagingly written. For those who can tolerate a bit of uncertainty in their reading, Ancient Mysteries will be a profoundly satisfying look into the fuzzy boundaries of our knowledge. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.