Mapping the Lost World of the Celts

Original Title: The Ancient Paths: Discovering the Lost Map of Celtic Europe

Author: Graham Robb

Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company

Published: 2013


Synopsis: Fifty generations ago the cultural empire of the Celts stretched from the Black Sea to Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland. In six hundred years, the Celts had produced some of the finest artistic and scientific masterpieces of the ancient world. In 58 BC, Julius Caesar marched over the Alps, bringing slavery and genocide to western Europe. Within eight years the Celts of what is now France were utterly annihilated, and in another hundred years the Romans had overrun Britain. It is astonishing how little remains of this great civilization. While planning a bicycling trip along the Heraklean Way, the ancient route from Portugal to the Alps, Graham Robb discovered a door to that forgotten world–a beautiful and precise pattern of towns and holy places based on astronomical and geometrical measurements: this was the three-dimensional “Middle Earth” of the Celts. As coordinates and coincidences revealed themselves across the continent, a map of the Celtic world emerged as a miraculously preserved archival document.

Review: The book is made up of a Protohistory, four parts and an Epilogue. The first part is made up of five chapters, the second is made up of three chapters, the third and fourth parts are each made up of four chapters. At the end of the book there is a Works Cited section, a Notes section, a General index and a Geographical index. It also has a Chronology of the Celts.

The Protohistory chapter, or rather the Preface of the book, describes how the book came to be written and how it was all a series of happenings that led to the ultimate idea. The language was a bit flowery though so by this point I was kind of wondering about the rest of the book…

I wasn’t left wondering for long.  The book was…it was…I honestly have no words. Most of the time I was reading the book (what I could stomache of it anyway) I was either rolling my eyes or thinking SOURCE!!! Don’t get me wrong his most outlandish hypotheses were explained…sort of in the notes for the chapters in the back of the book but still they were just…Can you tell I’m frustrated?

This book was basically a lot of assumptions that had some basis in history but you had to make some great leaps of faith to connect them. I wish someone had plastered Unverified Personal Gnosis all over this book’s cover so I knew what this book would be instead of me thinking that it was a history book. I’m sure there are some truths in this book, but they were buried so deep in the author’s flowery words and wishful thinking that I totally missed them.

After I wrote my review I went to Amazon to check what other people had to say about this book and I was boggled by the people who said it was a dry read but a great one, and that it was a great book to read if you are interested in the Celts…

I wouldn’t recommend this book to beginners, and to the more advanced readers of Celtic history?  Approach with caution.

16 thoughts on “Mapping the Lost World of the Celts

  1. onblackbirdswing says:

    The title kind of screams pseudohistory or even flat out fantasy. Middle Earth? Glad my instincts aren’t wavering.

  2. Ikkstans says:

    Thanks for the warning! I’m reading it now, I’ll finish it, but I’ll enjoy it more for the flowery language than history. I don’t mind some of the stories he tells there, as fiction of course.

    • celticscholar says:

      Most of my friends have enjoyed by thinking of it as a novel if you will. I went into it with the mindset that I was going to read some history with new discoveries but…well…LOL

  3. Dafydd says:

    Alarm bells started ringing when I read the book’s title. Even if you overlook the Lord of the Rings, isn’t the concept of a “Middle Earth” more Anglo-Saxon rather than Celtic? Good review either way, and nice work on the site’s new design.

    • celticscholar says:

      I try to read anything Celtic and my friends in England were all hyper about…so I thought what the I was bored lol

      And thanks. Glad you like it.

      • Dafydd says:

        Now that I think of it, it seems probable that the publisher deliberately changed the title of the book in order to sell it to a wider audience. Any Lord of the Rings reference is bound to lead to more sales. Too bad that the book’s not very historical, despite the flowery text.

  4. Thanks for the review. I think I’ll go ahead and read it as “historical” fiction and enjoy, but not expect much historical accuracy.

    • celticscholar says:

      Yes, this is what I recommend people should do, once you get through that it is not really history but based on…you’ll enjoy it!

  5. sigh, I bought this book on a whim. had it in my cart for quite some time and then so many were talking about how they thought it would be good that I bought it. will be taking it to half price books I guess and lesson learned.

  6. sydneyyeager says:

    I’ve followed your blog for a long time. As I am currently reading through/ struggling through this book now, I was glad to find your review. But I wish you would have gone more in-depth with your critiques. It would be helpful if you’d outline which statements and arguments in the book are problematic. My undergrad degree is in history and my husband’s is as well. But Celtic history and culture are more of a hobby than a speciality. We’ve been discussing the things that seem problematic but an outline of the inaccuracies would be helpful so we aren’t just shaking our heads alone. The biggest issue that keeps nagging at me is that the book, or at least the first few chapters that I’ve read so far, makes it seem like the Gauls are the heart and soul of the “Celtic empire”; that all Celts originated from somewhere in the Alps; that Celtic culture which is shared by numerous tribes originated in Central Europe, not the Proto-Indoeuropean homeland. These three things don’t exactly jive with the working chronology and geography I had in my head. I’d really like to know if I need to correct my understanding or if this is part of what is inaccurate about the book. However, I do think there is a positive note to the point of the book. It seems like the author is trying to prove the Celts were master artisans, scientist, and philosophers worthy of the same respect we extend to other ancient civilizations. As the author is coming from a British academic standpoint, I think he is trying to fight against years (probably centuries) of European prejudice against Celts which is hard for Americans to fully grasp. I find his aims in this direction respectable. It might also explain the books celebration in the UK.

    • celticscholar says:

      Honestly, if I needed to write a list of inaccuracies then I’d be writing a book and I’m not that invested in this book lol.

      There are a few different hypotheses on the origins of the Celts. 1. Celtic from the West championed by Cunliffe and Koch 2. The usual accepted hypothesis of Celts coming from the Hallstatt and La Téne cultures in Europe which he is discussing in this book in a roundabout way, and finally there are no Celts or no Celts in Britain championed by Collis and Simon James.

    • celticscholar says:

      Oh and I forgot, all these hypothesis (except) the last one derives the Celts from the Indo-Europeans.

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