My teenage son is of the opinion that because I watch the History Channel, I have embarked upon the path of middle-aged dorkdom. I refuse to believe this. The quest for knowledge is an itch that needs to be scratched, regardless of age. At some 700 pages of relatively small print, Ancient Mysteries isn't for your average television clicker cowboy. Instead, it is a wide-ranging and richly detailed look at parts of our past that grab the imagination. Some are comfortable and familiar trails; others take a well-known story up a new road; still others are dark and overgrown paths that you never even knew existed.

James and Thorpe tackle the theories you'd expect myths of modern culture such as Atlantis and they deconstruct them, not without a certain amount of glee. They also consider some of the more obscure mysteries, such as the Dogon tribe, the Orion pyramid alignment, and the Piri Reis map. Lest you think the two authors are nothing more than professional skeptics, consider this: They're also not afraid to postulate their own unconventional theories. In their earlier work, Centuries of Darkness, they challenged decades of conventional wisdom about the supposed dates of events in early Mediterranean civilization. The biggest surprises are those legends that have a basis in fact, such as the labyrinth of the Minotaur, those women warriors called Amazons, and King Arthur. The king of Camelot is particularly compelling because of the sheer number of archeological puzzles that revolve around his legend and the names and places linked to it.

The layout of this book is excellent; you can read it front to back, as I did, or pick your way through its thoroughly cross-referenced pages, with one subject serendipitously leading to another. Sort of a Choose Your Own Adventure book for adults.

Whether the subject is a comet (possibly Halley's) over Bethlehem 2000 years ago or a comet striking the earth 65 million years ago, Ancient Mysteries will give you endless enjoyment.

James Neal Webb writes from Nashville, Tennessee.

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