FOR SEVERAL YEARS NOW, I’ve had trouble finding a good answer to the question, “What are you working on these days?” When I say, “I’m working on a history of the world,” people inevitably laugh.
I really am writing a history of the world. But I wouldn’t have ventured into a project like this unless my editor at Norton, Starling Lawrence, had suggested it first. His advice, encouragement, and editorial judgment have helped shape this first volume; a generous share of the credit (and a heaping helping of any punishment headed my way for the crime of hubris) should go to him. Thanks also to Star and Jenny for their hospitality, which is almost Southern in its kindness.
My able agent, Richard Henshaw, helps me manage my professional affairs with skill and efficiency. I continue to be grateful for his help and friendship.
Any general history like this one relies on the painstaking work of specialists. I am particularly indebted to Samuel Noah Kramer, for all things Sumerian; Gwendolyn Leick, for Mesopotamia and Babylon; Peter Clayton, for the chronology of the pharaohs; Daniel Luckenbill, for the Assyrian kings; Romila Thapar, for perspectives on India; Grant Frame, for the Babylonian kings; Robin Waterfield, for the translations from the Greek; and Burton Watson, for the translations from the Chinese. I made heavy use of the Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature, a wonderful resource made available by the Oriental Institute of Oxford University.
The librarians and interlibrary loan staff at my home library, the Swem Library of the College of William & Mary, were both helpful and tolerant. Many thanks also to Diane Bergman at the Sackler Library, Oxford University, for her assistance.
I feel very fortunate that the talented Sarah Park was able to work with me to create my maps, and I’m looking forward to moving on into the medieval landscape with her.
At Peace Hill, I’m grateful to Peter Buffington, for able assistance with permissions, library runs, e-mail, and a myriad of details (and also for saying how well I was getting along every time I told him I had advanced another fifteen years or so); Sara Buffington, for all the miles-to-inches and kilometers-to-millimeters calculations, for help with catalog copy, and for her friendship; Charlie Park, for website work, publicity, technical advice, and enthusiasm; Elizabeth Weber, for cheerful help with everything from references to diapers; and Nancy Blount, who took on the job of my assistant right at the most dreadful point in the process, when I had 364 books checked out of the university library and hadn’t answered my mail for eight months. She set about bringing order out of chaos with both good humor and efficiency.
Thanks to the other historians, professional and amateur, who have encouraged me in this project: John Wilson of Books & Culture; Maureen Fitzgerald of the College of William and Mary, for support that went far, far beyond the call of duty; and my father (and business partner), James L. Wise Jr., M.D., who also built me an office in our old chicken shed and turned it into a thing of beauty.
Robert Eric Frykenberg, Rollin Phipps, Michael Stewart, and Martha Dart read early drafts; thanks to them for their suggestions. Elizabeth Pierson’s expert copyediting caught more inconsistencies than I thought I was capable of.
Thanks to Lauren Winner for the sympathetic encouragement, and to Greg and Stephanie Smith for not giving up on the chance to do lunch, once a year or so. Susan Cunningham continues to remind me what I’m supposed to be doing.
My brother Bob Wise provided photographic expertise and kept in touch. (Bob and Heather: now that the first volume is out, I promise to start answering the phone AND my e-mail.) Jessie Wise is both my respected professional colleague and an extraordinary mother/grandmother; she taught Emily to read while I was wading through Sumerian inscriptions, and kept bringing me food from the garden even though I never weed anything. My son Christopher, the first student to use this for a high-school history text, gave me valuable feedback; Ben, Daniel, and Emily reminded me that life is “just great!” even when there’s proofreading to be done. My deepest gratitude goes to my husband, Peter, who makes it possible for me to write and still have a life. Sumus exules, vivendi quam auditores.