PART ONE of Susie's book is entitled "The Edge of History." What happened before history is called prehistory. The functional definition of prehistory, as she so eloquently acknowledges in her preface, is "shit we may or may not know, because it happened so, so long ago."
Susie clambers up from the abyss of possibly-not-knowing, and onto the edge of The Ancient World, with this badass first chapter about the Sumerians, who receive the honor of Chapter One mostly because they were among the first who started writing things down. Chapter One, The Origin of Kingship, absolutely kicks ass. In seven pages, it covers the origin of cities, the Fertile Crescent, climate change, megalomaniacal rulers, and most interestingly, the basic conditions required for the rise of Capital-C-Civilization, which is that things need to kindof suck.
This was the most interesting general take-away: hardship really lights a fire beneath our collective asses. It helps us get organized. It's no coincidence, then, that the first cities, and the first kings that we know about, came into being in the Fertile Crescent--specifically, in the floodplains of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which render very small sections of this area Fertile. The rest of it was awful. And to boot, the Fertile areas flooded horribly every year. It seems like people would've just picked someplace else to live, but we're in the habit, as a species, of arriving in godforsaken places, checking out the scene, saying "Looks great!" and then just getting started, no matter how inhospitable the place happens to be. Just look at Las Vegas.
It was a topsy-turvy time, between 6,000 and 3,000 BC. The Ice Age was wrapping up, and herds of megafauna were heading back north as the glaciers, extending nearly as far south as the Mediterranean, receded. (The Ice Age sure was cold, but it was awesome if you were a hunter. After reading this chapter, I now think of the last Ice Age, and its herds of megafauna, as a giant, very dangerous snack bar.) Some people followed them north. Others stayed, and as the snack bar disappeared, they figured out how to harvest the wild grasses on the plains. Then, they started planting and cultivating some of those wild grasses. There were some rivers nearby, and since most of what we call the Fertile Crescent was a "howling waste," people started to congregate. There were lots of different groups. But Susan Wise Bauer, in her ultimate authority, simplifies things, and allows us to think of them all as Sumerians.
Things got drier, a more people showed up, congregating near the rivers. It was possible to live on the banks of these annually flooding rivers, which existed on the edge of a "howling waste," but at a certain point, these Sumerians realized they had to get organized. And "getting organized," in this case, seems like code for "a bunch of people worried about having enough banding together to make sure that no single person hogs it all for themselves." What helps people get organized? A king.
The weird thing: a king is someone whose job it is to hog a whole lot for themselves. In the best scenario, though, a king's reputation is tied to the prosperity of his kingdom, and kings like to look good, so hopefully he manages things well and it works out for his subjects. So, fingers crossed...
Kingship is born! In Ancient Sumeria!
His name was Alulim, and he was king of Eridu, and his reign, according to the records, lasted for nearly thirty thousand years.
Wait. Thirty thousand years?
The thing about being king (especially a Sumerian king, all of whom were, reportedly, "descended from heaven") is that you get to say whatever the hell you want, and if your scribe guy doesn't write it down like you say, and thus render you as you want to be remembered for posterity, you get to chop off your scribe's head, or feed them to crocodiles. This makes Susan Wise Bauer's job more difficult, but fortunately, archaeologists are hard on the case, digging and brushing things off with toothbrushes and carbon dating them, and generally calling bullshit on people like Alulim, first king of Eridu, who confirms that the age of Post-Truth began a whole lot earlier than 2016 AD.
This is a good place to debunk a preconception that Alulim doesn't want debunked, because it's part of his administrative platform that He, Alulim, and All Sumerians, are THE BEST EVER. He wouldn't want you to know that the farming techniques used by the Sumerian cities were largely inherited from the Semites, who came from further south--down the Arabian peninsula, North Africa, and so on. It was even drier there. The Semites were badasses.
How do we know that the farming techniques were Semitic in origin? Because lots of the words used to illuminate the farming techniques, in early records, are Semitic. Which is noticeable, because Sumerian language is apparently unrelated to any other language on earth. Holy shit!
In closing, I'll leave you with an anecdote in support of the "Civilization's rise is directly connected to the suckage/hardship level of the surrounding environment" postulate:
The Ice Age continued to recede, the southern plains grew drier, and as the Fertile Crescent became even more of a "howling waste," more and more cities clustered around the rivers--cities that required self-appointed assholes (kings) to coerce people to farm, irrigate, build walls, and generally engage with a social hierarchy of subjugation and obeisance that, collectively, led to the safeguarding of the group snack bar.
Eight Sumerian kings reigned, each for significantly fewer than thirty thousand years.
Then disaster struck.