Between 5,000 and 6,000 years ago, in a few favored areas of the world, humankind mastered the formulas that released it from the Stone Age. For the first time in history, people became civilized. This globe- and time-trotting book vividly describes how a number of major civilizations - the Mayans, the Egyptians, the Khmers, the Etruscans, and more - emerged, thrived, faded, but left a mark on our collective imagination and culture. Memories of some of these civilizations linger in the form of legends. Some left monuments whose meaning seemed inscrutable to later ages. Still others vanished under desert sands, floods, or tropical jungles. This sharply observed and meticulously researched book unearths the stories and the cultures that make us who we are today.