Babylon : Mesopotamia and the birth of civilization
For a sweeping, epic and vivid historical survey of ancient Mesopotamia, this book by Paul Kriwaczek is a great choice. Kriwaczek takes the reader through a deftly written overview of the various cultures, emperors and kings that swept through the Mesopotamian region over the course of centuries. Specifically, he covers the years 4000-700 BCE. This is not an academic or dry text, but rather a book that makes the daily lives of many people of that time come alive, not only in descriptions of the rulers and elite classes, but also in the descriptions of the average person. The author also provides fascinating insights into many different societal aspects of the ancient Mesopotamian world such as religion, economics, literacy, military history, and even insights into the developments of misogyny and archeology. What is also compelling about this book is that the author provides information as to how environmental change drastically affected ancient societies as well.
Kriwaczek's history of ancient Mesopotamia is also interwoven with observations on how this ancient world may have lessons to provide to modern people. Descriptions on how archeologists unearthed Mesopotamian artifacts during the 19th and early 20th centuries are also fascinating.