The Lifeboat That Saved The World {Book Review}

The Lifeboat that saved the world

The Lifeboat that Saved the World is a faithful retelling of the ancient Mesopotamia flood written down in cuneiform four thousand years ago. This Babylonian story of Atra-hasis (meaning ‘Very-Wise’) can be found on a few cuneiform tablets kept in collections all around the world. Atra-hasis is also known by the name Ut-napishtim, a character from the well-known epic of Gilgamesh, who saves the world in much the same way as Atra-hasis. Irving Finkel retells this story from the point of view of one of Atra-Hasis’ sons, Very Quick. Sound interesting? Read on for my fullback review of ‘The Lifeboat that Saved the World‘.

The Lifeboat That Saved The World Book Review

What is The Lifeboat That Saved the World About?

This is a retelling of the Mesopotamian flood myth from the perspective of a young boy. Enlil, the very disgruntled second-god-in-control, makes the decision that the humans are making too much noise. His answer is to put them all to death. The rest of the gods disagreed with this because they felt that he was cutting off his nose to spite his face (so to speak). If there were no humans then the gods would not have anyone to take care of them.

Enki, the popular god, who just happens to be Atra-hasis’ personal god, comes up with a plan. He instructs Atra-hasis to build a huge circular coracle using rope, wood and bitumen, large enough to fit his own family and two of every kind of animal. Atra-hasis obeys, eliciting the help of boats builders to do so. When the deluge comes, they are prepared and with the help of the coracle they save the world from certain destruction.

Who Wrote The Lifeboat That Saved The World?

Irving Leonard Finkel wrote The Lifeboat That Saved The World. He is a British historian and a doctor of Assyrian history. He is a cuneiform specialist who looks after the Ancient Mesopotamian script, languages and cultures in the Department of the Middle East at the British Museum.

Finkel studied a cuneiform tablet and found a story of the flood which he described in detail in his first book, The Ark Before Noah. The tablet describes the ark as circular, which is dissimilar to the Bible’s account of Noah’s flood. Finkel was also the founder of the instructions of how to play The Royal Game of Ur.

He takes the unusual decision to add slanted text where he is offering more factual historically accurate information which helps the reader understand the context. He also highlights direct translations from the original script in bold. This unusual approach adds some depth to the story telling:

The Lifeboat That Saved The World

Who Illustrated The Lifeboat That Saved The World?


Dylan Giles, an illustrator and graphic designer, creates the beautiful black and white illustrations which complement the narrative well. In fact, further study of them reveals a sort of magical element due to the brilliance Giles’ imaginatings of the story:

In addition to The Lifeboat that Saved the World, Dylan Giles has illustrated How to Investigate Mysteries by Alan Macfarlane; Xu Zhimo Festival of Poetry and Art Catalogue, 2016; Something Awful fanzine, by Young Knives, 2015; DPI Art Quarter Magazine vol.7  Taiwan, 2014; Bologna Illustrators Catalogue, 2014 and a Drypoint print of Cinderella published in Jack Zipes’s The Golden Age of Fairytales, Hackett, 2013.

Who Would Enjoy This Book?

Finkel wrote this book for 9-12 year olds. I read it outloud to my girls (aged 11 and 14). They both enjoyed it, but I could tell the story didn’t grab them. This may be because of its similarity to Noah’s ark in the Biblical flood. It is quite a short book, with only eight chapters over 112 pages. The writing is of a good easy to read size, slighter bigger than most chapter books. There are 30 illustrations which break up the text nicely, making it a good choice for children.

My Book Review of The Lifeboat That Saved The World – Would I Recommend It

I would. It didn’t grab any of our attentions, unlike last week’s Lugalbanda, which we all loved. However, I think there is an authenticity with this book. Finkel is a scholar and, because of that, this book is highly educational and is perfect for an Ancient Mesopotamian Unit Study, or simply to add to your children’s ancient history book collection. The actual translations in bold were a lovely touch. They give you a direct view into the ancient writer’s style. We enjoyed this book, especially the educational nuggets, and we give it:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

General Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • Pages: 112
  • Artwork: 30 black and white illustrations
  • Size: 6.3 in x 9.2 in x 0.7 in
  • Published: November 14th, 2017
  • ISBN-10: 0500651221
  • ISBN-13: 9780500651223
  • Genre: Children’s
  • E-book Available: No

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