'In this book, we travel back in time and across the globe, to see how we humans have shaped our world and been shaped by it over the past two million years. The story is told exclusively through the things that humans have made - all sorts of things, carefully designed and then either admired and preserved or used, broken and thrown away. I've chosen just a hundred objects from different points on our journey - from a cooking pot to a golden galleon, from a Stone Age tool to a credit card, and each object comes from the ...
'In this book, we travel back in time and across the globe, to see how we humans have shaped our world and been shaped by it over the past two million years. The story is told exclusively through the things that humans have made - all sorts of things, carefully designed and then either admired and preserved or used, broken and thrown away. I've chosen just a hundred objects from different points on our journey - from a cooking pot to a golden galleon, from a Stone Age tool to a credit card, and each object comes from the collection of the British Museum' - [from the introduction]. This book takes a dramatically original approach to the history of humanity, using objects which previous civilisations have left behind them, often accidentally, as prisms through which we can explore past worlds and the lives of the men and women who lived in them. The book's range is enormous. It begins with one of the earliest surviving objects made by human hands, a chopping tool from the Olduvai gorge in Africa, and ends with an object from the 21st century which represents the world we live in today. Neil MacGregor's aim is not simply to describe these remarkable things, but to show us their significance - how a stone pillar tells us about a great Indian emperor preaching tolerance to his people, how Spanish pieces of eight tell us about the beginning of a global currency or how an early Victorian tea-set tells us about the impact of empire. Each chapter immerses the reader in a past civilisation accompanied by an exceptionally well-informed guide. Seen through this lens, history is a kaleidoscope - shifting, interconnected, constantly surprising, and shaping our world today in ways that most of us have never imagined. An intellectual and visual feast, it is one of the most engrossing and unusual history books published in years.
This is an excellent way to teach history in schools and colleges, particularly to students who may not be interested in the particular topic, age or country being discussed but have to read or write about it because it is part of the curriculum. Those who are aiming to take an examination in 'history' may be happy with the way it has been taught traditionally. For the rest, Neil MacGregor's approach should make the subject more interesting, as he presents history through artefacts. However, the 20 parts of the book are listed in chronological order which should satisfy traditionalists. It is up to the reader or teacher to decide where to start.
I wish I had been taught history the way MacGregor presents it in this book. The first part (Making us Human) takes us from 2,000,000 to 9000 BC; the final part (The World of Our Making) from AD 1914 to 2010. I started reading the book at 'Borobudur Buddha Head - statue head of the Buddha from Java, Indonesia, AD 780 - 840' (Chapter 59) because I spent some time in Java and was fascinated by what I saw at Borobudur, and while reading MacGregor's take on the place I could visualise the site. As I have visited many other places featured in the book, I find it a magnificent source of information.
This remarkable book should appeal not only to the serious and not-so-serious student of history, but also to every open-minded reader and, in particular, to the curious and adventurous traveller or tourist who has been to any of the places mentioned in the book. As the chapters are actually very short, the book makes interesting bedtime reading as well. The bibliography is an added bonus for those wishing to know more about any particular object or place. In my view, only superlatives will do to describe this work.
Feb 13, 2014
My favorite bedside book
Each essay in this captivating history occupies only a few pages, so it's a great book to keep at the bedside. But the connections it makes--among civilizations ancient and modern--show us how deeply connected we all are. A revelation.
Apr 27, 2012
Full of amazing information. A good book for bedtime browsing.
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