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It is Neil MacGregor’s passion for sharing his enthusiasm and knowledge that makes this book such an enjoyable read. I heard a few of the programmes when he presented ‘A History of the World…’ on BBC Radio 4 and was surprised at how interesting he could make a discussion of objects that we couldn’t see. The same thing applies to the book. Although there are small black and white pictures of each of the objects and a few colour plates of some of them, mostly we have to use our imagination based on MacGregor’s descriptions. This doesn’t detract from the interest though because in reality the objects are merely jumping off points for MacGregor to discuss the various cultures that have arisen and faded during humanity’s reign over the world.
Each bite-size piece focuses on one period of time in one place but they are grouped into time periods and themes which show the different cultures which shared the planet and how they interacted, or didn’t, with each other. For me, this was a novel and very effective way of looking at world history. Like most Brits, I expect, my knowledge of British and European history far outweighs my knowledge of the history of the rest of the world. MacGregor uses themes such as The Rise of World Faiths and The First Global Economy to show the differences and similarities of what was happening across the world at roughly similar times, and to show how trade and commerce influenced almost every part of the world by disseminating ideas and values along with goods.
mold gold cape
At times I felt I wanted to know more about a particular subject and found that a little frustrating, but this book could be seen in some respects as a taster to inspire the reader to look for more extensive histories of the cultures and periods that most interested him/her. Enjoyable, educational and inspiring – what more could you ask from a history?
PS The title of the review refers to neither Mr MacGregor nor myself thankfully – but to George Smith, first man to decipher the Flood Tablet – Chapter 16.
NB This book was provided for review by Amazon Vine UK. All pictures courtesy of the British Museum.