Sunday, July 19, 2009

History of the World

I recently finished what seemed to be a never-ending, but only 1,188 page, book. I've not read anything of this length (other than text books) since I read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand in the 1970s (that's another story - why I read it and how it influenced me). The book, History of the World (J.M. Roberts, 2007), is a massive collection of 4,000+ years of history across geographic borders, cultures and civilizations.

The thing I enjoyed most was that History of the World included a great deal on the Middle East, Asia, and Africa before turning to Europe and North America. My recall of the history classes I've taken is that not much beyond Europe and North America was covered in any depth. Maybe it was simply my ethnocentric and selective perceptions. History of the World gave me a sense of the flow of civilizations over history, how each influenced others, and the issues with which they struggled.

It's impossible to capture the essence of a book that is 1,188 pages in length so I'll not even try. Suffice it to say that the book is very authoritative and provides amazing detail about the contexts of history. When I realized that I was observing the march of humanity with its triumphs and struggles, I grew in my pride of what humans have been able to do with the resources and circumstances that we've been given. I also realized that humanity has faced many, many seemingly insurmountable threats over the millennia, including a number of times where it appeared that we were on the brink of destruction. The gift of humanity and God is that somehow the resources, the adaptability, and the creativity in our souls allowed us to survive. I believe this as much in contemporary times as it has been demonstrated throughout human history.

My critique of Roberts' work includes two broad issues. First, there is surprisingly little about the visual and creative arts and how they reflected or stimulated changes in our world. Second, the closing chapter claims that Europe and its influence on the world has had the most profound impact on human history and striving. Europe's Enlightenment, Reformation, Colonialism, and other periods have had broad and deep impact on the globe. However, it seems unnecessary to claim these human accomplishments as superior to the many others that have occurred across time and in so many different geographic pockets. In contrast to accepting Europe's domination of history, Roberts' history actually returns to one place more than any other across all time - the Fertile Crescent where Iraq and Iran now lie. Whether it was the first civilizations (Babylonia and ancient Persia), the first time that a seat of government portrayed peaceful allies (Persepolis), the by-land or by-sea crossroads of trade (the Silk Road), the first multi-cultural community governed by mutual agreement (Medina), or the spread of Arab-world architecture and culture throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe, I have trouble understanding why Roberts chose to say that Europe influenced the course of humanity more than any other. Especially as we look at much of the contemporary world's news, Iraq and Iran are most assuredly back in the news.

All in all, Roberts' history was extremely helpful and I now find myself contextualizing things I observe or hear in much deeper ways than ever before. It is well worth reading if you have several months to dedicate to it.

1 comment:

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