Friday, April 22, 2011

Book Review: The Human Story

Books that track the progress of humans from prehistoric times to the present tend to fall into two categories: They are either huge tomes, or they tend to skip bits to fit everything in a more readable volume.

The Human Story belongs to the second category. It tries to tell the story of human development from prehistoric times right up to 2003 in about 450 pages; and it does a pretty good job of it too.

The book is broadly chronological and maintains a sense of continuity, but it is also built around individual themes in different chapters, e.g. about wars, or famine, or technological development, or the cold war and so on. I found this approach quite enjoyable. It gives you a nice start-to-finish sense of history but also leaves you with some big themes to ponder and which you tend to remember. Events which happened in different places and in different times are often linked by common triggers and telling the story around those triggers is a good way of making sense of the whole.

This is not a dry book. The style is entertaining and lively and indeed I found it hard to put the book down in the middle of several chapters. James Davis is a good story teller and he often resorts to small first person stories to make the point about much bigger events. I found it a lot of fun.

Perhaps the only criticism is that some parts of history are skipped or touched only lightly. But that is inevitable in a book this size and scope. This is an overview of history written for an understanding of the big parts of the puzzle and how they fit together. If one wants to dig in further there are always books specializing on a certain era.

Overall, a great read and perhaps the most engrossing history book I’ve read since A very short history of the world.

Highly recommended.

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