A World History
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A bland and frustratingly abstract examination that emphasizes theoretical concepts, paying scant attention to specific people, places, and events. Ponting (Politics/Univ. of Wales; Armageddon: The Reality Behind the Distortions, Myths, Lies, and Illusions of World War II, 1995), argues that a few “core” states (e.g., the US, Britain, and Germany) have asserted their economic and military power to dominate the rest of the world’s “periphery” and “semi-periphery” states. He views the 20th century as a continual, and largely predetermined, struggle between the few powerful “haves” and the majority of powerless “have-nots.” After discussing the demise of colonialism, Ponting shifts to the contemporary reality of unregulated global corporations exploiting cheap labor and material resources around the globe. Ponting also cites problems of overpopulation, especially in Africa, and the related crisis of the world environment. While Ponting’s analysis is difficult to deny, it’s hardly groundbreaking. In discussing the global environment, for instance, he invokes the usual litany of cautionary tales: Chernobyl, Three-Mile Island, Bhopal, Love Canal, and the Brazilian rainforest. What Ponting notably neglects to discuss is how the solutions to global environmental problems will inevitably conflict with basic concepts of individualism and nationalism. In discussing the growing levels of economic inequality among and within nations, Ponting exhausts the reader with a barrage of statistics. (Do we really need to know the rate of automobile ownership in Qatar?) At times, Ponting’s conceptual approach results in bloodless, academic prose. Personalities are almost completely absent. That said, Ponting is outstanding when discussing the most important trend of the post—Cold War world: the destabilizing resurgence of nationalism. Now, more than ever, we exist in a world of regional alliances, confusing ethnic conflicts, and nationalist fervor. The Balkans, always a stew of ethnic and nationalist rivalries, has reemerged as “the tinderbox of Europe.” Other than his highly relevant discussion of the “new” nationalism, Ponting’s conceptual analysis offers little that’s edifying.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8050-6088-X
Page count: 592pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1999


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