World history on a grand scale, in just over 300 pages.
Brown (Education/Dominican Univ.; Refusing Racism: White Allies and the Struggle for Civil Rights, 2002, etc.) begins with the creation of the universe during the Big Bang and spends five chapters dealing with what used to be called prehistory: the formation of stars and planets, the origin of life, trilobites, dinosaurs, Neanderthals, etc. Even when she arrives at complex societies (“civilization” is evidently a loaded word to the new school of historians), the focus is not on individuals but on broad social movements. Names like Alexander and Napoleon merit at best a passing reference in the broad flow of societal development. The author places a strong emphasis on developments in Asia, Africa and the Americas—especially in the centuries after the disintegration of the Roman Empire, when Europe was largely a cultural backwater. This leads to interesting inversions of the perspectives fostered by Eurocentric history: Alfred the Great, for example, goes unmentioned, while Tsai Lun, the second-century Chinese eunuch credited with inventing paper production, gets due credit, and the early years of Islam get more attention than the French Revolution. Traditionalists will undoubtedly grumble about the author’s choices, especially the breezy dismissal of Europe from 1000 to 1500 as a “marginal” society, covered in just under four pages—about the same space given to the Aztecs. But Brown has an interesting story to tell, especially since it’s not the one most of us learned in high school. The African, Asian and early American chapters of the story of humanity are, from the larger perspective suggested by the title, at least as important as the European. Nitpickers will find plenty to snipe at, but even they are likely to learn a remarkable amount from this super-wide-angle view of our history.
Refreshing change of perspective for history buffs.