THE WAY OF THE WORLD: From the Birth of Civilization to the American Centuries by David Fromkin

THE WAY OF THE WORLD: From the Birth of Civilization to the American Centuries

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A skimpy survey of all human history, marked by a curious thesis. As Fromkin, who teaches international relations, history, and law at Boston University (A Peace to End All Peace, 1989), relates it, some years ago a Wall Street hedge fund manager challenged him to ""tell the story of humanity in the universe""--where else?--""and make it whole."" With financiers, one supposes, not particularly concemed with the niceties of political correctness, Fromkin answers that challenge with a World Civ 101 syllabus, one that views history as a tale of constant improvements leading to ""the only civilization still surviving, the scientific one of the modern world""--and, more pointedly, the civilization of the US, which he believes has reached an apogee of mortal achievement. Fromkin begins at the beginning, brushing aside countless eras and a great deal of modern scholarship to deliver unilluminating statements like ""Our remote primate ancestors were some sort of apes."" He proceeds to inform his readers that the Sumerians of the Uruk period more or less invented civilization, but it was one without a soul--a development that had to await the advent of Judeo-Christian thought. He also maintains that the world owes a debt to the West for its girl of rationalism, which is the progenitor of modern science, even if that doctrine was inconveniently delivered at the point of a sword and the end of a musket; and that robber barons like Andrew Carnegie and J. P. Morgan are to be forgiven for their misdeeds because, after all, they encouraged dreams of world peace. Fromkin's rose-colored and simplistic view of scientific progress and the superiority of American virtues is oddly refreshing, old-fashioned as it is. But aside from bankers needing a refresher course in the humanities, it's hard to imagine any other audience for his work.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1999
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Knopf