A 272-page “back story to the chronicle of humanity.”
Former Guinness Encyclopaedia editor-in-chief Crofton (Walking the Border: A Journey Between Scotland and England, 2014, etc.) and prolific historian Black (History/Exeter Univ.; The Holocaust: History and Memory, 2016, etc.) collaborate on a cheeky concept that surprises with its distilled but generally comprehensive treatment of a vast subject, from the Big Bang to the possible end of the universe. With few exceptions, and some unavoidable biases, this little book delivers on its promise thanks to carefully thought-out summaries by the authors. While the brush strokes are necessarily broad, the book manages to convey a great deal of information in under 300 pages. Though little of this will be new to avid readers of science and history, the book is valuable for its concision in exploring an enormous range of topics. After setting the table with cosmic origins and the emergence of life on Earth, the authors focus on the rise of modern humans and the development of language, writing, technologies (in the most extensive sense), civilization, and cultures. War, religion, the arts, philosophy, economics, law, and the birth of cities and empires each get their due, as do revolutions in the social contract, politics, agriculture, electronics, and information. The contemporary issues of globalization, terrorism, environmental degradation, genocide, genetic engineering, exponential population growth, and gender equality also are condensed to their basic components, all while avoiding the reductive quality of some capsule histories. Scant attention is paid to space travel, as it is more or less in a state of stasis. To close, the authors look ahead with some rather vague future predictions, and they extend the customary grace note of hope.
Timelines of pivotal events help punctuate the narrative structure of this history-in-brief, an engaging, admirably thorough introduction for new readers of history with short attention spans.