Timelines of pivotal events help punctuate the narrative structure of this history-in-brief, an engaging, admirably thorough...



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.

Pub Date: July 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-68177-436-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: May 8, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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