MILLENNIUM by Felipe Fernández-Armesto


A History of the Last Thousand Years
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 An erudite and breathtaking, if sometimes vexing, review of how our waning millennium might seem from the perspective of ``some galactic museum of the future.'' An American or European reader of the 1990s will be forgiven for thinking of this millennium as one of Western preeminence. This is a myopic viewpoint, contends historian Fern†ndez-Armesto (Columbus, 1991, etc.). Of the major civilizations in the year 1000, the relatively advanced Chinese-dominated civilizations of the Far East seem in retrospect most likely to have influenced world history. Fern†ndez-Armesto argues that by the 15th century, each of the four major civilizationsChina, Latin Christendom, Eastern Christendom, and Islamwas prepared for expansion. The expeditions of French, English, Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese conquerors are depicted as a part of a worldwide trend toward empire-building that encompassed not only the major civilizations but also cultures of South America and the sub-Sahara. Fern†ndez- Armesto asserts that from the 16th century through the 19th, Europeans and Euro-Americans built an ``Atlantic civilization'' that, although frail, achieved dominance over natural resources and had transformative effects all over the world. When, after its brief hegemony, Atlantic civilization started to unravel, decolonization and ``counter-colonization'' (immigration and cultural domination of Atlantic countries by members of former colonies) ensued. Finally, the resurgent Islamic and Pacific civilizations are challenging the supremacy of Atlantic civilization. Although he takes the reader on a richly detailed, exciting journey through history, Fern†ndez-Armesto gets a bit too caught up with his Atlantic/Pacific categories (at one point he even classifies the economically vital state of California as part of his Pacific civilization) and ultimately mars his survey with some thinly reasoned speculations about the future. If his study has shown anything, it is that such facile predictions are likely to be wrong. Nonetheless, a scholarly, entertaining, and astonishing look at the enormous distance humankind has traveled in a historical instant. (400 b&w photos and illustrations, not seen) (Book-of-the- Month Club alternate selection/History Book Club main selection)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-684-80361-5
Page count: 864pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1995


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