Email this review


A survey approach to much-surveyed material, this starts with the beginnings of Western agriculture--the first planting of wheat in the Fertile Crescent--and (briefly) how that development led to division of labor, cities, and government. It's largely text-book matter written in a text-book manner: ""Plowing, pottery-making, and irrigation were not the only areas of human activity in which progress was made as a result of farming. They are enough, however, to demonstrate that, as a result of the development of farming, people became dependent on each other in ways that they had never experienced before."" The next chapter deals with how the quest for spices led to ""the Great Voyages of Discovery""--a more active story but also a familiar one. The next example tells how the demand for sugar and the nature of its cultivation encouraged slavery, and how the need for cheap food for the slaves led to a great breadfruit-transplanting scheme; this in turn becomes the story of the Bounty mutiny--a still livelier if digressive and, again, oft-told story. Then comes the Irish potato famine, with a good explanation of the forces behind it (shortage of food was not among them); here the historic result is, of course, the mass migration to America. The last chapter, stretching the limits of Rahn's scheme, combines a summary explanation of coal formation with a neat tracing of connections taken (the appended reading list reveals) from a Scientific American article: how a ""fuel crisis"" (wood shortage) in England led to coal-mining, and that practice in turn required the steam engine--thus (with coal and iron ""hand in hand"") creating the Industrial Revolution and its miserable factory system. The mixture of unlike concerns places the book somewhere between homework utility and serious free reading; for its information on particular topics and its overall sense of connections in history, it might find readers at both ends.

Pub Date: Sept. 10th, 1982
Publisher: Atheneum