Another global history set in a pivotal year.
Following the recent fashion for historical narratives pegged to significant dates—Olivier Bernier’s The World in 1800 (p. 220), Jules Witcover’s The Year the Dream Died (1997), and Robert Lacey’s The Year 1000 (1999), to name a few—Wills (History/Univ. of Southern California) weighs in with this account of 1688, the year of England’s Glorious Revolution, the flourishing of the Filipino galleon trade, the westward growth of the Ottoman empire, and the increased systematization of the African slave trade, among other developments. Featuring such colorful figures such as William Penn, the Viceroy of Ouidah, and Aphra Behn, the narrative takes fascinating turns into little-known episodes of history. Among the more obscure actors who turn up here are the Dog Shogun, a Japanese ruler who apparently cared more for dogs than people; Father Vincenzo Coronelli, who launched what may have been the world’s first atlas-publishing company and built what was at the time the world’ s largest globe; the Mongol emperor Kangxi, who strove to integrate the many different ethnic groups under his rule against growing threats from Russia and Japan; and the Scottish-born general Patrick Gordon, whose service under two tsars helped make Russia a threat to begin with. However, Wills seldom expands his character sketches beyond mere vignettes, except in the better-developed sections on Britain and British colonial matters, and he fails to find a theme connecting people and places across the reach of space. As a result, his account is little more than a compendium of interesting but isolated events that happened to occur in a certain year. Reading it is much like watching a movie full of star cameos but without a plot.
Occasionally entertaining bedside reading for history buffs, but not much more.