An arresting world history told through the stories of 100 objects that can be found in the British Museum.
Based on a popular BBC Radio series broadcast last year, this beautifully illustrated book demonstrates how much we can learn about past societies from the things they have left behind. British Museum director MacGregor provides insightful commentaries on each of the objects, which range from the beginning of human history (about 2 million years ago) to the present, and represent most parts of the world. Selected by the museum’s curators, the objects are not associated with important historical events; rather, they are artworks and everyday things that exemplify themes and establish connections across time and space. Each part consists of objects made in different parts of the world in the same time period. Thus a section on “The First Global Economy, AD 1450-1650,” when traders first brought different cultures into contact with each other, features a mechanical galleon from Germany, a brass plaque from Nigeria, a mosaic-decorated figurine from Mexico, porcelain elephants from Japan and pieces-of-eight coins minted in Bolivia. New scientific techniques help tease out stories from the objects: Researchers can now see inside the linen wrappings of Egyptian mummies and can test materials to reveal trading networks. The colors and patterns of broken pots and plates found on a beach in Tanzania around 900 show the extent of links with China and the Middle East. Many items, such as a bronze Chinese bell and silver Turkish coins, convey the power of owners and rulers. In an appealing, conversational style, MacGregor considers chess pieces, wine jugs, tablets and other objects to explain how people lived through the ages. The text also includes contributions from Seamus Heaney, David Attenborough, Martin Amis and others.
A book to savor, full of information and surprises.