World history as “a story that we’re telling one another.”
In this intriguing account of humankind from the Stone Age to the present, Ansary (Road Trips: Becoming an American in the Vapor Trail of the Sixties, 2019, etc.) writes, “we live on the same planet but in many different worlds.” In 800 C.E., for instance, the Chinese thought their world was the world; other civilizations also believed they lived at the center of their own world model. The author argues that we invent the tribes and other social constellations—the culture—of our own world through narratives based on geographical differences. Viewing the past through this lens, he sees global history as a melding of many master narratives—a “drama of ever-increasing interconnectedness.” Trade, warfare, and other interactions caused separate worlds to overlap. “Neighbors influenced neighbors who influenced neighbors,” writes Ansary. When Rome conquered the Fertile Crescent, diverse belief systems became part of the Roman state. Jews, for example, encountered the secular-pagan ideas of the Greco-Roman world in their daily lives. The Crusades brought hundreds of ideas and innovations into Europe, from gunpowder to mechanical clocks. Pivotal moments triggered interconnections among major cultures, with great ripple effects: Columbus’ discovery of America sparked the rise of corporations and banks in Europe and drew the entire world into “one great global drama.” The advent of machines in the 18th and 19th centuries changed the division of labor between men and women. The invention of the transistor in 1947 heralded the digital age. As an Afghan American, the San Francisco–based author draws nicely on his experiences of life in the different worlds of Islam and the secular West to help readers understand the outcomes of overlapping narratives. He examines the role of interconnections in the development of everything from board games to belief systems, science, and multinational corporations.
A well-written and valuable take on the diverse narratives that have shaped human history.