A thoroughly satisfying history of a distant era and people.

THE YEAR 1000

WHEN EXPLORERS CONNECTED THE WORLD—AND GLOBALIZATION BEGAN

If any reader still believes that the year 1000 marked the Dark Ages, this insightful history will set them right.

Though Hansen (Chinese and World History/Yale Univ.; The Silk Road: A New History With Documents, 2016, etc.) pays some attention to the politics, religion, and culture of the era, she focuses on commerce, making a convincing case that this date “marked the start of globalization…when trade routes took shape all around the world that allowed goods, technologies, religions, and people to leave home and go somewhere new.” For commerce to circle the globe, traders had to reach the New World, which happened around 1000, although no one knew it at the time. As befits that era’s greatest explorers, Hansen begins with the Norse, who, after centuries of raiding around Europe and the Mediterranean, sailed to Iceland, then Greenland, then North America, where later chroniclers and recent archaeological evidence (plus the usual fakes) indicated their arrival around 1000 and some trading but no permanent settlement. Less known but far more significant, the Norse also battled their way east. Known by the locals as “Rus,” by 1000, they had reached the Caspian Sea, adopted Christianity, and laid the foundation of Russia. Despite the nearly complete absence of writing, when Columbus reached America in 1492 and Islamic slave traders penetrated Africa well before 1000, they found complex cultures with well-established trade routes. Hansen then moves on to the flourishing, prosperous, technically advanced Middle East, India, and Southeast Asia, ending with superpower China, the center of a massive trading system stretching from the Indies to Arabia and Africa. The author covers a vast amount of territory in a concise, readable manner, making for a welcome contribution to the popular literature on early global trade and geopolitics.

A thoroughly satisfying history of a distant era and people.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-9410-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

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21 LESSONS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

A highly instructive exploration of “current affairs and…the immediate future of human societies.”

Having produced an international bestseller about human origins (Sapiens, 2015, etc.) and avoided the sophomore jinx writing about our destiny (Homo Deus, 2017), Harari (History/Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem) proves that he has not lost his touch, casting a brilliantly insightful eye on today’s myriad crises, from Trump to terrorism, Brexit to big data. As the author emphasizes, “humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers, or equations, and the simpler the story, the better. Every person, group, and nation has its own tales and myths.” Three grand stories once predicted the future. World War II eliminated the fascist story but stimulated communism for a few decades until its collapse. The liberal story—think democracy, free markets, and globalism—reigned supreme for a decade until the 20th-century nasties—dictators, populists, and nationalists—came back in style. They promote jingoism over international cooperation, vilify the opposition, demonize immigrants and rival nations, and then win elections. “A bit like the Soviet elites in the 1980s,” writes Harari, “liberals don’t understand how history deviates from its preordained course, and they lack an alternative prism through which to interpret reality.” The author certainly understands, and in 21 painfully astute essays, he delivers his take on where our increasingly “post-truth” world is headed. Human ingenuity, which enables us to control the outside world, may soon re-engineer our insides, extend life, and guide our thoughts. Science-fiction movies get the future wrong, if only because they have happy endings. Most readers will find Harari’s narrative deliciously reasonable, including his explanation of the stories (not actually true but rational) of those who elect dictators, populists, and nationalists. His remedies for wildly disruptive technology (biotech, infotech) and its consequences (climate change, mass unemployment) ring true, provided nations act with more good sense than they have shown throughout history.

Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-51217-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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