From the earliest civilizations to the 21st century: a global journey through human history, published alongside a landmark BBC One television series.
Our understanding of world history is changing, as new discoveries are made on all the continents and old prejudices are being challenged. In this truly global journey, Andrew Marr revisits some of the traditional epic stories, from classical Greece and Rome to the rise of Napoleon, but surrounds them with less familiar material, from Peru to the Ukraine, China to the Caribbean. He looks at cultures that have failed and vanished, as well as the origins of today’s superpowers, and finds surprising echoes and parallels across vast distances and epochs. This is a book about the great change-makers of history and their times, people such as Cleopatra, Genghis Khan, Galileo, and Mao, but it is also a book about us. For 'The better we understand how rulers lose touch with reality, or why revolutions produce dictators more often than they produce happiness, or why some parts of the world are richer than others, the easier it is to understand our own times.'
Fresh, exciting and vividly listenable, this is popular history at its very best.
©2012 Andrew Marr (P)2012 Macmillan Digital Audio
Marr's book is a quick and informative introduction to the subject, with some blind spots. To mention the blind spots first: it is, as many such books are, heavily Western and Eurocentric in outlook. China and India are mentioned early on, in the roundup of the earliest civilizations, but then mostly drop out of the picture until they once again begin to impinge on Western sensibilities. Not much here either about the growth of the major world religions; the conflict between Christianity and Islam gets especially short shrift. The entire history of the Crusades is reduced to a couple of sentences; if you blink, you'll miss it. Marr spends far more time talking about the tulip mania that swept Holland in the early years of capitalism.
But what he does cover, Marr covers well, with plenty of anecdotes and surprising connections along the way. His coverage of Africa, like his coverage of India and China, mostly focuses on the interaction of Africa and Europe, but the story he tells about that interaction is electrifying (and horrifying). And he asks the big questions, such as the one I've always wondered about and which is seldom addressed so explicitly: granted that the life of hunter-gatherers was full of novelty and free time, and the life of farmers was filled with backbreaking, tedious labor, why did the human race opt for farming? (Marr makes the case that the farming came first, and then the increase in population, rather than farming being devised as a way to support an already increasing number of people.)
Marr is an unabashed proponent of the "great person" school of writing history. There's plenty of material here about Alexander the Great, Ivan the Terrible, Margaret Sanger, and Mao Zedong and the infamous Jiang Qing. He also weaves a discussion of technology into the narrative, including the technologies of war and medicine. His goal throughout is not to throw a bunch of names and dates at the listener, but to give a sense of individual personalities and the gradual unfolding of the larger story.
First-rate narration by David Timson.
As soon as I saw this book I knew I was going to love it. 25 hours of the history of the world, based on a BBC production. The made-for-TV origins of this book meant that it was always likely to be entertaining and not too highbrow, and that's exactly what it is. A really good listen, starting with our hunter-gatherer ancestors and ending with today's problems of overpopulation and global warming, with quite a bit of other stuff in between.
The author unashamedly ascribes to the 'individual' human theory of history, whereby the story of the world has been significantly shaped by the actions of particular people. In many cases, history could have taken a radically different turn if, by chance, something had happened differently. An obvious example is that Hitler survived World War One, and the author believes that the course of history might have gone drastically differently if he had not – there wouldn’t necessarily have been a ‘substitute’ Hitler waiting in the wings to do what he did. Of course he also acknowledges the importance of the general flow of history, but this audiobook is mostly the story of important people and the things they did.
One of the difficult things about taking on such a big subject is that the world is a big place and at any given time there are many different histories rolling out in the different continents. So he tells us the histories of Africa and China and America, but I guess, as this was a BBC production, the focus may be a bit biased in the later centuries towards the influence of Britain. This doesn’t offend me because I’m English and was indoctrinated as a schoolboy into thinking that the Battle of Hastings and the Battle of Britain were landmark events in World History, when the rest of the world might see them as minor struggles on a small island. But I’d be interested to know if non-British listeners to this audiobook found it excessively Brit-centric.
Go ahead and listen, and I’ll look out for your reviews.
This is a very well presented summary of world history with critical events and key periods analysed and presented in clear language. The narrator is excellent and as each chapter is almost a self-contained package it is possible to jump from chapter to chapter in any order without losing any historical context.
Yes. I will listen again and again, to review the information, and continue to understand the contexts.
David Timson is an excellent narrator for this book. He does an admirable job, beautifully inflecting his tone to match the text, keeping it interesting, and very hard to take the headphones off!
Early in the book Andrew Marr mentions that he could have written this book, then written another as long without including any material in it from the first, and then a third just as long without including any material from the first two. I think that I was hoping to read that third book. Early history went by way too fast and the modern material was largely events I already knew in detail.
"The Muslim Age in Europe was much better than we have been told and the expelled people took their advances elsewhere" What? Where did they go? Am I missing pages? Off to do research to figure out just what the Islamic age of Europe was all about. And again, "When the Dutch tulip bubble burst everyone forged on as usual, aside from individually sad stories, commerce refused to prosecute and civilisation soldiered on." What? Very relevant to now! The judges did what? Municipal people did what? The bubble popped with minimal damage? How exactly did they do that! I need an index! Auuuggghhh!
Then again, he got much more than 26 hours of extra work out of me attempting to answer the questions that his narrative raised. I learned more about Cleopatra than I could have possibly guessed could be known.
Cleopatra's life was told in detail, and I had no idea how she fit into the larger narrative until reading this book.
If Andrew Marr writes those other two books I will be right on the spot to read them, too. What a great thinkertoy this book is.
I wish I had a really gook book that started at the collapse of the tulip trade.
This audiobook should be titled; A PC History of years 1700-2010 with a Short Introduction about the History of the World
First let me say the narration is extremely good, one of the best I've heard.
In general if you want a brief history of the ancient world this will do, the author does a great job of keeping it interesting (I say brief since less than half the book is focused on this). Unfortunately the political correctness really starts to heavily influence the 1700+ world to the point of silliness. It's not all the time and it's by no means the worst I've heard, the author I believe attempts to be fair and balanced but just isn't able to do so. I recommend you have a good grasp on the modern world when listening to this otherwise you'll go away about as smart as your average high schooler, which is an insult in case you didn't realize it. If you don't already have a good grasp on modern history I'll go as far as to say this book will actually make you dumber. It's very difficult to recommend this book despite the interesting story and excellent narration. I really wish the author would have spent much more of his time on the pre-modern world since that's where I learned the most -- but even in this case it wasn't much. I can honestly say I'm not sure I learned hardly anything about the modern world and was more frustrated with what the author left out than allowed in (although unlike the other reviewer I found the tulip part interested since that is one thing I did now know about).
3 stars overall, 3 stars for the story due to it being unbalanced and too politically correct on modern subjects and a strong 5 stars for the narration.
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