The Invention of Yesterday

A 50,000-Year History of Human Culture, Conflict, and Connection
Narrated by: Tamim Ansary
Length: 17 hrs and 4 mins
Categories: History, World
5 out of 5 stars (33 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

From language to culture to cultural collision: the story of how humans invented history, from the Stone Age to the Virtual Age

Traveling across millennia, weaving the experiences and world views of cultures both extinct and extant, The Invention of Yesterday shows that the engine of history is not so much heroic (battles won), geographic (farmers thrive), or anthropogenic (humans change the planet) as it is narrative.

Many thousands of years ago, when we existed only as countless small autonomous bands of hunter-gatherers widely distributed through the wilderness, we began inventing stories - to organize for survival, to find purpose and meaning, to explain the unfathomable. Ultimately these became the basis for empires, civilizations, and cultures. And when various narratives began to collide and overlap, the encounters produced everything from confusion, chaos, and war to cultural efflorescence, religious awakenings, and intellectual breakthroughs.

Through vivid stories studded with insights, Tamim Ansary illuminates the world-historical consequences of the unique human capacity to invent and communicate abstract ideas. In doing so, he also explains our ever-more-intertwined present: the narratives now shaping us, the reasons we still battle one another, and the future we may yet create.

©2019 Tamim Ansary (P)2019 PublicAffairs

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Highly recommend!

A Fascinating view of the rise and fall of human cultures and their interaction. It is helping me to look at our current situation in a different light.

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A spectacular book on human history

Brilliantly combines vast range and depth with clear expression of fundamental truths about human life. We build our worlds and traditions in language, blending, merging and evolving across the arc of history, and into the future. A brilliant read and highly recommended. (Great narration by the author brings his enjoyable writing style even more to life.)

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Brilliant and Original

This is an amazing synthesis of 50,000 years of human history told in an engaging and sometimes humorous way. I have long been interested in history and I learned a lot from this reading. Ansary shows a deep understanding of what makes us the way we are

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Relaxed but packed with insight

Tamim Ansary has written something I didn't think was possible: a relaxed (and relaxing) survey of global history. He pulls this off by concentrating not so much on the details of each civilization as on the ways the civilizations interacted with each other. He shows, to use one of his own favorite examples, how the building of the Great Wall of China contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire.

This is not to say the interesting details are not here. Ansary includes just about everything you would expect to find in a survey. The early river civilizations are here, along with the empires of the Middle East and Greece and Rome. Charlemagne is here; so is Pope Gregory; so is Attila the Hun and Torquemada. And the scope is truly global: he explores developments in sub-Saharan Africa, in meso-America, and in Central Asia. It's one of the most balanced surveys of its kind I've read.

For Ansary, the great hinge of world history is the European conquest of the Americas. At that point all continents and all peoples on the globe were joined in a network of cause and effect. (For the natives of the American continents, the immediate effect was devastating: 90% of the population died from imported European diseases.)

There are a few inaccuracies in the book. For instance, Ansary says that one outcome of the Third Crusade was ceding Jerusalem back to the Muslims. Not so: the point of the Third Crusade was to recapture Jerusalem from Saladin, who had already taken it. The Crusade failed, and Jerusalem remained in Muslim hands. There are other minor glitches here and there: the date of Constantinople’s fall is given as 1452 rather than 1453. One point in the book’s favor is that Ansary at least mentions the Crusades; not all surveys of World History at this level do. (I'm thinking particularly of the one by Andrew Marr.)

Over and over again, Ansary furnishes details that exceed the usual expectations of a survey. He describes the rise of the East India Tea Company and its devastation of India. He talks about the balance of the silver trade between China and Great Britain and the role it played in the Opium Wars. He goes into a fair amount of detail about the Taiping Revolt. He describes the Iran-Iraq war, the renascence of Vietnam, and the rise of the World Trade Organization.

In the latter part of the book, Ansary begins a series of chapters that treat events by topic. He traces the technological changes that transformed the world: steam, railroads, electricity, the telegraph and telephone, the universe of steel, the rise of electronic networks, the possibility of the Singularity. He discusses the rise of nation states and the related concept of race (a characteristic that, as he points out, has no actual biological existence). And he describes the way national sovereignty has deteriorated in our own time, when one nation can arrest and jail the leader of another, or the leader of one can sentence a citizen of another — one who has never lived in the first country — to execution. (In case you're wondering, the first refers to Manuel Noriega, and the second to Salmon Rushdie.)

The final two chapters describe the human destruction of its own nest and the need for a more global perspective in general. Ansary doesn't bear down too hard on the rising risk of fascism in our time, but it's there in the margins, and in fact his whole book, with its wide-ranging exploration of the various forms human society has taken and the interconnections between them, could be considered a plea for open-mindedness and balance.

Ansary narrates his own book. Normally I think that's a bad idea, but he makes his writing sound like a pleasant after-dinner chat. He has a kind of breathless delivery that is disarming at the same time it impresses with its conviction. It's a fun book to listen to. How many world histories can you say that about?

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Wonderful!

Tamim Ansary writes with deep insight, compassion, and wit. His understanding of the interconnected patterns of humanity is profound—even the topics about which I thought I knew something were given richer meaning by his unputdownable storytelling.

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An absolutely amazing book to listen to

Tamim Ansary has outdone himself - but I say that every time I listen to one of his books. His depth of understanding and ability to weave together history and concepts into a comprehensible story that you never want to end is astonishing. I hang on every word and recommend all of his books to everyone I can. He never disappoints. This book was jaw dropping in it's breadth of knowledge. I recommend it to anyone who wants a deeper understanding of our world, past to present. And listening to it is like sitting in your living room by a fire with your grandfather who has a great sense of humor and irony, telling you stories. Do not miss this one.