This was a fascinating collection to dip in and out of in small doses. Reading too much of it in one sitting would have been a bit overwhelming and - certainly in the latter 20th century chapters - also somewhat depressing. Such is the perhaps unfortunate emphasis on military history and various violent episodes, particularly in the modern era, that it loses a star for my rating. There are many chapters here though also of a social history bent - including pieces from historic medical notes, notorious crimes, and also several great natural events such as Pliny on the eruption of Vesuvius, a 1724 solar eclipse, and Jack London on the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
There are many gripping and unique perspectives given throughout this book to much of human history. That said, there is precious little from African, Latin American, or Asian history (unless there is a colonial, pseudo-colonial or ex-colonial war going on...). But if it's battles, assassinations, plagues, historic firsts, executions, exploration and great acts of derring-do, advancements in technology, ritual practices, prisons, mutinies, revolutions, and sporting occasions you're after - then this is the book for you!
Many excerpts stood out, making the collection well worth it if you can find a used copy online or happen upon one in a used bookshop. There were also a fair few less memorable pieces. With just a handful shy of 300 contributions, totaling 686 pages that is inevitable. Some of my personal favourites were: Plato on the death of Socrates; 3 different eye-witness reports of the sinking of the Titanic; Dinner with Atilla the Hun in about the year 450; The artist Oskar Kokoschka with Austrian cavalry on the Eastern Front in 1915; Noel Monks' report from Guernica - just before AND after the German bombing - incredibly moving; Cecil Brown's ship-borne report from the Japanese air & submarine attack (read sinking) of HMS Prince of Wales & HMS Repulse, in Singapore just a few days after Pearl Harbor - shocking in its rapidity; and Charlotte Bronte inside the Great Exhibition's Crystal Palace.