The book in its breadth, scope, treatment, scholarship, illustration and literary merit truly sets standards of excellence. In particular the breadth and scope of a single volume treatise albeit of large format and nearly one thousand pages length is nothing less than impressive. The first review of the book written in 2000 is as pertinent to-day as it was then but with the qualification that the flaw identified then namely the inadequate treatment of 20th century art has in this seventh edition been ably remedied by the eminent contemporary art historian Michael Archer.
The book traces the evolution in the visual arts including architecture from the paleolithic era to the beginning of the 21st century and covers every continent and culture. With over 1400 illustrations, half of them in full colour and an array of maps, diagrams, time charts, an outstanding glossary, an excellent list of suggested further book reading and index comprises a complete and comprehensive text. An interesting feature in the book are the boxes which in this edition have been expanded to include additional areas apart from 'Sources and Documents' and 'In Context' which, however, correctly prevail.
The wide array of considerations in the book treatment of such complex issue as art can best be appreciated by citing two excerpts from the introduction which relate to our perception of art and its place in the scheme of human affairs and the human condition:
'The essential unity of aesthetic, moral and natural experience can be felt in them (works of art) in varying degrees, and they sharpen our awarness of how richly it falls on the receptive consciousness. For our senses are inextricably interwined, the religious with the aesthetic, the aesthetic with the moral, and the moral with that of order and proportion. The appeal of a great work of art is never purely visual, simply to delight the eye'.
'In every human society, art forms part of a complex structure of beliefs and rituals, moral and social codes, magic or science, myth or history. It stands midway between scientific knowledge and magical or mythical thought, between what is perceived and what is believed and also between human capabilities and human aspirations'.
The book certainly comprises one of the most valuable assets of the art book collection in my library.