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Millenium, A History of our last Thousand Years
Millenium, A History of our last Thousand Years
by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto
Edition: Paperback

2.0 out of 5 stars A Curious (But Not Cosmic) Collection, 5 Aug. 2015
“The subject of this book is the fate of civilizations, defined by seas: the shift of initiative from the China Seas and the Mediterranean, the hegemony of the Atlantic, the cultural counter-invasion from the Pacific”. To look at his subject from a novel angle Felipe Fernandez-Armesto envisions a “galactic museum of the distant future, in which…Coke cans will share with…chain mail a single small vitrine marked ‘Planet Earth, 1000-2000, Christian Era’.” So far, so good. The author deserves high marks for originality (this work predates the recent spate of “A History of X in Y Objects’ books) as he does for his erudition. Furthermore it is largely devoid of those annoying little factual inaccuracies that litter so many of the books I’ve reviewed.
It begins promisingly with a review of the relatively discrete civilizations of 1000AD. But it is as we start to approach the ‘Rise of the West’ that, to my mind, the wheels start to come off and never get put back on again for the rest of the book.
We are told that, “The fourteenth-century experience…made western Europe in the fifteenth-century the least promising of the world’s civilizations and, to objective scrutiny, among the worst equipped to profit from the world’s ‘age of expansion’, which began with initiatives weighted in favour of China and Islam and...with states of greater dynamism in Africa and the Americas than any visible in the Latin West.” And that, “Fifteenth-century Europe…will appear, to the galactic museum-keepers…if the notice it at all, stagnant and introspective.”
Now Felipe Fernandez-Armesto is both an author and a graduate of – and later a fellow at – the oldest university in the English-speaking world. The fifteenth century Latin West, which in earlier centuries had given birth to the university (as opposed to a cathedral school or a madrassa), saw an explosion in the number of universities and also the invention of the printing press with moveable metal type.
Consider our cosmic curator. Presumably it travels by spaceship or is at least descended from more primitive beings that still had to travel by such a machine.
To travel through space it helps if you have a machine with which to do so, an instruction system that tells you how to run it, devices for measuring time and space – however relative they may be – and a means of magnifying far away objects.
While it might have marvelled at the ingenuity of the water-powered devices built by Su Sung and Al Jazeri it might have noticed that these were one-offs and anyway not suitable for mechanization. From about 1300 onwards Medieval Latin Christendom was dotted with mechanical clocks in churches and town halls. The mechanical clock has been called the ‘mother of machines’. To this day our measure of how smoothly efficient a machine works is that it ‘runs like clockwork’. As Lewis Mumford put it in Technics and Civilization
“The clock is not merely a means of keeping track of the hours, but of synchronizing the actions of men. The clock, not the steam-engine, is the key-machine of the modern industrial age…In its relationship to determinable quantities of energy, to standardization, to automatic action, and … accurate timing, the clock has been the foremost machine in modern technics; and at each period it has remained in the lead: it marks a perfection toward which other machines aspire.”
From the 1450s onwards Medieval Latin Christendom was also dotted with printing presses with moveable type, the machine necessary to produce instruction manuals. But such printing press were ignored or, in the Islamic world, rejected outside of the West for centuries after their invention.
The fifteenth century Latin West also led the world in glass making (spectacles were another medieval western invention) that would lead on to the telescope, the microscope and also those tubes and beakers without which chemistry would be well-nigh impossible.
To my mind from then on the book never really recovers. Near the end we are told that, “Over the period as a whole, the east may well seem to have been more influential in the west than the other way around.”
Seriously?
A thousand years ago the West lagged behind the Eat in general and China in particular in many ways. But things have changed a tad since then.
I think China, where Adam Smith seems to be taking over from Karl Marx, houses more Christians than the West does Confucians. The demonstrators in Tiananmen Square built their own Statue of Liberty. I don’t recall the Occupy movement invoking the Mandate of Heaven.
What population could Asia support today were it not for the work of the likes of Pasteur, Haber and Borlaug?
Having taken a wrong turning the book meanders on telling us more about the author’s highly impressive erudition than it does about how the world changed in the last millennium.
What we’re left with is more a cabinet of curiosities than a cosmic class collection.


Millennium: A History of Our Last Thousand Years
Millennium: A History of Our Last Thousand Years
by Dr Felipe Fernandez-Armesto
Edition: Paperback

2.0 out of 5 stars A Curious (But Not Cosmic) Collection, 5 Aug. 2015
“The subject of this book is the fate of civilizations, defined by seas: the shift of initiative from the China Seas and the Mediterranean, the hegemony of the Atlantic, the cultural counter-invasion from the Pacific”. To look at his subject from a novel angle Felipe Fernandez-Armesto envisions a “galactic museum of the distant future, in which…Coke cans will share with…chain mail a single small vitrine marked ‘Planet Earth, 1000-2000, Christian Era’.” So far, so good. The author deserves high marks for originality (this work predates the recent spate of “A History of X in Y Objects’ books) as he does for his erudition. Furthermore it is largely devoid of those annoying little factual inaccuracies that litter so many of the books I’ve reviewed.
It begins promisingly with a review of the relatively discrete civilizations of 1000AD. But it is as we start to approach the ‘Rise of the West’ that, to my mind, the wheels start to come off and never get put back on again for the rest of the book.
We are told that, “The fourteenth-century experience…made western Europe in the fifteenth-century the least promising of the world’s civilizations and, to objective scrutiny, among the worst equipped to profit from the world’s ‘age of expansion’, which began with initiatives weighted in favour of China and Islam and...with states of greater dynamism in Africa and the Americas than any visible in the Latin West.” And that, “Fifteenth-century Europe…will appear, to the galactic museum-keepers…if the notice it at all, stagnant and introspective.”
Now Felipe Fernandez-Armesto is both an author and a graduate of – and later a fellow at – the oldest university in the English-speaking world. The fifteenth century Latin West, which in earlier centuries had given birth to the university (as opposed to a cathedral school or a madrassa), saw an explosion in the number of universities and also the invention of the printing press with moveable metal type.
Consider our cosmic curator. Presumably it travels by spaceship or is at least descended from more primitive beings that still had to travel by such a machine.
To travel through space it helps if you have a machine with which to do so, an instruction system that tells you how to run it, devices for measuring time and space – however relative they may be – and a means of magnifying far away objects.
While it might have marvelled at the ingenuity of the water-powered devices built by Su Sung and Al Jazeri it might have noticed that these were one-offs and anyway not suitable for mechanization. From about 1300 onwards Medieval Latin Christendom was dotted with mechanical clocks in churches and town halls. The mechanical clock has been called the ‘mother of machines’. To this day our measure of how smoothly efficient a machine works is that it ‘runs like clockwork’. As Lewis Mumford put it in Technics and Civilization
“The clock is not merely a means of keeping track of the hours, but of synchronizing the actions of men. The clock, not the steam-engine, is the key-machine of the modern industrial age…In its relationship to determinable quantities of energy, to standardization, to automatic action, and … accurate timing, the clock has been the foremost machine in modern technics; and at each period it has remained in the lead: it marks a perfection toward which other machines aspire.”
From the 1450s onwards Medieval Latin Christendom was also dotted with printing presses with moveable type, the machine necessary to produce instruction manuals. But such printing press were ignored or, in the Islamic world, rejected outside of the West for centuries after their invention.
The fifteenth century Latin West also led the world in glass making (spectacles were another medieval western invention) that would lead on to the telescope, the microscope and also those tubes and beakers without which chemistry would be well-nigh impossible.
To my mind from then on the book never really recovers. Near the end we are told that, “Over the period as a whole, the east may well seem to have been more influential in the west than the other way around.”
Seriously?
A thousand years ago the West lagged behind the Eat in general and China in particular in many ways. But things have changed a tad since then.
I think China, where Adam Smith seems to be taking over from Karl Marx, houses more Christians than the West does Confucians. The demonstrators in Tiananmen Square built their own Statue of Liberty. I don’t recall the Occupy movement invoking the Mandate of Heaven.
What population could Asia support today were it not for the work of the likes of Pasteur, Haber and Borlaug?
Having taken a wrong turning the book meanders on telling us more about the author’s highly impressive erudition than it does about how the world changed in the last millennium.
What we’re left with is more a cabinet of curiosities than a cosmic class collection.


Marcuse (Modern Masters)
Marcuse (Modern Masters)
by Alasdair MacIntyre
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Low Marx for Marcuse, 3 July 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Herbert Marcuse was a philosopher was influence outside his field was far greater than his influence within the small circle of professional philosophers and – as far as I am concerned – more’s the pity. Not only do I not agree with his worldview but I disagree with how he viewed the world. Marcuse strikes me as one of those people for whom theory – his and his fellow Frankfurt School members’ updating of Marxist theory – trumps facts.
Marcuse tried to marry the ideas of Marx with those of Freud, perhaps in an effort to explain away the failure of the Western proletariat to do what Marxists expected of them. He concluded that under consumerist capitalism the worker had bought into the system, albeit as a “one dimensional man”. The revolution would have to be led by radical intellectuals and the marginalized. Such ideas made Marcuse the darling of the “New Left”.
This work is part of the Fontana series on “Modern masters” published in the 1970’s –while Marcuse was still alive. This is the 29th one I’ve read. One – Bryan Magee’s ‘Popper’ – had a profound influence on me. Most I found informative, some – such as the one on Chomsky’s linguistics – I found heavy going. Of those I’ve read this one is unique in that the author has such an unremittingly negative attitude to its subject. Now, as you may have gathered, I didn’t approach the book with a positive predisposition to Marcuse, quite the reverse as what I knew of Marcuse’s ideas I didn’t like. In particular I opposed his ideas concerning tolerance, that “"Liberating tolerance… would mean intolerance against movements from the Right, and tolerance of movements from the Left... it would extend to the stage of action as well as of discussion and propaganda, of deed as well as of word.” Whatever happened to the concept of, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it"?
While I approached the work with a negative view of Marcuse I also approached it with an open mind and, so negative was the author to Marcuse that, before writing this review, I sought out on YouTube Magee’s 45 minute interview with Marcuse before writing this review least I do Marcuse an injustice.
I also tried to read the selection of Marcuse’s own words in Wikiquotes but quit least I lose the will to live.
The author presupposes a level of knowledge that the general reader – myself very much included – may not have and concentrates primarily on pointing out the inconsistencies in Marcuse’s positions and on his habit of making assertions rather than supporting his arguments with evidence.
This book was published in 1970 and I suspect that were such a work commissioned today it would concentrate more on the effect of Marcuse’s though and less on the systematic critique of Marcuse’s theories. Because of this I’m giving it a three star rating rather than a four star one.


Herbert Marcuse (Modern masters)
Herbert Marcuse (Modern masters)
by Alasdair MacIntyre
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Low Marx for Marcuse, 2 July 2015
Herbert Marcuse was a philosopher was influence outside his field was far greater than his influence within the small circle of professional philosophers and – as far as I am concerned – more’s the pity. Not only do I not agree with his worldview but I disagree with how he viewed the world. Marcuse strikes me as one of those people for whom theory – his and his fellow Frankfurt School members’ updating of Marxist theory – trumps facts.
Marcuse tried to marry the ideas of Marx with those of Freud, perhaps in an effort to explain away the failure of the Western proletariat to do what Marxists expected of them. He concluded that under consumerist capitalism the worker had bought into the system, albeit as a “one dimensional man”. The revolution would have to be led by radical intellectuals and the marginalized. Such ideas made Marcuse the darling of the “New Left”.
This work is part of the Fontana series on “Modern masters” published in the 1970’s –while Marcuse was still alive. This is the 29th one I’ve read. One – Bryan Magee’s ‘Popper’ – had a profound influence on me. Most I found informative, some – such as the one on Chomsky’s linguistics – I found heavy going. Of those I’ve read this one is unique in that the author has such an unremittingly negative attitude to its subject. Now, as you may have gathered, I didn’t approach the book with a positive predisposition to Marcuse, quite the reverse as what I knew of Marcuse’s ideas I didn’t like. In particular I opposed his ideas concerning tolerance, that “"Liberating tolerance… would mean intolerance against movements from the Right, and tolerance of movements from the Left... it would extend to the stage of action as well as of discussion and propaganda, of deed as well as of word.” Whatever happened to the concept of, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it"?
While I approached the work with a negative view of Marcuse I also approached it with an open mind and, so negative was the author to Marcuse that, before writing this review, I sought out on YouTube Magee’s 45 minute interview with Marcuse before writing this review least I do Marcuse an injustice.
I also tried to read the selection of Marcuse’s own words in Wikiquotes but quit least I lose the will to live.
The author presupposes a level of knowledge that the general reader – myself very much included – may not have and concentrates primarily on pointing out the inconsistencies in Marcuse’s positions and on his habit of making assertions rather than supporting his arguments with evidence.
This book was published in 1970 and I suspect that were such a work commissioned today it would concentrate more on the effect of Marcuse’s though and less on the systematic critique of Marcuse’s theories. Because of this I’m giving it a three star rating rather than a four star one.


Malthus: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
Malthus: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
Price: £7.59

3.0 out of 5 stars A Newtonian not a Darwinian, 6 May 2015
This review is based on reading the OUP’s “Past Master” work of the same name. From a quick check – both books have the same chapter headings and the same opening and closing lines – this is one of the “Past Master” books that have been reprinted in the “Very Short Introduction” series without significant changes other than updating the further reading list. I’m posting it here as readers are more likely to come across the VSI version than the “Past Master” one. Should anyone be aware of any material difference between the two versions I’d be obliged if they’d post a comment to that effect so I can remove this review.

Thomas Malthus is one of those few people whose name became an adjective. While his is a name many will have heard of but whose work many – myself included – will not have read. It is therefore not surprising that many – again I included – may have a somewhat caricatured view of Malthus.
This may in part be caused by the fact that both Darwin and Russell got their idea for natural selection after reading Malthus’s Essay on Population and his name may have been associated with Social Darwinism. But, as the author points out, Malthus lived in a pre-Darwinian age. Furthermore Malthus was a sincere Anglican cleric (who “ranked contraception within marriage as equal to, or even above, prostitution in the scale of vices”, hardly the view of a eugenicist), living within a Newtonian mental framework, who was attempting to alleviate avoidable suffering. Nor did Malthus rule out the possibility of both population increase and increased prosperity – provided population growth didn’t grow faster than improvements in the means of production. Were it not for the work of the likes of Fritz Haber and Norman Borlaug we might be living today in a world more like the one Malthus envisioned.
He had his both detractors (Marx though him a “shameless sycophant of the ruling class”) and admirers (Keynes thought that if Malthus not Ricardo had been the parent of 19th century economics “what a much wiser and richer place the world would be today!”)
The author draws out the useful distinctions between Malthus the population theorist and Malthus the political economist just as he distinguishes Malthus the moralist from Malthus the social scientist. As best I can tell he has done a solid job of explaining Malthus’s ideas and significance.


Malthus (Past Masters Series)
Malthus (Past Masters Series)
by Donald Winch
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars A Newtonian not a Darwinian, 6 May 2015
This work was part of the Oxford University Press’s “Past Master” series some of which, including this one, have been subsumed into their “Very Short Introduction” series.
Thomas Malthus is one of those few people whose name became an adjective. While his is a name many will have heard of but whose work many – myself included – will not have read. It is therefore not surprising that many – again I included – may have a somewhat caricatured view of Malthus.
This may in part be caused by the fact that both Darwin and Russell got their idea for natural selection after reading Malthus’s Essay on Population and his name may have been associated with Social Darwinism. But, as the author points out, Malthus lived in a pre-Darwinian age. Furthermore Malthus was a sincere Anglican cleric (who “ranked contraception within marriage as equal to, or even above, prostitution in the scale of vices”, hardly the view of a eugenicist), living within a Newtonian mental framework, who was attempting to alleviate avoidable suffering. Nor did Malthus rule out the possibility of both population increase and increased prosperity – provided population growth didn’t grow faster than improvements in the means of production. Were it not for the work of the likes of Fritz Haber and Norman Borlaug we might be living today in a world more like the one Malthus envisioned.
He had his both detractors (Marx though him a “shameless sycophant of the ruling class”) and admirers (Keynes thought that if Malthus not Ricardo had been the parent of 19th century economics “what a much wiser and richer place the world would be today!”)
The author draws out the useful distinctions between Malthus the population theorist and Malthus the political economist just as he distinguishes Malthus the moralist from Malthus the social scientist. As best I can tell he has done a solid job of explaining Malthus’s ideas and significance.


The Test: My Autobiography
The Test: My Autobiography
by Brian O'Driscoll
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.95

4.0 out of 5 stars An Easy Test, 10 Mar. 2015
I assume that the vast majority of potential readers of “The Test” will know who Brian O’Driscoll is and what he achieved. If you don’t he’s simply one of the greatest ruby players who ever lived.
He begins with an account of his last game for Leinster, the victory in the 2014 Pro12 Grand Final where he had to go off early after injury. He then goes back to his childhood and works forward in chronological fashion to what I suspect was for him his “real” last game, the win for Ireland in France to seal the Six Nations Championship.
For most of the book I thought that the play that would receive most analysis was his account of how he engineered his first meeting with his future wife but as he recounts in vivid detail those final few minutes in Paris as we – I’m Irish – hung on for dear life it was like being in front of the TV with the outcome still in doubt.
A recurring criticism amongst who have given the book a low rating is that it is boring, that it lacks revelations or recriminations.
Well, may I ask what you expected to see in a Brian O’Driscoll autobiography? Sydney Opera House, perhaps? The Hanging Gardens of Babylon? Herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically...?
It’s a bit like criticising a vegetarian cookbook for its lack of meat recipes.
What controversies are there to cover? Him being on the receiving end of that spear tackle? Him being dropped for the one and only time in a 15 year career? An opposing team’s ineffectually cheating in “Bloodgate”? The treatment he received at the hands of England in the Grand Slam year? (I was at that match and how he picked himself up time and again I do not know). He covers them all with the class we’ve rightly come to expect of him.
This is a guy with an extraordinary talent who comes from a good family, who married the only girlfriend he ever lived with, who never changed clubs and who never seems to have had a major falling out with a coach or teammate.
The two main revelations in the book are non-rugby related, how he was affected by the unexplained suicide of a close friend and how he spent a night in custody in New York when, needless to say, he’d done nothing wrong.
The book has an index that comes in handy and avoids the need for a glossary of nicknames with such entries as “’Dreamboat’ see Kearney, Dave”.
How to rate the book? Unlike the man himself it’s no five star masterpiece. Through no fault of his own his life lacks “Sturm und Drang”. If I’d no interest in rugby but had been asked to review the book I’d have given it a three. But for fifteen years I, like millions of others, had the pleasure of watching a sporting genius with the heart of a lion, a nice guy who finished first more often than not but who, whether he met with triumph or disaster, treated those two imposters just the same.


Throwing Fire: Projectile Technology through History
Throwing Fire: Projectile Technology through History
by Alfred W. Crosby
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £53.99

3.0 out of 5 stars A Hit? Yes. A Very Palpable Hit? Not Quite., 13 Feb. 2015
‘Throwing Fire’ is a somewhat curious and unusual book by a serious author. In 200 pages it covers such seemingly diverse subjects as throwing spears and the hazards of living in space. But Professor Crosby shows how they are linked.
Crosby takes as his starting point the fact that human beings are by far the best throwers in the animal kingdom. This fact had profound implications for our species for it meant we could kill at a distance.
After an introduction dealing with the implications of the fact that we walk on two feet thus freeing up our hands the book considers four “accelerations”.
The first takes us from the atlatl and bow and arrow through cooking and firestick farming to the trebuchet and Greek fire.
The second deals with gunpowder, cannon and firearms.
The third covers the V-2 and the atomic bomb.
The fourth covers ourselves “throwing” ourselves into outer space.
I had previously read Crosby’s ‘The Measure of Reality: Quantification and Western Society 1250-1600’, a work I would strongly recommend to anyone interested in the question of “Why the West?” or indeed to anyone interested in history in general. While ‘Measure’ reads like the work of a professor ‘Throwing’ reads like the script of a TV documentary. The style is much more informal, almost chatty.
The casual style of writing is matched by a casual style in editing e.g. on page 140 references to 1918 should clearly read 1914 and on page 161 the author mixes up miles and kilometres not once but twice.
I found ‘Throwing Fire’ an interesting and enjoyable read but not a particularly profound one.


Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History (California World History Library)
Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History (California World History Library)
by David Christian
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars History (Almost) Without Humanity, 11 Feb. 2015
Of all the books I’ve reviewed on Amazon this is the one that I’ve had most difficulty assigning a rating to. Indeed I began a draft review without deciding on my final rating. This isn’t because I don’t have a settled opinion on the merits of the work but rather because (a) I haven’t read anything really comparable to assess it against, and (b), for me, the book falls into two main parts to which I would assign different ratings.
It sets out to combine a natural history of the universe from the Big Bang onwards with what most of us think of as history, i.e. human history. These two main parts of the work are followed by a kind of epilogue – if that’s the correct term – where the author speculates about what might happen in the near and not-so-near future. This I found somewhat out of keeping with the “just the facts” approach earlier in the book.
As far as I can tell the author does a more than adequate job of the covering the non-human part of the work i.e. the first 13.7 billion years but I think the appeal of this book is its attempt to integrate human history into the history of the universe. In a way it is like an Agatha Christie novel. I don’t think many people read them for their character development, sparkling prose or insights into the human condition. They read them to find out whodunit.
Similarly, if one wants a history of the cosmos then a work by a scientist or professional science writer would probably do a better job. But this book includes a world history i.e. a history of humanity since the emergence of our species and – like the Christie reader who judges the book by the twists in and the ingenuity of the plot – so in the end I gave my rating based on the author’s treatment of human history.
The author takes very much a materialist approach with respect to historical development. If you live in a world cover by ice you probably can’t build anything bigger than an igloo. Fair enough in so far as it goes but while I think it goes very far it still only goes so far. There comes a time when human agency matters. Sometimes it matters a lot.
What happened on the road to Damascus matters. What happened in the straights of Salamis matters.
Let me give a couple of examples.
(1) To my mind the outcome of what the Greeks called the Persian Wars was a pivotal event in world history. Try to imagine the world today if the Persians had won at Marathon or Salamis. (“There are very few instances in history when so much was at stake in a single battle. The channel at Salamis was as the eye of the needle through which world history had to pass if the decisive role was to be played not by vast, monarchically ruled empires but by a strange nation composed of small independent cities… one that gave a political voice to broad segments of the population.” Christian Meier, Athens: A Portrait of the City in Its Golden Age). Would democracy have evolved? Would science? Large empires got along without them for centuries. They might be getting away without them still had Miltiades or Themistocles lost.
(2) Societies can choose to reject or embrace change. When Gutenberg developed his printing press it spread like wildfire throughout Latin Christendom. Half a century later it would help fracture that Catholic west by aiding the spread of Protestantism. And, because Protestants were more inclined to read the Bible for themselves rather than have it read to them, this helped increase their level of literacy with knock-on economic effects. Men may have learnt to read the better to save their souls but it affected their understanding of profits as well as of prophets.
But printing was rejected for centuries in the Islamic world. One Westerner who travelled extensively in the Middle East between 1761 on 1767 wrote -
“In Cairo there is at least still a store where the Muhammedans can buy old books. In Baghdad one will not find that sort of thing. If one collects books here, and is neither prepared to copy them oneself nor to let others copy them, one must wait till somebody dies and his books and clothes are carried to the bazar, where they are offered for sale by a crier. A European who wants to buy Arabian, Turkish or Persian manuscripts will find no better opportunity than in Constantinople for here at least there is a sort of bookstore where Christians – at least Oriental Christians – can buy books.” (Carsten Niebuhr, Travels in Arabia and other countries in the East).
The father of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, recognized the significance of this when he said –
“Think of the Turkish victory of 1453, the conquest of Constantinople, and its place in the course of world history. That same might and power which…made Istanbul forever the property of the Turkish people, was too weak to overcome the…resistance of the men of law and to receive in Turkey the printing press, which had been invented at about the same time. Three centuries of…hesitation were needed, of effort and energy expended for and against, before antiquated laws and their exponents would permit the entry of printing into our country.”
Try and imagine the world today if the Christian West had rejected printing and the Islamic world had embraced it. If you think it would probably be significantly different then you think human agency matters.
You could point to other instances e.g. the recall of the Mongol armies when they were about to overrun Western Europe due to the death of the khan. They never came back, switching their target instead to the Arab lands.
But these sorts of contingent events don’t get covered in the author’s scheme of things. Humans act pretty much like balls on a billiard table, they move in the direction material forces send them.
Professor Christian is very much of the “California School” of world historians. He is also very much influenced by Marxist thought. As well as Marx, Eric Wolf, Andre Gunder Frank, Stephen Jay Gould, Eric Hobsbawm, Walter Benjamin etc. get referenced.
Now I’ve nothing against these authors being quoted but I feel it would have been better had the author either written an out-and-out Marxist work or else given more time to non-Marxist viewpoints.
An insight into Professor Christian may be given in his comment on page 478 that, “Sadly, the Communist revolutions of the twentieth century suggest that overthrowing capitalism may be an extremely destructive project, and one that is not in any case likely to create societies that are notably egalitarian or ecologically sensitive.”
Running through much of the modern history part of the book is a commentary on the downsides of capitalism without either much of an acknowledgement of its upsides (e.g. antibiotics) or of an outline of an alternative that would be both preferable and realistic.

There is another passage that, to me, gives an insight into his mind-set in writing this book. We are told, on page 458, in a section aiming to show that the world has become more violent as it has become more unstable and more unequal that -
“William Eckhardt has roughly calculated that 3.7 million people died in war in the 1500 years up to 1500 CE” The source given is a bulletin on “War-Related Deaths Since 3000BC”. (NB the rest of the text makes it extremely unlikely that this is a typo).
Genghis Khan and Timur the Lame must be spinning in their graves, not to mention Mahmud of Ghazni, Attila the Hun and the supporting cast. Did they massacre in vain?
The armies of Genghis and Timur each accounted for multiples of 3.7 million over the space of a few decades never mind 15 centuries. Or take the An Lushan Revolt. The upper estimate – and I stress it’s very much the upper estimate – is 36 million dead. Some scholars think the real figure was only a third of that. Let’s say it was only one tenth. There’s pretty much your quota used up in one rebellion in one country in 7 years.
Even if the figure is meant to relate to battlefield fatalities only I still think it looks pretty ropey. 3,700,000 dead over 1,500 years works out at an average of 2,467 war related deaths per year. Consider individual battles where we have reasonably good ballpark figures.
In the Teutoburg Forest in 9AD German tribes wiped out three Roman legions plus their auxiliaries, cavalry and camp followers. Badly led as they were and unfavourable as the conditions may have been those Roman soldiers would have taken some Germans with them so there’s about the first decade’s worth used up in one battle over a few days.
Then think of all the rises and falls of empires and civil wars therein over the next millennium and a half and the figure of 3,700,000 dead over 1,500 years seems ridiculously low.
On the same page we are given an estimate of 19.4 million war dead for the 19th century and 53.5 million for World War Two. The latter figure makes it clear that the figures included non-battlefield casualties. Now the bloodiest war of the 19th century was the Taiping Rebellion for which the standard estimate of deaths is 20 million. Its ending overlapped with the start of the Dungan Revolt which accounted for 8 to 12 million. I’m sure there were some people killed outside China in the 19th century so I don’t know what these figures are based on.
Now we all make mistakes and we all probably subscribe to some view that most people would consider odd or unusual but for a person with the resources that Professor Christian had available to him to give credence to such figures suggests to me that there was an agenda at work here. Did he believe them because they would support a worldview that saw get more violent with the rise of capitalism and of income inequality?
This book has its merits but if you’re looking for a history of the world I wouldn’t start here.


Luis Suarez: Crossing the Line - My Story
Luis Suarez: Crossing the Line - My Story
Price: £2.99

1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars He Doesnt Quite Sink His Teeth Into It, 28 Jan. 2015
Apologies for the title.
I'm addressing this review at the general reader. Hardcore fans are unlikely to be swayed by someone else's opinion.
In many ways this is an interesting book. While most footballers (auto-)biographies have a ghost writer this has two and in many respects they do a good job.
The book has a somewhat unusual structure in that interspersed within a roughly chronological account of his life and career are mini-chapters dealing with such topics as the difference between English and South American refereeing styles, the impact of money on young players and their families etc. These I found interesting and informative.
Throughout the book the importance to him of his family and particularly of his wife Sofi shines through. Given the troubles hes gotten himself into, one wonders how much more he might have inflicted upon himself without her stabilizing influence.
It is Suarez's accounts of his extraordinary transgressions that should make the book of more than average interest to the general reader. Otherwise you would be left with a routine account of a player with a far from routine talent.
I found his coverage of the handball in the 2010 World Cup perfectly understandable. Its the sort of thing that we should all condemn while admitting that we might have done likewise had we been in his shoes.
An entire chapter is devoted to the Patice Evra incidents (s). Suarez admits to being a biter and a diver but vehemently denies being a racist. Now I haven't read all of the 115 page FA verdict condemning him just extracts but in a 14 page chapter Suarez comes across like a player who's had a penalty awarded against him because the ref got it wrong. His denial seems heartfelt. It may have been a genuine misunderstanding where Suarez's use of the Spanish word for black that begins with N and ends in O was interpreted as being racist but wasn't meant as racist.
Its on the biting incidents where, for me, the book falls down. This behaviour is extraordinary and its something hes done not once but thrice. Eric Cantona's kung fu was more egregious but he only did it once. Suarez is right when he points out that a bite is less dangerous than a career-threatening tackle but a foul tackle is a misapplication of a legitimate, integral part of the game whereas biting is or was until Suarez something totally outside the game altogether. You can have an honest disagreement over whether a given tackle was a foul and people have been hurt in perfectly legitimate tackles but a bite is ipso facto a foul, and a bizarre one at that.
We know Suarez is committed but is he any more committed than Gerrard or Carragher or many others? We know he acts first and thinks later but so did Paul Gascoigne and many others. But none of them bit opponents.
There's something else at work here and what it is were not told. Maybe Suarez himself doesn't know. Or maybe he knows and doesn't want to say.


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