3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When Five Stars Prove Insufficient
Andrew Marr A History of the World
It is, as Andrew Marr is the first to insist, a ludicrous undertaking. Professional and amateur historians will carp endlessly over this detail, that generalisation, this conclusion and the whole tenor and methodology of the book. And they will be right. But Marr's achievement remains impressive...
Published 5 months ago by Enobarbus
60 of 81 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Ridiculous Thing To Do
Andrew Marr says in his opening to this book that:'Writing a history of the world is a ridiculous thing to do'. He is right.
Many have tried to do the same, for example H G Wells, Richard Overy and John Roberts. Two of these writers are renowned historians while one was a brilliant story writer with an unbelievable ability to foretell the future. Andrew Marr is not...
Published on 13 Oct. 2012 by Dr Barry Clayton
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When Five Stars Prove Insufficient,
Andrew Marr A History of the World
It is, as Andrew Marr is the first to insist, a ludicrous undertaking. Professional and amateur historians will carp endlessly over this detail, that generalisation, this conclusion and the whole tenor and methodology of the book. And they will be right. But Marr's achievement remains impressive. Forget the National Curriculum, were every teenager in Britain to read A History of the World, we'd all be living in a more enlightened place. There would certainly be a surge in the numbers opting to read History at university. And standards of written English would markedly improve.
How strong is your grasp of the history of the last twenty thousand years? If it is shaky, you could do much worse than spend a month, or several, reading and re-reading this brave attempt to bring some clarity and coherence to everything that's happened to the human race. Of course Marr has his ideological blinkers: he's a human being. His fiercest critic will have his own set of prejudices and blindspots. Any attempt to sketch the larger picture will sacrifice accuracy and balance for a sharp outline, a direction of travel.
Marr believes, all things considered, that liberal capitalism is a triumph over the dark forces, that the world is moving towards the light. He does not paint an uncritical picture of the process but, especially when it comes to the last century, the territory is so complex that in order to say anything, he is forced to simplify at the cost of plausibility and, frankly, intellectual honesty. Were Mao, Hitler and Stalin, for example, the pantomime villains that he presents, it's difficult to understand why they did not self-destruct at birth, impossible to imagine how they galvanised millions of men in the cause of nihilistic folly. Conversely, Marr is far too easy on the Americans. Perhaps because the sinister work continues, he is largely silent on the sins of capitalism: for example, the epidemics of ill health due to the tobacco, alcohol and junk food industries, the damage to the world's climate, the gross abuses of money-power, the mockery of democracy which is Washington politics. American foreign policy, in Viet Nam, Central and South America and the Middle East is left virtually unscrutinised. Forced to sup with one devil or another, Marr throws in his sceptical intelligence with the forces of money. A better book would have raised more questions than it answered.
But what an achievement this book is. I'm giving copies to everyone I know. Many will move from this introduction of so many rich and complex issues to more searching histories. Not least impressive, is Marr's expressive fluency. He may well be the last great stylist in English, thanks to years of journalistic training. His narrative is lucid and transparent, extraordinarily free of self-regard and self-indulgence. If his punctuation is eccentric and the book full of typos, those are faults to be laid at the door of the sloppy, presumably inebriated or illiterate, editor.
The reading of the whole book on CD is a wonderful companion on long journeys. David Timpson is no match for Marr himself (sadly, Marr reads the introduction only) but Timpson has impeccable delivery, intelligence and an engaging sense of direction.
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Change-makers" of history,
As Marr himself admits, no book, no matter whether it's titled A History of the World or not, can ever succeed in comprehensively covering the entirety of history. So, as he explains in his introduction, he has chosen to focus on "big man" history: well-known individuals who are often, though not always, rulers. This seems on the face of it a rather traditionalist approach to history, a throwback to decades past where historians only seemed to talk about kings and queens. That kind of history has fallen out of favour in the past 30 years, replaced by an interest in social history, gender history, world theory, and phenomenology; the heretofore "untold" stories. So why is Marr writing about powerful individuals? Marr explains that, like it or not, a small number of people throughout history had greater agency than others, the ability to act to change the circumstances around them. He sees these individuals as important because they drove the great changes of history, and although much of the human past is marked by consistency and continuation, it is the changes that have made the biggest difference in our social evolution.
Marr divides human history into defined eras and then selectively talks about a handful of key "change-makers" in each era. Naturally this type of history leaves out a lot, but the examples Marr chooses are, he feels, demonstrative of the most important changes of their era. By picking out key figures and identifying patterns that emerge in history, Marr is able to bring together the whole and explain the significance of the patterns he draws out. It's left to the reader to decide whether the conclusions Marr draws are insightful or nonsensical.
In my opinion, some of what Marr presents to us in this book is a little dubious. For example, Marr suggests that humans had not even left Africa by the time of the Sumatra eruption c. 75,000 BCE, but Stephen Oppenheimer (ancient population geneticist), who Marr actually refers to, presents evidence that implies that was not the case. Marr also presents the view that homo sapiens was probably responsible for wiping out the Neanderthals and megafauna such as woolly mammoths etc. In fact this is still hotly debated, and many theories are put forwards as explanations for these extinctions, including climate change at the end of the Ice Age, which have interesting points of their own. Not to rubbish A History of the World, but it's worth keeping in mind that many of these questions are still up for debate. Marr uses Orlando Figes as a source about modern history in Russia at one point - awkward, given Figes' current state of disgrace after the debacle in which he was involved.
The above caveat aside, the whole work is smoothly written and very readable, I found it an enjoyable read, but it definitely comes under the category of popular history than serious academic work.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars very enjoyable and informative,
This is a very readable, enjoyable and informative single volume history of the World. Inevitably in a single volume history there is much that is passed over quickly, but there is plenty here to stimulate further reading and intellectual curiosity.
I bought this having thoroughly enjoyed the TV series by the same author, and found that this book adds depth to the excellent series, and acts a really useful reminder about what was happening around the world at various times and ages, before concluding with a generally optimistic and upbeat assessment of the future for humanity.
History for the general reader at its best - and very enjoyable to read too
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars new stories, new horizons,
Two years ago, I read 'a history of the world in 100 objects'. I felt a huge leap in my concept of human history. At school, I learnt English history, with a little bit of Scottish history thrown in (I am Scottish). That book helped me to understand how much more there is, and whetted my appetite to learn more. Andrew Marr's book I found expanded my horizons equally, especially its attention to what for me were "new" historic civilizations, and the concept of comparative developments around the world. The book is necessarily brief on all of the specific civilizations it touches on, but is both complete in itself and provides an excellent starting point for those who want to learn more about areas covered in the book. My primary school age children loved the BBC series.
5.0 out of 5 stars Idiosyncratic but useful,
This is a rather idiosyncratic but very useful history. If you want something much more comprehensive, try Roberts' Penguin History of the World. Marr's world history does some odd things and you will find some famous brutes like Stalin and Tamerlane only appearing where they have relevance to something else the author is interested in. Alexander, Jesus and Lenin get succinct little snapshots, likewise Caesar, Hitler and Gorbachev. However, it is this selectivity that is the making of this book: Marr is interested in explaining why things happened, cause and effect. So long as you don't mind much coverage of your own particular preoccupation (I note a lot of other critics arguing about Islam), you will be well served by this book. For a particularly remarkable chapter, I would suggest the third, 'The Sword and the Word', particularly the influence of the Jews and the realities of Caesarism.
Throughout the book, Marr keeps an eye on our troubled present. He tries hard to ensure that we do learn some historical lessons which may serve us. While not covering much of the lives of ordinary people, he does at times acknowledge their timeless efforts, especially when considering prehistorical development. While he promotes a 'great man' style of history, he is careful to place them in their context, realising that in another set of circumstances, this and that great person would be unlikely to have emerged. He does not ignore the ebb and flow of determining factors.
Some applause and brickbats. The photographs are excellent and not the usual fare. During his coverage of the Stone Age, he does get rather boring when he discusses artefacts as symbols of the level of civilisation; I got heartily sick of the litany of vases and jewellery. At times, dates and dynasties get confused, especially dealing with Chinese dynasties. At times, the proofreader seems to have fallen asleep. Interesting coverage of Deng Xiaoping.
40 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Woaa,
A vast subject set but the reader is quickly drawn into the unstoppable movement that, like history, unfolds as one turns the pages. Concludes with a salutary reflection on current years.
More wordy, more globally viewed and therefore more suitable to the web generation than the delightful Gombrich, a short history of the world which follows classical European historical development but which is good to dip into as light relief and necessary chronological background reminders as one surfs through this large wave of information by A Marr.
5.0 out of 5 stars An oustanding and engaging text on an other potentially dry and dull subject,
This review is from: A History of the World (Kindle Edition)
A masterful exposition of the history of the world from inception to current day, Andrew Marr freely admits that he picks and chooses his course through the subject rather than seeking to be comprehensive. But what he lacks in bredth, he makes up for in depth, inserting continual insightful analysis, and cross referring concepts and ideas from one culture to the next. Rather than focusing on battles, kings and emperors, a great deal of time in the book is spent on focusing on the smaller events which nonetheless change the history of the world in a seimic way. Parts of the book migth be seen as controversial - analysis monotheism as an "invention" is begging for controversy, but Marr handles it in an easy and yet intellectually rigorous way. Marr is depracating about his own abilities as a historian, but as a writer he is faultless, and brings the subject vividly to life. The only area where he slightly loses his way is when he tries to tie it all up with some personal reflections on what it all means for the future of the planet. But in an otherwise outstanding book he can be forgiven that indulgence.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent.,
You cant cover everything, it would be impossible. Marr writes about what he thinks are the most defining moments in the history of the world, and he writes about them clearly and well (though there is a very naughty joke about actors in there). I was quite moved by this book and am catching up with the TV series now. Totally worth reading.
5.0 out of 5 stars History for ordinary people,
I had enjoyed the television series but couldn't take it all in at the time. I had enjoyed other Marr books and knew I would enjoy this and I have. I have marked numerous passages for future study. I like the fact that he chose people who had made a huge impact on the world but were not necessarily famous in the sense that Henry the 8th is famous. It's great to have world context such as the Indians in USA were being slaughtered at the same time as Chinese etc It is also great to have the whole history of the world with an acceptable level of detail all in one easy to read book. It is an exciting story and Marr got this across.
Would definitely recommend this book.
20 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Andrew Marr's - History of the World,
Have very much enjoyed reading this intelligent book. A very useful supplement to the recent Sunday night BBC programme. It takes some doing to write a history of the world in approx 600ish pages so congratulations to Andrew Marr and all those who assisted him on this project. I am sure there are history buffs out there who might criticise the finished work but for me it has provided a valuable insight on how we, the human race, have reached the stage we are at now. A great fireside read for this winter if you like your history stuff.
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