on 28 March 2005
John H. Arnold called this "the first really important book of the twentieth-first century". Granta Books must have loved that!
Hyperbole aside, this is an impressive overview of human history - by far the best I've read in this field (and I seem to have been averaging at least one a year for the past decade). Cook is professor of Near East Studies at Princeton. His overview is different from other similar works in that he explains in beautifully clear prose how physical geography plays a part in the development of civilisations.
Cook's descriptions of the Mediterranean and Chinese civilisations are carefully married to illustrations of the seas, peninsulas, deserts, mountains, rivers and climatic phenomena that played a part in the civilisations developing along the patterns they did. Cook's long experience teaching at the London School of Oriental and African Studies (before he joined the brain drain) also allows him to make authoritative comments on linguistics. Despite this he manages to include one Chinese text back to front, but you can't win them all.