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A History of the World in 100 Objects Hardcover – October 27, 2011

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Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, November 2011: In A History of the World in 100 Objects, Neal MacGregor, director of the British Museum, takes readers on a tour of the world by way of its material goods. From everyday items such as pots, utensils, and money to valuables such as art and jewelry, MacGregor shows that the things humans have left behind are often as rich and informative as written texts. Whether it’s a strange and unique object like a throne made of rifles from Mozambique or a medieval German crystal, or a familiar one like a sculpture of the head of Augustus or Hokusai's painting The Great Wave, MacGregor skillfully weaves each one into the fabric of the society that it came from. In that sense, the book is much more than a museum catalog: it's a hundred keyhole views into a hundred different societies from around the world and throughout history.


Praise for A History of the World in 100 Objects:

“A beautiful and absorbing book, a visual history of humanity . . . filled with equally fascinating objects, some famous, some not, nearly all of them intimate, telling and strange.”
—Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“Spotlighting artworks, artifacts and documents from the British Museum’s vast collections, Neil MacGregor—the museum’s director—brilliantly elucidates and connects items ranging from Zhou Dynasty bronze vessels to Victorian tea sets, from the Rosetta Stone to etchings by David Hockney, from pieces of eight to the modern credit card. Traversing continents, cultures and epochs with perfect aplomb, it is ultimately a defense of why the universal museum remains a vital institution in today's world. This is an enthralling and profoundly humane book that every civilized person should read.”
—Jonathan Lopez, Wall Street Journal

“A brave and original undertaking . . . Each of the sections has something interesting to say, and prior knowledge of a given topic does not prevent us from gathering new insights from the text and the illustrations, and new angles of vision. Some of the images scattered through the book are so astonishing and so far from our usual perceptions that I don’t think I will ever forget them. . . . MacGregor writes with energy and flair, and this is an entertaining and informative book.”
—Jonathan Spence, The New York Review of Books

“Arresting . . . This beautifully illustrated book demonstrates how much we can learn about past societies from the things they have left behind. British Museum director MacGregor provides insightful commentaries on each of the objects in an appealing, conversational style. . . . A book to savor, full of information and surprises.”

Kirkus Reviews

“MacGregor has done more to capture the magic and importance of history than any number of academic monographs. We are swept from Africa 2 million years ago to the dawn of the 21st century on a whistle-stop tour that avoids most of the obvious destinations but still feels enormously satisfying.”

Sunday Times, History book of the Year

“Bound to be a popular present this Christmas . . . Everyone knows about the sculptures from the Parthenon. . . . but I was amazed by the boggle-eyed monster carved into the base of a wooden stool that once belonged to a chieftain of the largely forgotten Taino people of the Caribbean, who gave us words such as hurricane, barbecue, hammock and tobacco . . . Erudite and entertaining, monumental yet relaxed.”

The Telegraph, Best book of the Year

“The most enlightening book of recent times.”
—The Independent

“Wonderful . . . The swirl and sweep of his story transports us to every corner of the globe, and illustrates how different cultures have always communicated, traded, and fought with one another.”
—Tom Holland, The Observer

“Marvelous . . . brilliant, engagingly written, deeply researched.”
—Mary Beard, The Guardian

“The style is authentic, personal and humorous. MacGregor demonstrates the power of objects to recover the place in history of lost civilisations.”
—Andrew Roberts, Financial Times

“None could have imagined quite how the radio series would permeate the national consciousness. Well over 12.5 million podcasts have been downloaded since the first programme and more than 550 museums around Britain have launched similar series featuring local history. . . . MacGregor’s voice comes through as distinctively as it did on radio and his arguments about the interconnectedness of disparate societies through the ages are all the stronger for the detail afforded by extra space. A book to savour and start over.”
The Economist

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; 1St Edition edition (October 27, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670022705
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670022700
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (168 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #18,482 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

141 of 146 people found the following review helpful By William Holmes VINE VOICE on April 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover
"A History of the World in 100 Objects" began with a BBC Radio 4 program that described 100 striking objects housed in the British Museum in London. I encountered the "100 Objects" while visiting the museum in the summer of 2010, and I was delighted to learn several months later that the original radio scripts were being adapted into a book.

The result, as author Neil MacGregor reminds us, is simply "a" history of the world rather than "the" history. Each chapter tells the story of a unique object or set of objects, ranging from a hand axe and chopping tools that are more than a million years old through the modern credit card and a solar-powered lamp and charger. Some of the objects are famous, some are obscure, but each inspires its own intriguing story. Chapter by brief chapter, the book carefully and clearly describes each object, places it in its historical context, and explains what it meant (or may have meant) to the people who created, used or admired it.

The UK edition of the book is quite elegant--nearly 700 pages of high-quality paper with numerous striking color photographs showing each object from multiple vantage points. It makes a fine gift for friends and family who appreciate art, or history, or both, and it deserves pride of place on any bookshelf.

As an aside, for those interested in the original BBC Channel 4 Radio program that inspired the book, you can download each of the 100 original broadcasts on iTunes. They make a marvelous companion to the book.
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171 of 188 people found the following review helpful By Red on Black TOP 500 REVIEWER on November 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover
One of the joys of being resident in the UK is the presence of the wonderful BBC Radio 4 a channel with which listeners have a true lifelong love affair. To Dear American chums a quick scan across the internet to the BBC "i" player will find this rich source and life will be all the better for it. Radio 4 challenges, it provokes and gets as near to that much sought after but rarely achieved quality "the heart of the matter" as is humanly possible (the probing questions of presenters on the Today programme makes me think that democracy still has a fighting chance). The channel also carries many brilliant series of which "A History of the World in 100 Objects" by Neil MacGregor is a prime example, even the trailers leading up to its broadcast in January this year were great. What a pleasure therefore to have copy in the written word of this weighty book (738 pages) to accompany the series and to revisit the passion and authority of Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum and cultivator of fabulous facts.

The whole premise underpinning this epic journey was predicated on a wicked idea conceived by Mark Damazer, then head of Radio 4 to challenge our hugely knowledgeable bods at the British Museum to undertake a somewhat mischievous and loaded exercise. Indeed on the surface any attempt to tell a rather large tale like the history of the world over a modest 2 million years in this manner seems like a piece of First Class honours inspired lunacy. "Baby and bathwater" is the phrase that comes to mind and even if the radio series and the following book were outright bilge you would at least have to give Neil MacGregor three stars for accepting the challenge and embracing with gusto the humongous concept.
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66 of 70 people found the following review helpful By Jerry W Schoen on December 26, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book is extremely well written but not concise -- think of it as musings over the evolution of human civilization rather than as a history book. It is broken down into short 100 chapters making it ideal to as a relaxing read before bedtime. Only wish I would have thought to gotten the videos.
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31 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Daniel B. Slocum VINE VOICE on November 10, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm afraid I must respectfully disagree with other customers in the review section. For the price, this is a FIVE-STAR book. It is illustrated beautifully with full color photographs. I have the hard-copy and not the Kindle version (though I do own a Kindle). My guess is that the pages would present stunningly on the Kindle for iPad or Kindle for Mac. I also have a Kindle E-ink reader. I doubt it would show well on that last device. I noticed one of the reviewers criticized the photo quality. I must disagree. I find it to be top notch. It is presented in a matte format rather than glossy print.. so my guess is the reviewer would have preferred the glossy versions. I, on the other hand, love the matte finishes on all the photographs which are nicely crisp and detailed.

EXCELLENT book for the price. A perfect gift for a history buff. I love it and I bought it here on Amazon.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Betty on October 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I picked up this book when visiting the British Museum in July 2011. Now I wish I had waited and bought it form Amazon instead of lugging it around! Truly happy to see it for sale in the U.S. I am recommending it to my friends. Each chapter highlights a different item from the museum's collection. The chapters are quick reads. I find it fun to pick it up and read a chapter at random. A nice book to leave hanging around for guests to browse through as well. It is thick, though, not a big coffee table book. Generally, a nice collection of writings on a broad range of interesting museum pieces.
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57 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on November 25, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Books like this one help the reader to reflect on how we reconstruct history from objects that come down to us from the past. Inevitably, historical objects are interpreted in the context of our times and cultural narratives. Sometimes the historian sees what he wants to see and makes an object fit into a preconceived narrative of the past.

Some of the objects described in this book seem to me to have been over-interpreted in this way. This can be a danger when trying to understand historical objects from indigenous peoples now trying to assert their identity and place in history.

Occasionally, one favoured interpretation is presented as the likely truth, whereas there are a number of other equally plausible explanations. The fact is that we often have no way of knowing what the truth is - if, indeed, there is only one truth.

This is however a minor blemish on an excellent book. In fact it may not even be a blemish at all, in that it causes the reader to think about broader matters of historiography.
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