A History of the World in 100 Objects
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140 of 145 people found the following review helpful
"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
on November 21, 2010
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. Yet he succeeds triumphantly and as the BBC blurb states he sets out in copious detail the sheer importance of "A chipped stone that was one of the first things ever made by human hands; a clay tablet telling the story of the great flood centuries before the Bible; a broken hunter's spear dropped by one of the earliest settlers in America; a hoard of gold abandoned in the Wars of the Roses ... every object tells a story" The use of this quote shows just how bloody difficult it is to summarize the sheer diversity of the subject matter and scale of the challenge that the author faced. I frankly remain in awe of his herculean task not least of all for his chapter on the English pepper pot dating from 350 BC which should be required reading for every child of school age. Most of all he understands the true value of encyclopaedic knowledge, in short the ability to illuminate through a fine selection of the facts while at the same time employing the skills of the story teller and then re-connecting his narratives with the present.

Certainly it is true that the hugely hyped and momentous unveiling of THE one object that defines the modern age was somewhat of a disappointment (I will not spoil it - read the book). That said you suspect that MacGregor probably faced the same horrific challenge as Douglas Adams encountered in "The Hitch-hikers guide to the galaxy" coming up with something simple but clever enough to answer the Ultimate Question. Anyway give him a break since he was probably in need of a rest by this time.

To his eternal credit it is understood that as a result of the radio series and now this book, citizens of our curious nation have been flocking to Bloomsbury to seek out the hereto unknown treasures/pleasures of the British Museum and examine for themselves the Mexican ceremonial ballgame belt (AD100-500) and yes the good old pepperpot. Satisfying the other key factor of the whole exercise is that some of more obvious choices that he could have gone for are ignored at the expense of the more quirky but equally illustrative. This then is a wonderful book, full of lavish illustrations and crystal clear maps. And yes I know that times are hard and deep cuts stalk the land but "A History of the World in 100 Objects" by Neil MacGregor is a fairly priced volume full of unparalleled treasure and should be included on all lists heading up the chimney to Santa in the next few months.
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66 of 70 people found the following review helpful
on December 26, 2010
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
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
on October 4, 2011
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 68 people found the following review helpful
on November 25, 2011
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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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on December 5, 2011
Very good in general, but the pictures should be better. In all cases the background is flat black, which is dull and lowers the contrast when the object is also dark or is illuminated with insufficient light, as some are. In some cases, there are better pictures in the web site. Also, the dimensions of each object should appear in the picture.
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19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
In this age of tweets and soundbytes, it's almost hard to believe (yet refreshing) that someone would have the poise to write a volume like this.

My only complaint is the quality of the paper and the binding, which aren't top notch. But for the price, I can't complain. I hope it was worth the author's while.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon November 21, 2012
It is Neil MacGregor's passion for sharing his enthusiasm and knowledge that makes this book such an enjoyable read. I heard a few of the programmes when he presented 'A History of the World...' on Radio 4 and was surprised at how interesting he could make a discussion of objects that we couldn't see. The same thing applies to the book. Although there are small black and white pictures of each of the objects and a few colour plates of some of them, mostly we have to use our imagination based on MacGregor's descriptions. This doesn't detract from the interest though because in reality the objects are merely jumping off points for MacGregor to discuss the various cultures that have arisen and faded during humanity's reign over the world.

Each bite-size piece focuses on one period of time in one place but they are grouped into time periods and themes which show the different cultures which shared the planet and how they interacted, or didn't, with each other. For me, this was a novel and very effective way of looking at world history. Like most Brits, I expect, my knowledge of British and European history far outweighs my knowledge of the history of the rest of the world. MacGregor uses themes such as The Rise of World Faiths and The First Global Economy to show the differences and similarities of what was happening across the world at roughly similar times, and to show how trade and commerce influenced almost every part of the world by disseminating ideas and values along with goods.

At times I felt I wanted to know more about a particular subject and found that a little frustrating, but this book could be seen in some respects as a taster to inspire the reader to look for more extensive histories of the cultures and periods that most interested him/her. Enjoyable, educational and inspiring - what more could you ask from a history?

PS The title of the review refers neither to Mr MacGregor nor myself thankfully - but to George Smith, first man to decipher the Flood Tablet - Chapter 16.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
TOP 100 REVIEWERon October 20, 2012
Just to add my voice to the chorus of praise for this excellent book. It is a delight - erudite, beautifully written, thoughtful and remarkably readable. I haven't much to add to the existing reviews here and in the press, other than to say don't skip the introduction which I found quite excellent and extremely interesting.

All the superlatives which have been heaped upon the book are - somewhat unusually - quite justified. This is a terrific book which will give enormous pleasure. Very warmly recommended.
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