From Library Journal
Blainey, who published A Shorter History of Australia in 1994, now extends his efforts to the world. Another work about Australia, The Tyranny of Distance (1966), betrays his intellectual approach, namely, organizing his explanations around a single factor in this case, the effect of distance and technology upon society. Blainey discusses the various journeys humans have taken over the last four million years, the cultural contact that has resulted, and the factors that might have delayed or speeded up contact. For example, he explores the role of the Sahara Desert in the interplay among the various cultures surrounding that enormous barrier and shows that groups like the Mongols crossed huge spaces and barriers to influence peoples far from their homeland. Blainey also discusses the distances traveled by Islam, Christianity, and secular capitalism and the manner in which cultures located on different continents were and are influenced by such forces. Readers may complain that Blainey treats Africa only in light of its contact with the West, and that is true, but he does this for all cultures. He does pay more attention to Southeast Asia and Oceania than many historians, doubtless because of his Australian roots. Recommended. Clay Williams, Hunter Coll., CUNY
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Fire, agriculture, steam engine? Which was the most extraordinary development in human history? None of the above, Blainey provocatively proposes. It was the rising sea level attendant to the end of the Ice Age, which fragmented the land and created isolation and proximity--one of Blainey's key themes in this finely readable overview of the whole of human history. It takes some gumption, in addition to breadth of knowledge, to embark on such a writing project, for many of Blainey's readers will have their own views of the past. Accordingly, each will dispute some point he makes (e.g., in explaining the arguments in favor of using the atomic bomb in 1945, Blainey sensibly characterizes them as "always more persuasive to those on the spot than to those viewing it decades later"). But Blainey has an uncanny adroitness in anticipating criticism, and the result is a broad-brush narrative that flows smoothly and often profoundly. Fits libraries like a glove. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved