Customer Reviews


31 Reviews
5 star:
 (16)
4 star:
 (9)
3 star:
 (2)
2 star:
 (3)
1 star:
 (1)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favorable review
The most helpful critical review


119 of 124 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read for western-orientated history buffs
I feel that two things need to be accepted if this book is going to be appreciated.

First:

Roberts one-way-or-another justifies the emphasis that he places on Europe (and especially Western Europe) and (later) on America in account of the fact that these areas are largely influential in the world today. In this sense, it is more a history of the...
Published on June 5, 2005 by Jonathan (Kjudos)

versus
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Perfect for autodidacts
I've been a reading a lot of history in the last few years, each book an in-depth study of a particular period or country or a recurring theme. Quite often I realized that I didn't understand the offstage action, so I went looking for a broad-brush world history to provide some context for my *other* reading. If that's what you are looking for, this book is ideal...
Published on March 7, 2009 by Jason Devitt


‹ Previous | 1 2 3 4 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

119 of 124 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read for western-orientated history buffs, June 5, 2005
I feel that two things need to be accepted if this book is going to be appreciated.

First:

Roberts one-way-or-another justifies the emphasis that he places on Europe (and especially Western Europe) and (later) on America in account of the fact that these areas are largely influential in the world today. In this sense, it is more a history of the modern world - and of events that brought this about - rather than of the world as it may have been at any selected time in history. Given this logic, areas like China, for example, tend to receive attention more proportional to Roberts' assumptions on their place in the world at the time of writing, rather than in respect to how powerful and influential they may once have been (or may soon become).

Accordingly, this history starts off more-or-less in the traditional way, with much emphasis being placed on the early Middle Eastern / Mediterranean civilisations (the Sumerians, the Egyptians, the Greeks, etc). It then progresses comfortably to the rise and fall of Rome (and the Greco-Roman Empire) and then to the tumultuous rise of (especially Western) Europe to world supremacy. As we know, this then passes on to America and (for a while) Russia.

All the other main players, such as Japan, China, India, and the Ottoman Empire (to name only a handful) receive their due chapters (often with much emphasis on how they affected or otherwise failed to affect Europe). Then of course such civilisations as those once belonging to the Americas get their coverage partly because we've heard of them, partly because it's important to see how Western civilisations swept them away, and partly (I venture to say) because without the Americas the book would hardly seem geographically balanced.

What I am getting at here is that this book might disappoint some people who want for a more balanced perspective on history, but it shouldn't significantly bother anyone who is happy to read the chain of events as outlined above. As I have already touched upon, some justification can be found in the fact that Roberts is really more interested in giving us a history as far as it has shaped today's world. Another thing to bear in mind is that it is merely a one volume book, and as such much of these limitations are quite unavoidable. This is the first thing that a reader must come to accept if he or she is going to enjoy this book (and readers who are looking for a more balanced and thorough account need to appreciate that they will ultimately have to read a great many related books). After all, there is much history to be understood from this book, even if it cannot hope to fit the whole history of the world so neatly into only one volume.

Second:

The other thing to accept or appreciate is more a matter of the book's register. For example, it may help if the reader already has some general historical knowledge; it is very much a book for people who are already fascinated by history. (There are much more entertaining reads for those who are relatively new to the subject. Try something by Giles Milton, or read something more specific - say, about WWII, or any other particular history that interests you.) In other words, I doubt this is a book to inspire in the uninitiated a new found love for historical literature, but if you already have this love then this book will do much to further your interest and consolidate your knowledge.

By way of another example, I am at the moment two-thirds of the way through reading 'The Penguin History of Europe', by J.M. Roberts - I have already read many similar histories (such as 'Europe: A History', by Norman Davies) - and I find Roberts' style to be very similar in both books. It is in no way nearly as balanced or compulsive as other reads (Davies' book is brilliant for this), but it is thorough, educational, and mostly enjoyable, and it keeps me turning the pages. However, it may say something to add that I have read perhaps seven or eight other books since starting on this one if only to keep it light, and so neither reads are easy.

Overall, 'The New Penguin History of the World' is a thoroughly good book. It is mostly interesting, always educational, and it pretty much accomplishes what it sets out to do. If you can accept the near-inevitable Western emphasis on this book, and if you are already something of a history buff, then I am sure that you will fully enjoy this read. I may have found it a challenge - sometimes getting through a chapter could be nearly overwhelming - but this reflects more on the depth of the work than on the style in which it is written. It is much to say for the book that despite the density of the thing it kept me happily turning the pages for weeks on end.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


47 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Roberts' great triumph, January 31, 2006
By 
David N. Reiss (Haymarket, VA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This is the last edition of the book there will be. Roberts died soon after he finished this book. The original one volume "History of the World" was the best one volume world history book in existence. The update is well worth the price for it as well. I own several editions of the book.

I would compare the excellence in quality of the book to the 11 volume "Story of Civilization" series by Wil Durant. Of course, Durant's works are in many cases outdated today. Roberts updated his work in order to "fix" things where evidence has leaned one-way or-another over the last several years, as well as to bring it up-to-date with the fall of the Soviet Union and the new global supremacy of the United States.

Of course, Roberts only hits the highlights. But he doesn't ignore anything; even so-called minor issues are discussed. In many ways, he is outlining how the modern world came to be the way it is. All too much of what passes for history now a days is really little more than gossip about minor events in the relatively recent past. The grand sweep of historical events is often lost. Looking at well sells as history books today can make one cringe that somebody would read something, let alone write it.

Because people lack and true appreciation and understanding of history, they seem to be electing leaders who also lack the willingness to learn from past events. Democracy is on - at the very lest - a tenitive rise. Leaders need to know how Rome or Britain affected things in the modern political landscape. Churchill made decisions that are still being played out in the Middle East and Iraq today. Roman and even ancient Greek leaders had to deal with the issues of in the Balkans in southeast Europe over two-millennia ago. You can't fully understand the former Yugoslavia without understanding Roman province carving and its long term affects on world history.

How can leaders hope to make the best decisions if they don't understand the causes of the original problems? And since democratically elected leaders are, at least in the West, the norm now, people need to understand history in order to recognize people who understand it.

Roberts tries to restore the grand scope to the matter of human history. Something people and our political leaders seem to have very much lost sight of now. True History, the whys and wherefores need more attention.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


72 of 82 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An updated version of ISBN: 0140154957, October 27, 2004
By 
C. Goss (Austin, Texas) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Not having read his older version I have no idea how it compares or how much has been changed and/or added. My first attempt at a straight through read of a book on the subject, I am confident I made a good choice in picking up this particular book.

Some have said that this book suffers from an over-abundence of euro-centrism. I would disagree. If your conception of a fair portrayl of world history is the collection of "national" (for lack of a better word) histories each given an equal amount of attention (or even an amount of attention proportinate to their achievments within their borders), then this book will certainly not satisfy you. In this book, great civilazations (such as the chinese, japanese, and native americans) that were more isolationist in ideology get compartively little attention because they contributed compartively little to the lives of those living outside their oversight. Therefore, in selecting national histories to focus on, Roberts spends a large portion of the time discussing the history of europeans because they played a large role ("for better or for worse" he acknowledges) in the histories of other people. That europeans, for better or for worse, have succeded more then any other people in spreading their idealogies and influences is less a matter of opinion and more a matter of fact.

So if you are interested in a 1200-page, slightly sophisticated introduction to world history, with a particular focus on war and economics, I would heartily recommend this book.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Tapestry of Recorded History, November 16, 2009
By 
Dianne Roberts (Los Angeles, California United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
There are two ways to write history, one as a tapestry that follows the threads of social themes continuously through the ages, the other as a mosaic that jumps from major event and personality to major event and personality. The New Penguin History of the World is solidly in the first camp, more a social history tracing such things as economics, politics, and religion than a compendium of the events that resonate most loudly in our past. Each approach has its pros and cons. The mosaic can oversimplify as the author attempts to crystallize long term and continuous trends into discrete events but it also provides clear milestones of major changes and their consequences. The tapestry can weave a more continuous story of important topics one at a time but can veil as much as it reveals. Sadly this book veils and clouds a lot more than I think it has to.

For the positive I cannot give the book anything less than four stars because it is simply a breathtaking achievement, literally a history of the world from "cave-man" times (obviously analysis of anthropological evidence and not "events") to around 2007 (updated by a second author for the more recent years after Mr. Roberts' passing.) It also does an excellent job of filtering out the most important aspects of such a giant topic, and even at 1188 pages of densely packed text can only scratch the surface. In the end you will be put on an excellent footing for further reading on nearly any subject of history and to be able understand it in its comprehensive context by reading this book. It is thus eminently worth it. (Even though, it can literally take months to read.)

However some negatives did detract. Although a "tapestry" as explained above it doesn't really draw any sweeping conclusions of convincing or profound nature (it does make a small few attempts), something of a lost opportunity given its amazing scope. As a matter of fact he is rather open about tending to avoid such conclusions. Any judgement from history would be non-final and arguably biased but I would rather hear the author's best and most insightful stab at it and then think over whether I agree or disagree than be left with nothing to mull over. However this is not to say that he doesn't provide any attempts at explanation, he does sometimes, and it's a sad disappointment that the whole world appears a nail. Mr. Roberts wields the hammer of "overpopulation" and this becomes the reason for every ill almost any society throughout history has encountered. Demography is certainly one of the most powerful forces driving history on a scale such as this, but the author seems to lack any imagination or will to attempt other perhaps more plausible explanations for many world events. Near the more recent part of the book you can see more clearly that the author also brings a progressive bias. Although there were many small cases (far more praise for Democratic US presidents, backhanded compliments for the Republican ones, reform always being described as necessary and change always described as good, etc.) the thing that struck me most egregiously was that in his page or two on Mao Tze-Tung he spent more time on the fact that Mao wrote poetry than he did on the fact that Mao has the blood of more people on his hands than any other person who has lived in history. Mao is ultimately presented as a great modernizer who made some missteps along the way. A small example, but one that for some reason I felt particularly telling.

Nonetheless the drawbacks do not approach undoing the value of reading the book. A great, solid foundation for learning world history, one that I am glad to have read and makes me interested in further detail reading.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Perfect for autodidacts, March 7, 2009
By 
Jason Devitt (San Francisco, CA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I've been a reading a lot of history in the last few years, each book an in-depth study of a particular period or country or a recurring theme. Quite often I realized that I didn't understand the offstage action, so I went looking for a broad-brush world history to provide some context for my *other* reading. If that's what you are looking for, this book is ideal.

It is Euro-centric. But if you are interested in how events in one part of the world affected another, for long stretches of world history what happened in, say, Japan had no bearing on anyone but the Japanese.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Best of the West..., August 2, 2005
I must sadly agree that there is simply not enough coverage of many regions and their rich histories: Roberts' unfortunately places too much emphasis on the flowering of Europe and its tremendous, ambivalent impact on the rest of the world. For those of us who might have been intrigued by finding out more about the Muslim heritage in SouthEast Asia (and its dialogue with Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism) - or the kingdoms of Benin, Congo, or Oman - the book is, on that score, a disappointment.
So why four stars?
Because the book is nonetheless VERY VERY GOOD. Roberts is never dry or dull, and attempts to be judicious and coolly objective. His partisanship is I suspect structural, not rhetorical. Narrative history at its best is enthralling, provocative and entertaining. This is narrative history close to its best.
And those who feel the need to castigate Roberts for any reference to September 11, 2001 should be aware that Roberts mentions that tragic event to argue AGAINST the defining role in world history that many have claimed for it. He is according it its PROPER place against the polemics surrounding it.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exhausting but excellent, November 24, 2010
By 
MT (Santa Barbara, CA USA) - See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
It took me two separate mult-week sessions to complete this tome, about 1200 pages of small print, but it was well worth the effort. Reading this book gave me a much better Big Picture grasp of human history. Of course a single book covering thousands of years of history is going to pick and choose what to devote attention to, so anyone can nitpick the choices, but it's really a great accomplishment.

The first half of the book covers pre-history through the Middle Ages, and the second half proceeds from aroung 1500 to present day. Although there is a general focus on the Western world, there is still a good deal written about China, India, and the Muslim world, though certainly not in proportion to population. Africa receives some treatment, but a relatively small amount.

I would probably not recommend this to high school students, unless their attention span is significantly above average. It's well written, but you have to want to learn about the subject.

Summary: well worth the many hours!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First rate, June 7, 2008
Roberts is a master of the broad brush, managing to make world history a page-turner and 1200 pages seem like 300 (or so). Because the subject's so large, it always feels like you're moving at high speed and observing from high above. There's little room for detail, but that's the nature of world history. The beauty of it is that Roberts makes connections and observations of patterns, and we're able to do the same, which wouldn't be possible in a history of smaller scope with more detail (of course, we need both).

One particularly valuable example is the context in which he places the American Revolution and subsequent US expansion. At the time, the revolution was a relatively small matter and Europe was focused on more important things. After the war, Britain controlled the seas and also controlled the territory north of the new nation. With a weak power (Spain) controlling much of the areas south and west, and with France checked by Britain in North America, the US was able to expand in an essentially invisible bubble of protection created by Britain. It was in Britain's interests to let this weak little English-speaking upstart expand rather than allowing another European power to fill the relative void of North America (it doesn't make it right, but one of the European powers would have done it if the US hadn't). A little deflating for our national mythology, but isn't that one of the purposes of history done well?
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Valuable Primer, July 12, 2011
By 
*Caveat: I read the third edition of this of this book, so my comments do not address any additional material or revisions added since then, but I am posting this review under the newest edition so that as many people as are interested will see it.*

First let me say that I would recommend this to anyone who feels grossly under-informed by the (at least in American schools of my experience) formal education in history they received in public schools. I would argue that a book like this might even be of notable value to a full-time student of history at a good university, because rather than taking a piecemeal approach, it attempts to formulate an overarching thematic narrative, to draw all the disparate knowledge of different regions and epochs into a unified, and therefore comprehensible, whole. For this reason too, it is immensely valuable to the reader cultivating an initial interest in history. For this reason I would recommend it as an overall introduction, or primer.

I know what you're thinking: "A 1000+ (densely packed) page primer?" Well, for a subject this massive, that is precisely what we need. Some reviewers have noted that some minimal knowledge of history is necessary to comprehend this book, and it is true that you won't understand everything if you are completely clueless. But I think this is true of almost any non-fiction. As much as is possible, Roberts explains everything as clearly as space permits, not assuming prior knowledge. But so much is covered, that the reader must adopt some approach to digest it all. I recommend stopping every now and again when you come across a peoples or figure you are unfamiliar with, and do a web search. By connecting the events with the contemporaneous art, architecture, etc, it will enrich the information and be much easier to retain; such embellishments (beyond maps) were simply not practical for a book of this magnitude to remain in a single volume.

This brings me to the somewhat unique format of the book. It seems to endeavor to be as long and as dense as possible while remaining publishable as a singe affordable volume. At times I found this approach questionable, but I must say if you are using the volume for reference you will no doubt appreciate it. By the way, this book is wonderful for reference. Although I thought the index ought to have been somewhat more comprehensive, it includes the most immensely useful page headings, which describe the content of EACH and EVERY page. This is wonderful and makes the book a pleasure to browse, and if you read like I do, scanning ahead to form an idea of the upcoming chapter, you will find this pleasant and useful.

Roberts is even-handed about social, economic, and political issues. While there is a sense of informed, modern morality, it is in no way sectarian, and the assumptions he makes will hardly be contested by any educated person. When he goes beyond what would seem patently obvious, he is always deferential to other possibilities and views.

I will quickly remark on the idea some espouse about this (or virtually any history written in the west) book being "euro-centric." It can not be denied that one of this book's major thematic structures centers around the emanation and subsequent near-universal adoption of cultural and political institutions from Europe. However, Roberts does not deify or condemn this process, he only describes it. And I, at least, am convinced that it is not an overly exaggerated description. It is in no way bigoted or naive, though it is clearly a choice of perspective, which while entirely convincing, is certainly one among many defensible positions.

If this book has any major flaws, I would say that it is in some ways too ambitious, and in other ways not ambitious enough. It attempts to thread together almost every major event in history (at least to the degree which present scholarship and Roberts ability permit) into a single narrative idea; in this respect it offers a unique opportunity to build a coat rack in your mind to hang new ideas on when you continue to other, more comprehensive histories with more limited scope, or even a new found context for the next history channel documentary. However, this very comprehensiveness also in some instances obscures the theme and makes the narrative feel forced, and is, in any event, a chimera: no doubt even at its great length the history buff will find something important missing.

Even with these flaws and eccentricities though, I think this book is very unique in its approach, depth, and breadth, given its format. I highly recommend it and have not come across a similar work that stands up to it (feel free to comment if you have).
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good purchase, February 13, 2007
By 
The book is helping me reviewing my knowledge on world history, with vivid approaches in simple language. It is specially advisable to people whose mother-tongue is not english as is my case.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 2 3 4 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

Details

The New Penguin History of the World
The New Penguin History of the World by J. M. Roberts (Library Binding - April 25, 2008)
$21.00 $20.98
In stock but may require an extra 1-2 days to process.
Add to cart Add to wishlist
Search these reviews only
Rate and Discover Movies
Send us feedback How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you? Let us know here.