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50 of 58 people found the following review helpful
on February 18, 2007
Each semester, history instructors must select the required reading materials for the next semester's classes. A conscientious teacher might drown in the many options. There are always new titles to fill the captive demand for required purchases. Increasingly, these options come with new bells, whistles, digitized archival collections, and promises of the latest breaking scholarship. That text over there provides a web based bibliography, this one a helpful and hyperlinked timeline. Over here we have a "pedagogical media system" interfacing with the lecture through PowerPoint slides, and boasting a Pod Cast library for additional streaming course content.

Tending to be an easy "mark" for these techno enhancements, I strive to find new ways to cram more content into any history unit. Yet I have been begging any press that would listen for one simple innovation--a textbook. Unlike most available textbooks though, this one would be interesting. It would lead students toward better study habits, shepherd them into more recent ways of thinking about history, and it would show--by example--how to cite their sources in a scholarly manner. I usually suggest that the press find an author who actually teaches undergraduate students.

Robert B. Marks' _Origins of the Modern World_ answers my pleas. So before I get into the text of the textbook, please indulge this instructor's very quick applause for several important features. First, the book is printed in a clear type intended to be read without a magnifying glass. Second, it uses the same citation style most historians require students to use in term papers. So the smart young student in the Che tee shirt will not be pointing out that the textbook fits the syllabus description of plagiarism. Third, the helpful, web based "Study Guide" is not password protected. Even the students who bought used textbooks (and who does not when they are available?) will have fair access. And the reasonable list price of $21.95 means more students will actually purchase the book. Thank you Rowman & Littlefield!

But these are just the beginning of the reasons to assign this book.

Recent scholars have become less comfortable with narrations of world history written as European (and European-American) interactions with everyone else. (The term "everyone else" here is intended to include most of the people alive at any given time.) Recognizing this, most textbook authors have made symbolic nods toward some of the recent findings of our most innovative global and ecological historians. Too often, however, the typical undergraduate textbook is still arranged around the traditional verses in the "Rise of the West" epic: Egypt, Greece, Rome, Holy Rome, Imperial Nation State, Colonization, and "Western Industrialized Democracy." While this format allows a teacher to end the course on a high note, a patriotic gush just before the evaluation forms are handed around, global history is not the same as the history of American foreign relations. The author of this book reconizes this. Further, recent characterizations of history as interesting but irrelevant stories from the long-gone past do not explain to a nineteen-year-old why the subject is important enough to think about today. The vilification of "presentism" is a serious malpractice of history, which has perhaps more to offer than any field in explaining why things turned out as they have.

But Marks' Origins of the Modern World offers an updated synthesis of recent Global, Ecological, Economic, and Demographic history. A professor teaching undergraduate students, Marks narrates without jargon and he avoids obfuscating tangents into overly theoretical interpretations. The preface opens with the events of September 11, 2001, and his introduction presents a balanced view of the "G7" domination of global trade and international finance. So the question, "why should I--a college student in the twenty-first century--care to read any of this," hovers just above the text in each chapter. After a coherent introduction of about twenty pages, each of the following six chapters gets slightly longer and a bit more focused on finer strata of historical experience. So the book has been designed both to improve a conscientious student's study skills, and to blend nicely into a chronologically presented lecture.

The Origins of the Modern World aims at the undergraduate student in a world history survey course. But any teacher who has struggled with the question, "when did American Civilization begin?" will see other applications. Inexpensive enough to consider as a supplemental reading requirement in a traditional Atlantic History class or even for an American History survey, this well designed textbook will orient students toward broader awareness, both historically and within their own world. And this is exactly what history should do.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on May 26, 2009
This book strikes a good balance between readability and comprehensiveness: it is thinner than most history textbooks, and more conceptual than detail-oriented. What I found most interesting was the approach of viewing major trends in history (colonization, trade networks, wars) through the lens of economics. Most history I have read has been more about what happened, and has attempted to explain causes in terms of personality, religion, or culture, but not succeeding very well. Viewing history in terms of economics makes this book more about *why* things happened as they did. I loved that approach. Perhaps some historians (like the authors of the other books) would complain that such an approach is overly simplistic. I would disagree; economics seems to be, to history, what conservation of energy is to physics: a simple concept that shapes everything else.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Doesn't go as far with the main premise as it could, or indeed as the author seems to think he did. Fundamentally this is a work too slim and too general to really deliver the force of ecohistory promised in the main argument, and to an extent it runs into similar tension of the McNeil work of beign uncertain who the history is marketed towards. That notwitstanding there is a lot of value in here, and the focus on human history as told through impact on the environment, diffusion of diseases and overall ecological processes is a compelling standpoint. In particular the definition of an "ecological ancient regime" to the planet and the way it was shifted by trade, travel and more direct material control over the environment is a compelling one.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2012
Robert Marks' textbook narrates the flowing, interrelational nature of world history. From his ecological narrative approach history happens from a global (rather than Eurocentric) and processual(rather than event driven) scale. He tells the story of East meeting West, hating it; pulling back; lone traders, barbarians and militaries reopening trade relations; skirmishes; wars and cultural and technological systems advancing (or not). In all of that--nature and people live life.

Marks' generates his logic from a wide assortment of sociology, history and scientific sources. His ecological narrative is a synthesis of Andre Gunder Frank's and Kenneth Pomeranz' inclusion of China in global modernization. The global scale of the narrative counters the Eurocentrism that has propagandized most scholarly efforts in world history. Oddly I do not find a reference to Klaus Krippendorf's "Ecological Narratives" (Krippendorf, 2000). Krippendorf was my inspiration to investigate the potential for ecological narratives to tell of the enduring power of human agency to create global change rather than the classic historical methodolgocial tunnel vision on political and military events.

Your students will gain from this interrelational global history. The historical narrative provides a clear framework to place people and events in the great stream of human network expansion and integration. This book made history interesting to me. Since I read this book I have been on a historical biography and documentary film binge. Political Science courses will gain from the clarity of the integrated systems of trade development, technological advancement and political change. Although, Comparative Politics may need to consider a new scale. Comparative Politics could jettison the fragmented state centric resarch approach to focus on Comparative Global Networks that impact other global and regional systems and in turn shape national politics. A prime example would be the recent international economic restructuring that has since 2008 moved power away from the G8 state executives. The movement of global decisionmaking to the Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors of the G20 happened only with technological advancement and finanical networking. The unforeseen impacts of economic networking and restructuring created vulnerabilities at every level of political, distributive, and financial systems (derivatives, mortgages, employment, labor rights...). The personal tragedies brought on by the financial "black swans" are telling examples of the potential value of conceptualizing global history from the scale of the ecological narrative.

Cites
Krippendorf, K. 2000. Ecological Narratives:Reclaiming the voice of theorized others. In Ciprut, J.(ed).2000. The Art of the Feud: Reconceptualizing International Relations. Praeger Publishing. Connecticutt. Pp 1-26
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 30, 2012
I've used this work as one book among many in a "Historical Geography" course that largely focuses on why Europe came to dominate the world after ca. 1500 Common Era. It's still something to marvel at--how did Europe go ahead and conquer / dominate / subordinate much of the known world by about 1900 or 1920?

Some of my students like it a lot. It's not my favorite book, but it's a quick readable polemic about the state of the world economy ca. 1450 and after. It summarizes some of the research of Andre Gunder Frank and also / especially Ken Pomeranz.

I would describe the book as uneven--it's a bit "choppy," as if the unifying narrative is in part taken from the headings and subheadings that are used liberally to break up the text.

Many students find it more readable than _Guns, Germs, and Steel_, which is a real beast because of Jared Diamond's desire to keep telling us one more thing that he knows.

Offhand, I'll give it four stars out of five. Many of my students would give it four or five stars. At some points it could get 3 and a half--parts merit 5 stars.

I find the author's approach to be rather polemical--but it's a pretty good style for what he's doing.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 20, 2010
This book is a good general narrative of modern world history. It looks at events from a global perspective, not a typical Western or Eurocentric point of view. I had this book for a grad class, and really enjoyed it. It does not bog down in too much detail, but gives you a good breathe of knowledge. It is a good quick read and is not too dense. If you want a book over glorifying the West, Europe or the US, this book is not for you.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on April 27, 2008
Here's a historian who finally makes the connections! Mexican silver mines, Chinese silk and monetary policy, Indian cotton, tea, opium, railroads and coal in England. Food for thought and thoughts on food.

Why are America and Europe on top? Certainly not because of genetics or virtue. An entertaining but sobering read. I wish I could take Robert Marks' undergraduate course. Must be a great teacher!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 1, 2013
Right from the start Professor Marks walks away from standard Eurocentric models of modern origins to explore the milenia long interactions among all the world's peoples. This is a highly readable and cogent exploration of how the West came to a position of dominance, and how it might well lose it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 9, 2014
A great generalized look at World History while avoiding old Eurocentric ideas that once dominated the profession of history. Ok.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 23, 2013
Very informative and interesting book. I would recommend it to those who are interested in this type of book. Two thumbs up!
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