- Paperback: 416 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (February 17, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0393326454
- ISBN-13: 978-0393326451
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 17 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #779,109 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Brief History of the Human Race Reprint Edition
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Also the quality of the used book is very good.
Anyway I think this one is the cheapest i can find.
Much of what Cook has to say seems simple but is nonetheless thought provoking. For example, Cook poses the intriguing question of whether human history as we know it was, broadly speaking, the only kind of history that humans could have made. Specifically, was there anything inevitable about the development of farming and civilization, or might we have somehow "chosen" to remain nomads or hunter/gatherers or pastoralists? Having posed this question, Cook skillfuly compares the development of civilizations in both the new world and the old world, concluding that, given enough time and population, agriculture and a civilization of some sort are inevitable outcomes of human history.
Cook's work explores a number of other interesting questions, such as why human history as we understand it appeared when it did (it has to do with the warm period that began about 10,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age) and why writing appeared first in civilized societies rather than earlier among hunter-gatherers. Whether you agree with Cook or not, his answers to the broad questions of history are quite interesting, and his writing style is clear and enjoyable.
Keep in mind that Cook's focus is on the forest, not the trees. Although he discusses a few important historical events in order to make his points, "A Brief History of the Human Race" is a book about broad themes rather than a chronology of events. If you want to learn the basics of world history, you would probably do better to start with a book like J.M. Roberts' "A History of the World" (or his somewhat less weighty "Concise History of the World). But if you already know something about world history and you want to explore some big ideas that make sense of some of those facts and dates, Cook's "A Brief History of the Human Race" is a great place to start.
Farming began in the Near East - Mesopotamia (present day Iraq) - the birthplace of civilization, as every schoolchild learns. Interestingly, and logically, as Cook shows, the last place civilization caught on in the Old World was Western Europe - its best soils being too heavy for the available plow. When a heavier plow was developed halfway through the first millennium, cities sprouted and armies reaped the benefits.
In broad strokes (with accompanying broad maps) Cook credits geography, climate and natural resources for driving early advances. Cultural flow is more problematic - why did Greek culture spread while Egyptian did not? Or why did Buddhism wander to China while Hinduism stayed put in India? Cook raises many such tantalizing questions and explores what evidence there is, offering cogent theories of his own. And he shows how technological advances shaped larger movements - expensive bronze favoring elite rule, while cheap iron empowered the masses, for instance.
But if farming made civilization possible, monotheism began to shape the world as we know it. Christianity made its way through the scattered Jewish diaspora of the Roman Empire and was, as a political expedient, finally adopted as the state religion by Constantine. It then became attractive to frontier peoples as a trapping of civilization. Islam (Cook's specialty) solved a political difficulty by uniting two Arab tribes in Arabia to form a state, which then had the power to coordinate a wave of conquest, which resulted in the largest empire ever.
Cook organizes his book in four parts. He begins with an overview of prehistory and inevitable development and concludes with a question, "Toward One World?" which embraces the Islamic expansion, the European expansion and the modern world. Three-part chapters within each of these sections focus on broad geographical masses and the cultural developments within, then draw it all together by homing in on particular features: the complicated marriageability rules among the Australian Aranda, Chinese ancestor worship, caste and sexuality in Hinduism, Greek pottery and more.
Much is left out; much is simplified. Naturally. And the most interesting bits are the story-like chapter conclusions. But Cook uses these to illustrate his broader points and to show the individual peculiarities of human cultures. His writing is lucid, often witty, and seldom dry. And he gives an extensive "further reading" list for each chapter. A fine, thought-provoking, well-organized and succinct history of the last 10,000 years.