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The Human Web: A Bird's-Eye View of World History
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The Human Web: A Bird's-Eye View of World History

3.67  ·  Rating Details ·  568 Ratings  ·  47 Reviews
An original vision of world history that reveals the larger patterns of human cooperation and conflict from the earliest times.Why did the first civilizations emerge when and where they did? How did Islam become a unifying force in the world of its birth? What enabled the West to project its goods and power around the world from the fifteenth century on? Why was agricultur ...more
Hardcover, 350 pages
Published February 28th 2003 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 2003)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,281)
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Fletcher
Jul 13, 2011 Fletcher rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Do you need a quick refresher on human history from the rise of homo erectus to the fall of the Soviet Union? This book can get you there in just over 300 pages.
Rein
Apr 04, 2013 Rein rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The idea is good. To describe not the outside of history, but the inside of it, the processes that direct the flow of events. And not from one particular point of view (as f.ex. Marxists do), but taking into account various mutually independent factors, such as the spread of diseases and the speed of communications in addition to economic, political or religious factors.
However, the actual book leaves a lot to be desired. First of all, there were too many factual mistakes in the areas that I kno
...more
Adriaan Jansen
Jan 05, 2016 Adriaan Jansen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
In just over 300 pages, ''The Human Web'' summarizes the history of humankind, from the first steps our ancestors took on the African savanna some 4 million years ago to the beginning of the 21st century. The authors, father and son McNeill, use as a framework the ever expanding networks of human interaction, networks of exchange of information, of cooperation and competition.

The advantage of describing all of humanity's history and of using these framework is that it allows them to describe lo
...more
Jim
Jun 02, 2012 Jim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The best short history I've read. A great book to center your view of history to humanity an a whole. Some history books get lost in classroom academia with facts and a timeline. This one's focus is the story and the telling. It is short and to the point with an emphasis how we got to the present.

The McNeil's tell world history as an interconnected whole with the strands of the web increasing over time and pulling the disconnected parts together. They tell mankind's story in the same way as a
...more
Sense of  History
A World History in over 350 pages, some have done it, but not the way father and son McNeill have. They managed to put a new gridding over the complex evolution of mankind, namely that of evermore enlarging en more complicated webs, first locally (agrarian towns), than metropolitan (cities), followed by civilizations and finally the cosmopolitan worldwide web, starting from 1500 AD.
To look at history in this way is especially refreshing for the period between 3.000 BC and 1500 AD because it ill
...more
Mark Freckleton
Mar 12, 2010 Mark Freckleton rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An ideal companion to Gun, Germs and Steel, this book looks into human history as an evolution from simple sameness to diversity and then toward complex sameness. First people lived in simple, small groups, spoke only a few languages, and pursued a narrow range of survival strategies. As groups spread out across the world, broader cultural variety - more languages, differing toolkits, more social complexity. Through the growth of interactive webs, best practices spread, diversity declined, and c ...more
martha
The history of the entire human race in just over 300 pages. Dense and often slow but pretty interesting. I learned a lot about longstanding ecological connections between humanity and the planet: the domestication of wheat, goats, etc etc. It was good at drawing complex connections: alfalfa bacteria meant certain crops could be cultivated which could support certain types of horses which meant raiders could sweep into China from the steppes. Impressively done, alfalfa bacteria!

..... I know I ha
...more
Scott Pierce
Jun 20, 2015 Scott Pierce rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world-history
This book was assigned to the AP World History class of my daughter, Annie. I read it after the class was over in order to see what she, and the class, had been up to, and found it interesting, so finished it. Some of the more interesting points (to me) below:

- language was the most important aspect to increased human cooperation, but dance, ritual and art were important as well

- the first useful wool-bearing sheep were mutants, and then of course were bred for that trait

- caloric yield of milk
...more
Richard Reese
Mar 25, 2015 Richard Reese rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Cultural cheerleaders constantly shout about how lucky we are to live in an age of miracles, a utopia of technology and progress. Everything is just great (if you cram most of reality under the bed).

But the folks who rip off their blinders know better. They can perceive huge and growing crises that cannot be well addressed via the pursuit of shopping and entertainment. They can see that it’s time to learn, to think, and to change. Understanding how we got into this bog of predicaments requires l
...more
Andrew
Apr 09, 2009 Andrew rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Battle maps? Really, do we need battle maps in a world history book? Traces of cultural essentialism that seem a bit absurd. Such as mold-boarding creating more cohesive social units in parts of Europe, a fact that lingers in the general pleasantness the authors seem to notice while visiting these places....hmm.....

The human web idea is curious however, emphasis on broad and far-reaching cultural interaction in pre-modern times is an oft-overlooked fact.
Devon
Feb 24, 2015 Devon rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Definitely an interesting look at the development of human society, giving due coverage to development in non-Western areas for the world and positing reasons of why some societies were able to develop faster or more effectively than others. I do wish the book was more self-critical, however; rarely did the authors concede that there was disagreement about how events happened or how these events should be explained, and the book contains few citations. It'd also be nice if the prose was a little ...more
Will Redd
May 04, 2016 Will Redd rated it really liked it
Another entry into my Read Your Library series, continuing in the World History section of the library, this particular book takes a look at the spread of humanity throughout the course of history, picturing it like a series of webs that form and grow, eventually connecting or being overtaken by other, stronger webs.

Starting with the earliest forms of gathered humanity, the McNeills trace the growth and expansion of the human race from the early hunter-gatherer societies, to the shift to agraria
...more
Marc
Aug 12, 2013 Marc rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A World History in over 350 pages, some have done it, but not the way father and son McNeill have. They managed to put a new gridding over the complex evolution of mankind, namely that of evermore enlarging en more complicated webs, first locally (agrarian towns), than metropolitan (cities), followed by civilizations and finally the cosmopolitan worldwide web, starting from 1500 AD.
To look at history in this way is especially refreshing for the period between 3.000 BC and 1500 AD because it ill
...more
Grant
May 08, 2013 Grant rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Covering the history of the world in a mere 350 pages (including notes, bibliography, and index) is quite a challenge, but McNeill and McNeill found a useful metaphor to bind it together. Humans have, over time, formed more and more complex and interactive networks - the "world wide web," even before computers. Initially, these webs were local, perhaps a small city and its surrounding countryside. Then, local webs joined, however tenuously. Empires rose as more complex and wide-ranging webs, unt ...more
Sidpow
May 16, 2014 Sidpow rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very macro approach to history that weaves together a compelling and interesting perspective on the history of humans. Using the web as a focal point I was able to learn, remember and track the events of history as they related to the web. This was all a byproduct of the web though as the web and its consequences are truly the reason that this book was so good.

That being said, my ignorance forced me to take a lot of what was said as facts, and there were a lot of built in assumptions due to t
...more
Lucy
Oct 19, 2015 Lucy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: general-history
Liked the unifying theme of an ever-thickening web of human interaction throughout the book, yet...the narrative can be so dense to the point of being dry and boring! Definitely prefer "Maps of Time" to this book.
Trey Sanford
Though I found the premise/uniting theme of this book broad and convoluted, it did serve as a refresher on basic events in world history. Would be a great primer for someone new to the subject.
Lorena Gonzalez
It was very clear and it gave a very detailed summary of what has happened throughout history. It explains why certain events occurred and what those events led to.
Mikko
Dec 07, 2015 Mikko rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A great macro-history book that retells the human history in very broad strokes. Puts everything in perspective. A bit repetitive at times, though.
Matt
Dec 05, 2010 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-general
Not nearly as gimmicky as I thought. They did a great job of sticking with a theme and following it - not getting caught up in the details of history. The father wrote one of the most important and best books of all time (Plagues and People) and this book is almost as good. My only critique is that because they don't allow themselves to get caught up with the details, I am not 100% sure this book will translate to people who don't know those details. I know that I felt more comfortable with the ...more
Lia
Apr 14, 2014 Lia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A history of the world in a short version. I'm glad I read this book. It makes me see the world from different angle.
Matilda
Kesän koukuttava infopakkaus. Jos haluat lukea jonkun hyvän historiankirjan, lue tämä! Suomeksi Verkottunut Ihmiskunta.
Ed Callahan
Jun 07, 2013 Ed Callahan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: HIstory Teachers
Shelves: world-history
This is a great book for those who are either about to teach AP World History or are in the midst of teaching it. William and John McNeill emphasize the connections, the webs, which link groups and regions across time and space, something which is an important component of the AP World History curriculum. The focus on the webs means that certain finer details will be left out. Other works should be used to supplement this volume to provide the details. For those who are already working with more ...more
Emily W
Oct 13, 2014 Emily W rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in history
Recommended to Emily W by: University
Well, technically I didn't finish the whole thing, but I did my last reading for my Global History course today, so I'd say it counts.
This book was a really good overview of the history of humanity, told with an emphasis on globalisation which I liked. There is a lot of information to take in though, and at times it can seem overwhelming. However, if you have an history event you want to get a good overview for, and maybe view it from a different global perspective, this book is likely to have w
...more
Dtpilgrim
Course Lit.
Michelle
This book was a jam packed run through of world history. I gave it 3 stars because I had to read it quickly for a class so i think that created a little bias for me. Sometimes I felt like the author was having trouble getting his point across. I also felt as he started one thing, he would divert to another topic which was a little frustrating. Overall though an interesting book that really gets you thinking about how are society networks with other parts of the world and how it all originated.
Elliott
Sep 10, 2011 Elliott rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Anyone who wants to know a general history of the whole world should start with this book. In my World History graduate seminar we all agreed this would be the best book to read on world history as an undergraduate. Even if you've graduated college this is good.

The history feels a bit thick at times though. The conclusion is looped, as in you feel like it just ended because they didn't know what further to say. Otherwise it's pretty solid.
Elizabeth
This book is an amazing compilation of world history from the very beginning until present day. The McNeills provide intricate details and a logical chain of events to leave you wondering what will happen next to the human race. Everyone should read this book if only to better understand the reasons behind the challenges we face today.
Aubrey (Aubrey's Book Nook)
May 28, 2016 Aubrey (Aubrey's Book Nook) rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dnf
DISCLAIMER: I did not read this whole book. I skipped around a lot and read different sections, but I didn't read it all because I didn't have time and it wasn't the most interesting thing ever (read: boring).

Review NOT pending because I'm not into torturing myself.
I can't really give it a star rating since I DNF'd it.
Monique Pyylampi
Aug 16, 2016 Monique Pyylampi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting and memorable way of examining human history. The metaphor of the web will stay with me a long time to help me recall the basic structure of our progression. I wonder what the authors would make of this last decade of the electrification of the globe and internet vast progression beyond year 2000.
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