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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

3.68  ·  Rating Details ·  622 Ratings  ·  52 Reviews
World-historical questions such as these, the subjects of major works by Jared Diamond, David Landes, and others, are now of great moment as global frictions increase. In a spirited and original contribution to this quickening discussion, two renowned historians, father and son, explore the webs that have drawn humans together in patterns of interaction and exchange, coope ...more
Paperback, 350 pages
Published December 1st 2003 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 2003)
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Mar 23, 2013 Rein rated it liked it
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
Jul 13, 2011 Fletcher rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Feb 21, 2017 Jer rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
A very good, very broad overview of human history, perfect for those looking for an outline of the driving forces behind mankind's recent evolution, and for anyone re-orienting themselves with the history they may (or may not) have learned in secondary education. A great book to start with if you've found a new interest in learning some history, but don't know exactly what time, culture, or place to start with; as the narrative covers all of historical time, as well as a bit of prehistory in the ...more
Adriaan Jansen
Dec 09, 2015 Adriaan Jansen rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 02, 2012 Jim rated it it was amazing
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
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
Mark Freckleton
Mar 12, 2010 Mark Freckleton rated it it was amazing
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
May 20, 2011 martha rated it liked it
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
Apr 09, 2009 Andrew rated it liked it
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.
Nov 06, 2016 Agnes rated it really liked it
Richard Reese
Mar 25, 2015 Richard Reese rated it it was amazing
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
Pinko Palest
Nov 14, 2016 Pinko Palest rated it it was ok
Rather dull and workmanlike in places, and not very friendly to socialist ideas while discussing the modern world. And someone described this as a left-wing piece! In common with other historians who purport to be materialists, the two MacNeills draw a quite bleak view of human history, with very little on art or popular resistances.
Scott Pierce
Jun 20, 2015 Scott Pierce rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-world
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
Willow Redd
Apr 05, 2016 Willow Redd rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 05, 2012 Marc rated it liked it
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
Feb 19, 2013 Grant rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 24, 2015 Devon rated it liked it
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
Nov 02, 2010 Matt rated it really liked it
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
Apr 15, 2014 Sidpow rated it really liked it
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
Emily W
Mar 07, 2014 Emily W rated it liked it
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
Ed Callahan
Mar 31, 2013 Ed Callahan rated it really liked it
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
Jan 31, 2012 Michelle rated it liked it
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.
Sep 04, 2011 Elliott rated it really liked it
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.
Mar 15, 2016 aubreysbooknook rated it did not like it
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
Jun 23, 2016 Monique Pyylampi rated it really liked it
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.
Jun 11, 2008 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing
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.
Me ha parecido que los autores dominaban más la Historia Antigua que la Moderna y Contemporánea, a partir del Renacimiento, sus argumentos intentando que todos los avances se expliquen en función de "redes humanas globales", resultan un tanto apresurados.
Oct 19, 2015 Lucy rated it it was ok
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.
Pinar Gungor
Jan 19, 2014 Pinar Gungor rated it really liked it
It is well written book from a different perspective but after 1850s it lost its originality. I really enjoyed the connections they made in terms of "web". Good summary of history in 350 pages if you have some background.
Oct 17, 2015 Belleza rated it did not like it
Shelves: historical
This book tries to study world history on a very large scoop in order to give a general view. However, it fails to give the lecturer the links between different events that it describes. Can be a good pass time, but this is no book to read to earn real knowledge.
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