Kevin's Reviews > An Intimate History of Humanity

An Intimate History of Humanity by Theodore Zeldin
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's review
Jan 12, 08

bookshelves: non-fiction, favourites, history, gender
Recommended for: lost hungry souls (everyone!)
Read in January, 2008

This is not a typical history book. It's perfect for someone hungry for knowledge but put off by history written as a succession of dates and wars by a detached, passionless author. Sometimes it almost reads like a self-help book-- but don't worry, cynics! It offers no quick solutions, only useful questions. Fluffy and condescending? Nay! Encouraging and inspiring? Yay!

Divided into chapters like "How humans have repeatedly lost hope, and how new encounters, and a new pair of spectacles, revive them" or "Why there has been more progress in cooking than in sex", it attempts to understand what humanity means by telling the stories of both anonymous people alive today (mostly French women the author interviewed) and historical figures (often those forgotten or undervalued). It's very ambitious.

There was a point about two-thirds of the way through when I felt almost overwhelmed by the scope of the book, particularly in the way it lays out so many contradictory opinions on how one should live one's life. But this is the nature of humanity, isn't it? Some of his interview subjects seem to contradict themselves within the same breath but they probably don't realize it. I think the book demands to be read slowly, maybe even dipped into again over the years.

Another great thing about it is that each chapter ends with a sample of Zeldin's sources, a suggested reading list, so you can further explore a theme, period or person of interest.
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