Eileen Souza's Reviews > A History of the World in 100 Objects

A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor
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One of my early loves has been cultural anthropology. From a young age, I was fascinated with objects found through archaeology, not for the objects themselves, but for what they told us about other cultures. This book basically is a look at the history of the world - as told by objects found in the British Museum.

The goal was to choose items from the collection that ranged from the beginning of human history right up to the present day. They had to cover the whole world - as much as possible. They had to be from literate and non-literate cultures. They had to address many aspects of the human experience, and tell about whole societies - not just the rich and powerful - so they had to include humble items as well as great works of art. They also had to include information from experts and commentators from all over the world.

Each of the chapters covered a different object - with a full color picture or two of the object. The chapters were short enough for you to absorb the info, and packed with information about the object and its cultural significance. Every page was a new interesting fact, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading them all.

If I can provide a criticism it is that it was definitely told from the British perspective (pretty understandable since it was originally a radio program from the BBC, and from the British Museum). There are also no items from the city states that we now know were in North America - Cahokia, Chaco Canyon, etc. I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt that it's because they don't have these items at the museum. Still, I found it slightly annoying that we talked about the Aztec, the Olmec, the Maya, the Moche, and nothing north of Mexico - when in fact there were complex societies and trading routes that covered the entire North American continent. Finally, I'm not sure that I agreed with the items selected from the current period. Internet, airplanes, cell phones - the things that make our world global - were all missing. The closest thing to globalism was the credit card.

If I had to pick a top 5 most arresting/interesting objects, they would be, in no particular order:

Durer's Rhinoceros
Ife Head
Flood Tablet
Standard of Ur
Admonitions Scroll

It was hard to get this down to 5. I would say that at least 50 of the 100 were mesmerizing. what I appreciated most about this book was how it made me look at the objects and actions in my life and how they may be perceived by future generations. How would people of the future feel about my stamp on the front cover? What if my pantry were unearthed? What would they think about the pictures in my house? What do they reveal?

If you have any interest in history or culture, I recommend this book.
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