Tony'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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's review
Oct 17, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: history
Read in October, 2011

A HISTORY OF THE WORLD IN 100 OBJECTS. (2011). Neil MacGregor. *****.
This is a fascinating book assembled and written by the current Director of The British Museum. It is also a massive book of well over 600 pages, printed on heavy stock paper. (WARNING: Do not attempt to read in bed. If dropped on a sleeping body, this book could cause severe and lasting damage.) What the author has done was select 100 objects that are in the museum’s collection that span the age of man, from an Oldubai Stone Chopping Tool (1.8 – 2 million years old) to a solar powered lamp and charger manufactured in Shenzhen, Guandong, China, AD 2010. Each object allows the author and other experts to tell about the world that existed at the time of each. It’s a fascinating way to learn history, most of which was not covered in any standard history course you might have had in school. The other thing it does is provide the reader with scores of factoids that he can use at the next social gathering to “wow” his friends. In discussing the chopping stone and its use in food preparation, the author notes: “The brain is an extremely power-hungry mechanism. Although it accounts for only 2 percent of our body weight, it consumes 20 percent of our entire energy intake, and it requires constant nourishment. Our ancestors of nearly 2 million years ago secured their future by giving it the food it needed to grow.” When, later, talking about a pestle (6,000 to 2,000 BC), the author mused: “Why would people choose to grow food that they can eat only once it’s been soaked or boiled or ground to make it digestible? (A) Professor of Archaeological Science at Cambridge University sees this as an essential strategy for survival. ‘As the human species expanded across the globe, we had to compete with other animals going for the easy food. Where we couldn’t compete, we had to go for the difficult food. We went for things like the small hard grass seeds we call cereals, which are indigestible if eaten raw and may even be poisonous, which we have to pulp up and turn into things like bread and dough...This was how we gained a competitive advantage – other animals that didn’t have our kind of brain couldn’t think several steps ahead to do that.’” When we get to an early Victorian Tea Set (1840-1845, Staffordshire, England), we learn “In the 1840s the Duchess of Bedford introduce(d) the ritual of afternoon tea, because by this time dinner had become so late, seven-thirty to eight o’clock, that it was a bit of a gap for the British tummy between lunchtime and evening. For a while, there was a revival of tea-drinking as a sort of meal for sandwiches and so forth, around four o’clock.” I could go on and probably quote 100 little known facts, but I’d rather you read this book yourself. As I said in the beginning, it is absolutely fascinating. Highly recommended.
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03/30/2016 marked as: read

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message 1: by Caroline (last edited Jun 12, 2012 12:58AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Caroline I've just started reading this (my bookmark is on page 63), and I am loving every single paragraph, what a wonderful achievement on the part of Neil MacGregor!

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