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A History of the World in 100 Objects

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  7,404 ratings  ·  710 reviews
Neil MacGregor's A History of the World in 100 Objects takes a bold, original approach to human history, exploring past civilizations through the objects that defined them.

Encompassing a grand sweep of human history, A History of the World in 100 Objects begins with one of the earliest surviving objects made by human hands, a chopping tool from the Olduvai gorge in Africa
Paperback, 614 pages
Published June 28th 2012 by Penguin (first published October 25th 2010)
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Nandakishore Varma
Apr 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
I visited the British Museum recently. Due to the shortage of time, I decided to take the one-hour tour suggested by the brochure: a visit to ten objects separated across various galleries, spanning historical space and time. Even though it was a good introduction, and gave me a taste of the museum as a whole, I was strangely dissatisfied: it was rather like cramming for an exam where you end up with a lot of bits of disjointed knowledge.

As we were leaving the museum, I asked my brother-in-law (
Mark Lawrence
Jan 29, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a book I've been reading for a year at least. I think I got it for Christmas 2013. It's divided into 100 sections so it's ideal for dipping in to. It starts with objects of great antiquity from pre-history and moves forward, ending up with an object from 2010. There are black and white pictures of each object and periodically a bunch of coloured pages with photos of the items too.

The objects are interesting and well chosen to illustrate the cultures they came from and the changing techno
Jan 02, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Kitchen book method for people with a very low boredom threshhold. Like me.
I always have a kitchen book, it sits there waiting for me to have to do something or other that requires little concentration and then I read a bit. So while my immersion blender is immersed, on the whisk is automatically frothing, or I am just absent-mindedly munching away and pretending I'm not eating (view spoiler) or even I ...more
Apr 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Zanna by: Sally Bleasdale
Shelves: iran, native, environment
In the British Museum I usually feel nearly overwhelmed by conflicting emotions. I am ashamed of my country's heritage of colonisation and our seemingly unclouded sense of entitlement to enjoy the world's riches, and at the same time I am utterly seduced by this booty and plunder, and I'm shedding these useless White Tears and doing nothing to dismantle the master's house as it were. Reading this is perhaps too soothing at times, and I tried not to be soothed, and to keep seeing as many layers a ...more
Oct 12, 2020 rated it liked it
Another book that was bought for me as a present. The collection of objects featured is taken from the British Museum, although there’s enough in that establishment to allow the author to avoid Anglo or Eurocentrism, which he is careful to do.

Each object gets 5 or 6 pages, setting it within the context of its time and place. The intent of the book was to use the objects to build an overall narrative of human history. It was an ambitious aim and I’m not sure it was met, so for me the book ended u
Dec 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, nonfiction
A treasure chest, a Wunderkammer of human development explained and illustrated!

I have approached this book from many angles. I started by listening to the charming BBC broadcast. Fascinated by the different voices of the interviewees just as much as by the objects themselves, I fell in love with the concept of travelling the world, historically and geographically, on a quest to discover the diversity of man-made objects and look at them from different perspectives to tell their story in the wid
Aug 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone interested in history
If you are interested in history, you should read this book: 100 objects at British Museum, first discussed at BBC Radio 4 string of shows in 2010 (which explains the end year), with 5 objects discussed each time (thus the things in this book are put in groups of 5). The objects have been carefully preserved, or thrown away in piece, and everything in between, then found or bought or taken, and found their way to the museum. There are black and white pictures of all of them (though some would be ...more
E. G.
Jan 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Preface: Mission Impossible
Introduction: Signals from the Past

--A History of the World in 100 Objects

List of Objects
Text Acknowledgements
Mar 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: buddy, novelnotions
When Neil MacGregor released A History of the World in 100 Objects as a podcast in 2010 it quickly became a favourite. So when my awesome co-blogger TS sent me this book as a present I couldn't wait to rediscover some of the British Museum's amazing artefacts alongside my co-cloggers. Reading with TS and Celeste was fascinating, each person's knowledge bringing out different aspects of each chapter. They saw things in these stories and this history that I didn't. It was a pleasure to learn from ...more
Jan 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Celeste by: TS Chan
Shelves: non-fiction
A History of the World in 100 Objects was such a unique, fun, informative way to kick of not just a new year but a new decade. Unfortunately 2020 has proven itself to be a dumpster fire in almost every way, but I’m incredibly grateful for my co-bloggers, who are not only lovely people but my very best friends. We talk every single day, and even though I might never meet them face to face, these relationships are the most important I have outside of my family. TS sent both Emma and myself a copy ...more
TS Chan
Apr 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I used to dislike history lessons in school, and I could not reconcile that with my love and curiosity for ancient civilisations like Egypt, Greece and Rome. Now I know that the problem was with the dispassionate method of teaching employed at school.

I stumbled upon The Great Courses on Audible a few years back, and fresh out of my Vikings obsession then (thanks to the TV show) my first selection was a history lecture about these people of the north. Since then, I realised that history could be
I was going to give this to my brother for Christmas, and then I opened it before wrapping it.

Tough luck bro. But hey, you enjoyed Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942.

This book is absolutely awesome!

Originally done as a radio program, this book looks at the history of the world though 100 objects that are found in the British Museum. A few of the objects are obvious, the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles (strange, how Greece is quiet about those lately?), but most are not so
Nov 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
This does exactly what it says in its title. And it does so elegantly, entertainingly, educationally and beautifully.

However, it was not originally an illustrated book, but a BBC Radio 4 series! The idea of doing such an apparently visual series on the radio was extraordinary, brave... crazy even, but it worked brilliantly, and that is all down to MacGregor himself.

The radio programme was so good, I wondered if the book could compete, but it does, though if I hadn't been able to imagine his voi
Nov 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was fascinating. I read it a few years ago and am about to embark on a reread. It is/was the companion piece to an exhibition at the British Museum. It is based on the premise that most recorded history is written by the winners or rules out cultures who did not record their histories in written form or whose materials were organic and so disintegrated.
It is so informative , original in its perspective and also tells us about how more recent generations sometimes altered artefacts to show t
Roy Lotz
For our 101st object on our history of humanity, we have our first example of a printed book. Now, printing was invented a long time before 2010; but most of the surviving books were lost in the great purges of the Trump-Putin era. This book survived by being buried in rural Canada under a rock on a peninsula far from any population centers. Its owner must have known what was coming. We owe its discovery to the great potato recovery efforts of the previous decade, as the grounds were combed for ...more
May 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a great book. In some ways a light read - organised into a chapter of a few pages on each object - it nonetheless provides insights and analysis which catapults us into history. It brings history to life using everyday objects rather than lists of "great leaders", kings or battles.

Well worth a read.

UPDATE 23/4/20: The radio series is now being repeated on Radio 4 and BBC Sounds. A real treat in these difficult times
Roshani Chokshi
Since I've been on mandatory typing rest (and have to dictate everything, including this post) I've just been devouring as many books as possible. I picked this up after listening to the BBC podcast that came out a while back. For a book that a hefty 600 or so pages, this was utterly engrossing. I love how in each evaluation of an object it's put into the vast scope of human history. It's not a dry read at all, but packed with fraught emotional tension and urgency. I also appreciated that this b ...more
Dec 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
This is a marvelous book that looks at the history of the world by taking a look at 100 objects that now reside in the British Museum in London. The objects range from a crudely carved rock used as a tool to a solar powered lamp and charging unit.

By the objects we learn who made it and how they used it. We learned where the object was used and when. Each object was presented with a photo and short text. It's one of those books that does not have to be read from front to back all at once. I read
A lot of history and archaeology is conveyed in meaty lectures, or via dense scholastic tomes written for academics. Not in this instance. This is like sitting down to tea and crumpets with a fascinating friend, who is infinitely knowledgeable....yet who imparts that knowledge with a modest charm. In this book Neil MacGregor, head of the British Museum, describes some of the objects to be found in his museum.

For some reason I have never been very interested in archaeology, or ancient primitive o
Jeffrey (Akiva) Savett
I believe I learned more per page reading this book than any I've ever read. A tour through all of history using objects collected (stolen?) by the British Museum, this book is a bravura execution of material culture and archaeological studies. In fact, I used several entries with my Advanced Placement Literature class in order to expose them to effective and interesting "close reading." MacGregor does with objects what literary critics do with a passage of poetry: he describes the object (lovel ...more
Any history buff should be happy reading this book. Don't expect in depth analysis, because at an average of three small-type pages per object, you don't get too much information. However, since there are 100 objects and a lot of technical data about them, you do feel tired after reading even 50 pages. The scope is unbelievable - you'll find all the continents represented, a LOT of countries, and if a country is not specifically represented by an object, you might just find it as a reference for ...more
Oct 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Citizens of Earth
Recommended to Alan by: A trove of knowledge centuries in the making
The tl;dr (too-long; didn't-read) version of A History of the World in 100 Objects:
"We pillaged the world to collect these things, and now we will explain them to you."
The article that starts the title is significant, though—this book never pretends to be the history of the world. It is a singular slice through time and space, a selective view, that tries to be inclusive (and, for the most part, succeeds). It is limited, yes, but it acknowledges those limits gracefully.

Neil MacGregor does so
I love this book. I got it from my dear friend Dean, who is a museum professional, as a gift last Christmas. The reading of it has lasted me the entire year and has been a source of continual wonder. It consists of a series of short essays on 100 objects chosen by the director of the British Museum to tell the story of the history of the world. The objects are beautiful, inspiring, ingenious, inventive, compelling, challenging, complex, profound. I kept the book by my bedside. Sometimes I would ...more
Roman Clodia
Apr 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A generous and nicely eclectic approach to global material culture

MacGregor has done an excellent job here of turning modern academic approaches to material culture into a welcoming, intelligent and absorbing `popular' read. Organised around short chapters, each of which starts with an object from the British Museum, he then widens his perspective from the object itself to the society or culture which produced it, and what it might tell us about the world: not just at the point at which it first
Feb 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, history
Fascinating, both in the selection of objects and in the descriptions of what they are and what they (likely) meant to their original owners. The pictures are clear and uncomplicated, though I would have been happy with more details. MacGregor does touch, very briefly, on the controversies inherent in a collection largely based on plunder, but in a relatively superficial way. Honestly, I wouldn't have expected much more than that. That is not what this book is about, and it's a complicated issue ...more
May 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Five stars plus. Reading this book was like visiting an enormous museum with your own personal curator, who points out details you would not notice or be able to interpret and who paints a sometimes surprising picture of what each object reveals about the society and time it came from.

The British Museum picked 100 man-made objects from its collections, beginning with an Egyptian mummy and stone tools from Olduvai Gorge and ranging all over the world up to the present day, to talk about the hist
Jill Manske
A few weeks ago, I read a fabulous book (A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson) that was highly entertaining as well as very informative and educational. So when I saw this book on the new acquisitions shelf at my library, I eagerly took it home, thinking it would be of similar quality. Hmmm. This is a hefty book, in size and weight as well as subject matter. And it's very cumbersome reading, figuratively and literally. I like to read in bed before going to sleep, but this book was ...more
Annette Abbott
Nov 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I haven't yet worked out if this would be better if it were read cover-to-cover since I basically have read it by jumping back and forth. Having grown up in a world where most Americans had a set of Encyclopedia Britannica's in their home, I read this the way I would "read" an encyclopedia - by just cracking it open and reading an entry. It's informative, it has great pictures, you can start anywhere, read a few pages and be educated/amazed.

It is the history of man through 100 objects - all of
Jul 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
I am at a loss for what to rate this. On the one hand, it covers mostly the parts of history I’m interested in: ritual and domestic life, the things that tend not to be covered in Big History Books. And it’s interesting, and offers little bite-sized pieces of information about a lot of history and a lot of the world. But on the other hand, this book made me mad, so mad that I had to take several breaks while reading it to read other books and cool down.

This book has a narrative underlying the m
Jun 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've been having lots of fun browsing through A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor. The book chooses 100 objects from the British Museum to tell a story about the world. The date of the objects begin about 2 million years ago with a stone chopping tool (though this is the second object featured in the book). It is astonishing to think that we have things that humans made that long ago. Trying to imagine what life 2 million years ago must have been like is hard to do and filled ...more
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Goodreads Italia: La storia del mondo in 100 oggetti 4 31 Sep 18, 2012 05:16AM  

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Neil MacGregor was born in Glasgow to two doctors, Alexander and Anna MacGregor. At the age of nine, he first saw Salvador Dalí's Christ of Saint John of the Cross, newly acquired by Glasgow's Kelvingrove Art Gallery, which had a profound effect on him and sparked his lifelong interest in art. MacGregor was educated at Glasgow Academy and then read modern languages at New College, Oxford, where he ...more

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