Friday, March 16, 2007

The Human Story

Summary of The Human Story by James C. Davis:
Davis, who taught history at the University of Pennsylvania, has taken on an unusual project—to relate all of human history in the simplest terms possible for the broadest audience possible. The chapter titles illustrate his method of abstracting large themes from a multitude of events—"The richer countries grab the poorer," for example, isn't a bad summary of 19th-century imperialism, but it does risk seeming remedial. At his best, Davis does for human history what Stephen Hawking did for the atom and the universe—take a step back from the details and translate them into common terms. But human history lacks the elegance of subatomic particles, so the book constantly flirts with a kind of riotous overgeneralization, treating immensely complex entities like "England" or "workers" as much as possible like single individuals in psychological terms. The method works better for events that are known widely but not in detail—an example is Stalin's purges—for which Davis can bring the reader a smattering of pungent details and move on. For more familiar subjects, the reader may feel the author is being glib. Davis elevates thinkers above leaders, devoting far more space to Newton and Darwin than to Napoleon and Caesar. It is refreshing to have a treatment of human life at once learned and optimistic, and one that so forcefully focuses on the primacy of ideas in our triumphant story.

I found reading this story of our history very entertaining. I am used to boring, dry non-fiction that is like pulling teeth to read. This was actually enjoyable, easy to read, and even included some humor. It's definitely something the average person can read and enjoy. In fact, I spent 4 hours one night reading it, which for non-fiction is quite a feat. I'd recommend this if you want a good overview of our history.

1 comment:

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