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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 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, and ends with objects which characterise the world we live in today. Seen through MacGregor's eyes, history is a kaleidoscope - shifting, interconnected, constantly surprising, and shaping our world today in ways that most of us have never imagined. A stone pillar tells us about a great Indian emperor preaching tolerance to his people; Spanish pieces of eight tell us about the beginning of a global currency; and an early Victorian tea-set speaks to us about the impact of empire. An intellectual and visual feast, this is one of the most engrossing and unusual history books published in years. 'Brilliant, engagingly written, deeply researched' Mary Beard, Guardian 'A triumph: hugely popular, and rightly lauded as one of the most effective and intellectually ambitious initiatives in the making of 'public history' for many decades' Sunday Telegraph 'Highly intelligent, delightfully written and utterly absorbing ' Timothy Clifford, Spectator 'This is a story book, vivid and witty, shining with insights, connections, shocks and delights' Gillian Reynolds Daily Telegraph


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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 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, and ends with objects which characterise the world we live in today. Seen through MacGregor's eyes, history is a kaleidoscope - shifting, interconnected, constantly surprising, and shaping our world today in ways that most of us have never imagined. A stone pillar tells us about a great Indian emperor preaching tolerance to his people; Spanish pieces of eight tell us about the beginning of a global currency; and an early Victorian tea-set speaks to us about the impact of empire. An intellectual and visual feast, this is one of the most engrossing and unusual history books published in years. 'Brilliant, engagingly written, deeply researched' Mary Beard, Guardian 'A triumph: hugely popular, and rightly lauded as one of the most effective and intellectually ambitious initiatives in the making of 'public history' for many decades' Sunday Telegraph 'Highly intelligent, delightfully written and utterly absorbing ' Timothy Clifford, Spectator 'This is a story book, vivid and witty, shining with insights, connections, shocks and delights' Gillian Reynolds Daily Telegraph

30 review for A History of the World in 100 Objects

  1. 4 out of 5

    Nandakishore Varma

    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 ( 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 (who is settled in England) what book I should buy from the museum, and he suggested the tome under discussion. He had listened to the original BBC radio series and liked it very much. Well, I have to thank him, because this book opened up a whole new vista on how we should view objects in a museum, and why my whirlwind tour left me disappointed. Well, I will be better informed during my next visit. How does one look at objects in a museum? I must confess that I had not given much thought to this subject until I read A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor. When I enter a museum, I usually wander around just gawking at the display and reading the info on the more interesting ones. Or, if I know about something specific that the museum is famous for (like the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum or the Narmer Palette in the Cairo Museum), I make a beeline for the object and spend some time gazing in reverential awe at it. After I spend what I consider a sufficient amount of time in the building, I come out, smugly satisfied at having “done” the museum properly. Neil MacGregor has taught me that I have been doing it all wrong. A museum is a history book (although a taciturn one) and once you have learnt the language of objects, a really fascinating one. Because unlike history written by humans, which can be true, embellished or outright lies, the history told by objects can never be false. But we have to tease it out of them: the effort has to be there on our part. Otherwise, any trip to the museum becomes just a sightseeing tour. This book is the written from of a series of talks given by the author, Director of the British Museum, on the BBC. In the preface and introduction, the author talks about the many challenges: the main one (absent from the book!) being the medium of the radio, where visual imagery is impossible. But then, he realised that this is also one of the strengths-because the listener is forced to use his imagination, not only for the object, but also for the story behind it. That is what one has to do while reading this book. Let the imagination roam free across space and time: as MacGregor describes the object, puts it in its historical context, and pulls in experts from various fields like art, literature, history etc. to give their opinions on it, the mind of the reader is engaged in a continuous dialogue with history. As we trace mankind’s origins from the Olduvai gorge in Africa to the interconnected modern world, the sense of linear time slowly disappears history starts looking like a geography of time. The book is written in small chapters of 5-6 pages each, five chapters (one working week of five days) forming a common theme. This structure is easily accessible, even to the miniscule attention spans engendered by TV shows and the internet. The book can be read through in one sitting, or savoured as small tidbits over a long period. However one does it, it does not lose its efficacy. MacGregor starts with one of the most popular objects in the museum - the mummy of Hornedjitef –as a curtain raiser. The remaining 99 chapters are largely chronological, spanning countries and continents over defined time bands the author has selected as historical themes. In the earlier chapters, these time bands are large, spanning millenniums: then they narrow down to centuries and finally to decades as history becomes more crowded and compressed. And we see mankind, which has been existing as isolated pockets of civilisation, slowly expand and get connected. For me, the most fascinating thing about this book was not the stories told by the objects, but what they left unsaid: I found myself musing about the people, long dead and gone, who must have handled these objects, many a time little knowing they would they would be enshrined and viewed by millions. For example, look at the Kilwa pot sherds (Chapter 60) from Tanzania: the housewife or maid who handled them- what might have they been like? What were they thinking as they washed, dried and cooked in these utensils? What would have gone through their minds when they finally threw them away? And (most importantly) the ordinary objects we throw away now – will they carry a similar message in a museum in, say, the year 2500? Or let’s look at objects from relatively unknown cultures, like the Moche Warrior Pot (Chapter 48) from Peru or the Taino Ritual Seat (Chapter 65) from the Dominican Republic. It is obvious that these are important objects, religiously and culturally; yet the culture remains a mystery to us. Once again, we can only recreate in our mind the ceremonies which might have been conducted with these objects holding positions of importance. Moche Warrior Pot Taino Ritual Seat There are also “famous” objects in these pages, like the Rosetta Stone (Chapter 33), the Parthenon Sculptures (Chapter 27) and India’s own Indus Seal (Chapter 13). Even though these objects are known to any educated person, MacGregor puts them in a new context and new light so that one learns to look at them anew. The Rosetta Stone Indus Seal In the Introduction the author says that this book could have been as well called A History of Objects Through Many Different Worlds. I agree. Each object sings a solitary tune: sometimes happy, sometimes sad, and sometimes even creepy. Put together, they create a beautiful symphony – the song of humanity, separated by time and space, over a million different worlds. This book opened my ears to that music. Museum visits shall never be the same again!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mark Lawrence

    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 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 technologies, beliefs, and challenges of the people who made them. If you regard the pieces as academic then they're pretty engaging. If you consider them for the lay reader / mass public ... then they're a little dry in places. It's an informative book, well written, wide ranging. If you're interested in history, both on the broadest scales and in considerable pin-point detail, then this is the book for you. If you're not really that bothered -then you may not get very far with it. It did encourage me to write a small piece in the same style for an object form the Broken Empire (the world my books are set in), which later helped me secure a gig writing for a multi-player Xbox game where a portion of the world building is delivered through the history of discovered objects. Join my 3-emails-a-year newsletter #prizes ....

  3. 5 out of 5

    Petra X living life blissfully,not through books!

    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)[because it's always fattening food I pretend I'm not eating, when it's cauliflower florets I'm all boastful to myself, look how I'm such a healthy eater! (hide spoiler)] or even I 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)[because it's always fattening food I pretend I'm not eating, when it's cauliflower florets I'm all boastful to myself, look how I'm such a healthy eater! (hide spoiler)] or even I'm waiting for the microwave to ting-ting-ting, I read a few pages. I like very heavy books for my kitchen books, ones that do better read slowly and digested rather than racing through the story, and this book was ideal. Not all the objects were as interesting as the next but the whole taken together was an informative, if extremely selective and narrow, history of bits of time and place that the author found interesting. And some British collector had at some point been to that place and stolen valuable artifacts for which were now availabe for this book in particular and, more generally, for the edification of the British Museum-going public (mostly tourists and estranged fathers who have to think of what to do with the children who visit at weekends when it's wet). Five stars if I'd been allowed to choose the objects and had someone very erudite, like the author Neil MacGregor, write about them. Four stars because his choice sometimes bored me.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Zanna

    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 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 as possible. Some of these objects came to the museum through violence, when the people who made them were deprived of any chance to speak for themselves, and MacGregor inevitably becomes a kind of vetriloquist, trying to speak on behalf of the silenced. And yes it must be better that we tell all of the truth we can find of these histories so as not to repeat them, but here is this bark shield dropped by the man who ran from the musket shots of Cook's guards in Botany Bay and even now the suffering and subjugation of the indigenous Australian population continues and it is not only a case of not repeating as thinking how we can make reparations. I hope that the objects help to open such conversations and make space for, not replace, the voices of oppressed people. One painfully literal exemplification of layering is the Sudanese slit drum that bears beautiful Islamic patterns, having been taken as booty in the Egyptian slave trade and recarved by its new owners, and also bears a British royal stamp, having been taken as booty again by Kitchener when his army took Khartoum in 1898. Twice stolen heritage of Black Africa standing in a gallery whose greatest early donor Sir Hans Sloane was himself a slave owner in Jamaica, as MacGregor reports in the chapter on a Victorian tea set, discussing the violence embodied in our national drink. I can't shake off my own colonisation. Another object that speaks insistently and uncomfortably to me is the buckskin map made by 'Piankishwa' (Piankeshaw) people about an illegal land purchase by settlers. MacGregor is eloquent on this; he grasps that to the people of the Piankeshaw the concept of owning land, much less selling it, was as bizarre and perverse as the idea of owning the air above it. On the map, distances are marked in travel time. MacGregor states that the British tried to reign in the settlers and that the "British Crown['s] eager[ness] to maintain good relations with the Native American chiefs" helped trigger the War of Independence. I guess he mentions this to elaborate on how the object speaks of wider events, and to complicate simplistic understandings, but let me not hear it as an invitation to feel better about the British role in settler colonial genocides. Let me not be soothed! --- The rationale of the 100 Objects project attracted me as soon as I heard of it. MacGregor states at the outset that part of the idea was to tell the stories of ordinary people rather than only elites. I'm aware of this as a trend through my Mum's work advocating for more female and vernacular stories in heritage, and this is one of the things I appreciate about the BM. There are lots of rich and royal things in here but an attempt at widening the view is detectable. I have always struggled to absorb histories; I can take in a narrative thread but I find it extremely hard to synthesise parallel stories into big pictures, and I was pleased to find that the focus on objects helped me to take in a lot more than usual. Theses have doubtless been written about all of the things in this book, and my comments below aren't so much on favourites as on... things that provoked me to comment! I haven't mentioned any of the "American" objects, even though they are poignant and impressive, or Japanese objects, even though I find them moving and beautiful. So these aren't my highlights, just saying what I have to say. Chapter 3 Olduvai Handaxe This object totally blew my mind, because I didn't realise that "for a million years the sound of handaxes being made provided the percussion of everyday life". The earliest made thing in the book, a chopping tool, is 2 million years old, and this is about half a million years later, putting the speed of technological advance in my own lifetime into perspective. I didn't know about the handaxe, the 'Swiss army knife of the stone age', the thing over which we maybe learned to speak, and which enabled us to spread from Africa across the whole globe. A few chapters later is a Clovis spear point, from 11,000BC, even more precisely designed and perfectly made after another 500,000 years or so of development! Chapter 13 Indus Seal I had barely heard of the ancient Indus Valley Civilisation, whose script has apparently remained undeciphered. What made me sit up was that according to MacGregor, their cities, such as Harappa, built on grid patterns, with sophisticated sanitation systems and home plumbing, housing 30,000 to 40,000 people, seem not to have royal palaces or great differences between rich and poor dwellings, and were unfortified, and weapons are not found in the sites. No sign of what Doris Lessing's narrator in Shikasta calls 'the degenerative disease'. 'Is it possible these societies were based not on coercion but consensus?' asks MacGregor almost incredulously. He says they were made uninhabitable by climate change 4000 years ago, not destroyed by more violent invaders... Chapter 18 Minoan Bull-Leaper The 'Minoans', like the Clovis people and the Celts, are a group of people whose name for themselves has been lost. This is a good example this books style of evoking ancient myth (the minotaur), contemporary cultural and economic circumstances (maritime trading of bronze, bull-leaping) and a bit of modern thought (psychoanalysis) to swirl around an object. Saying that Picasso turned 'instinctively... to that underground labyrinth and to that encounter between man and bull that still haunts us all' seems unduly universalising and accepting of Freud to me, but I suppose these sorts of flourish gives MacGregor's history its idiosyncracy. Chapter 20 Statue of Ramesses II Ramesses II presided over a 'golden age' (MacGregor uses this phrase again later to describe a period when a ruling class was exceptionally wealthy, the later Roman period in Britain) of imperial expansion and to save time, changed inscriptions on existing statues to be about him. When a battle went badly his subjects were none the wiser as the official line proclaimed was always victory. The labour involved in making this huge statue was ridiculous and largely provided by slaves. But I haven't picked out this chapter to complain about ancient antecedents of more recent rulers, but to mention the inclusion in the book of relevant experts (I noted that these were women as often as not) In this case, MacGregor turned to Antony Gormley, always wonderfully eloquent. He shared this thought:For me as a sculptor the acceptance of the material as a means of conveying the relationship between human-lived biological time and the aeons of geological time us an essential condition of the waiting quality of sculpture. Sculptures persist, endure, and life dies. And all Egyptian sculpture in some senses has this dialogue with death, with that which lies on the other side. There is something very humbling, a celebration of what people can do together, because that is the other extraordinary thing about Egyptian architecture and sculpture, which were engaged upon by vast numbers of people, and which were a collective act of celebration of what they were able to achieve.I'm not sure that that is true, but it is precisely what MacGregor wants I think, when he talks about using poetic imagination… Chaper 26 Oxus Chariot Model In all my years of compulsory schooling I don't think anyone ever mentioned the ancient Persian empire to me. I come from a part of the UK rich in Roman artefacts, and I have been familiar with Greek and Roman mythology for as long as I can remember. I also learned about Vikings and Anglo Saxons, and a little about ancient Chinese civilisation and pre-modern Japan. But it took actually becoming friends with an Iranian girl when I was 16 for me to find out that modern Iran has an ancient, unique heritage. MacGregor tells us that 2,500 years ago, the Persian (Iranian) empire was the world superpower. But unlike the Romans, who encouraged those they conquered to identify themselves with Rome (read: imposed their culture on the vanquished), the Iranian empire was non-hegemonic, apparently actively respecting rather than merely tolerating religious and cultural practices of subject peoples. This exquisite model shows a satrap (local governor) taking a road journey, for which he requires no armed protection or attendant other than his coachman, indicating that peace prevailed within the empire. Herodotus wrote his best known words of the Persian couriers, telling us that their roads and organisation were terrific. Those who criticism multiculturalism in the UK would probably sound less credible if we were taught a fraction about ancient Iran of what we learn about the Romans. Chapter 28 Basse-Yutz Flagons One thing MacGregor does often is highlight ethnocentric elitism. Here he is agreeably unpleasant about snobbish Mediterranean attitudes towards the 'Celts' (named thus by the Greeks) who were, I guess, the archetypal barbarians (the word the Greeks used for non-Greeks), but made objects like these unutterably beautiful flagons. He also talks here about the problems of understanding the Celtic lineage through the ancient Greek stereotype and equally misleading, much later British one. "the challenge... is how to get past those distorting mists of nationalist myth-making and let the objects speak as clearly as possible about their own place and their own distant world." Quite. Chapter 30 Chinese Bronze Bell I've picked up on this chapter as MacGregor reflects on the handing back of Hong Kong in 1997 when the British, with hilariously and embarrassingly maudlin pomposity, played the Last Post on a bugle. The Chinese performed a specially composed piece of music partly played on a set of ancient bells. He sees this as stereotypical - a solo instrument connecting with war and conflict versus a celebration of harmony and continuity. A fascinating discussion of the importance and history of bells in Chinese culture follows, which I won't spoil. Chapter 32 Pillar of Ashoka Another another non-hegemonic empire where the idea of public service and mutual respect were much vaunted - that of Ashoka, in India, the largest in the country's history. After some brutal conquering, he converted to Buddhism and became a gentle philosopher. MacGregor compares the principles of rule that governed his later years to modern Bhutan, quoting the coronation speech of the current king "throughout my reign I will never rule you as a king. I will protect you as a parent, care for you as a brother and serve you as a son." But then he expressed doubt that 'such high ideals can survive the realities of political power.' Bhutan is doing pretty well with its Gross National Happiness, as far as I'm aware. Chapter 41 Seated Buddha from Gandhara "The religions that survive today are the ones that were spread and sustained by trade and power. It's profoundly paradoxical: Buddhism, the religion founded by an ascetic who spurned all comfort and riches, flourished thanks to the international trade in luxury goods." I don't see anything ironic about this, because before people saw the suffering that came with unethical trading practices and unscrupulous struggles for wealth, what need had they to reject them? Buddhism followed the poison for which it presented itself as the antidote. Chaper 42 Gold Coins of Kumaragupta I and Chapter 68 Shiva and Parvati Sculpture I like how MacGregor picks up and has a go with the objects where possible. From one perspective this might seem a bit annoying, as if he's lording it over us plebs from the other side of the velvet rope, but I see it as an attempt to bring us as close as we can get. In these chapters he is evidently keen to point out the current importance and vitality of Hinduism in the UK, which non-Hindus seem to hear very little about. Rather than interacting with the objects themselves here, he goes to the Swaminarayan Mandir, the Hindu temple in Neasden, and talks to Shaunaka Rishi Das about how Hindus think about the divine and bring it into their lives. These discussions were fascinating to me and I am glad I recently bought the banned book [[book:The Hindus: An Alternative History|5263037]], hopefully my first of many steps to learning more about the culture. He also talks about the comfortable place occupied by sexuality in Hindu theology. Historian of religion Karen Armstrong has this to say: "in the monotheisms, particularly in Christianity, we've found questions of sex and gender difficult. Some of the faiths that start out with a positive view of women, like Christianity and also Islam, get hijacked a few generations after the foundation and dragged back to the old patriarchy. I think there's a big difference, however, in the way people view sexuality. When you see [it] as a divine attribute... a way to apprehend the divine, that must have an affect. You see it in the Hindu marriage service... Questions of gender and sexuality have always been the Achilles heel of Christianity, and that shows that there's a sort of failure to... integrate a basic fact of life" Chapter 42 Sutton Hoo Helmet & Chaper 60 Kilwa Pot Sherds One of the moment when my mind changed while reading was in the discussion here of ancient maritime links, so important since before fossil fuels water was much the easiest way to transport people and goods. In the so-called Dark Ages after the Romans left Britain, sophisticated trading relationships between Britain and the Scandinavian world probably became more important. To people on the north east coast, Danish and Norwegian people were neighbours, while folks living in Devon or Dorset were a world away. Similarly, favourable trade winds in the Indian Ocean made eastern Africa and most of Asia a vast, cosmopolitan trading community, as illustrated by a collection of pot sherds from a beach in Tanzania with pieces from China and the Muslim world amongst locally made ware Chaper 52 Harem Wall-painting fragments These little pieces of a palace wall from Samarra in Iraq trasport MacGregor to the world of Scheherazade, and he talks delightedly about them. I do wish though that he would say some more about whose bombs destroyed Samarra in 2006, and the unedifying history that has recently been made in Iraq by invading US and British military forces destroying much irreplaceable ancient material heritage (to say nothing of the civilians killed and injured, homes and infrastructure destroyed, resources appropriated et cetera) something we should surely be raising awareness about and doing something to make reparations for. Chapter 59 Borobudur Buddha Head A British administrator in Java, Raffles, gave his collection to the British Museum and it included this head, from an extraordinary sculptural representation of the way to enlightenment, built 780-840, but abandoned in the sixteenth century when Islam became the main faith there. Raffles visited the overgrown site in 1814 and took a couple of fallen heads. What interests me is his attitude: he felt that the Javanese civilization built it was the equal of European civilizations. Unlike other orientalists, he was similarly appreciative of the Indonesian culture of his own day. Anthropologist Dr Nigel Barker shares this: "Raffles[']... concept of civilization... has a number of clear markers... the possession of a writing system, social hierarchy... complex stone architecture" Interesting perspective on the White/European gaze. Chaper 63 Ife Head and Chapter 77 Benin Plaque "In 1910, when the German anthropologist Leo Frobenius found the first brass head outside the city of Ife, he was so overwhelmed by its technical and aesthetic assurance that he immediately associated it with… the classical sculptures of ancient Greece... There's no record of contact [between ancient Greece and Nigeria...so Frobenius decided that] the lost island of Atlantis must have sunk off the coast of Nigeria and the Greek survivors stepped ashore to make this astonishing sculpture". A magnificent plaque from Benin showing the local ruler, the Oba and European traders similarly astonished the British when they colonised Nigeria in 1897. For all the appreciation for the amazing works, documented and expressed in these chapters, most Europeans probably still unhelpfully think of African art via European modernist 'primitivism'. MacGregor does valuable work here to problematise and undermine such racism. Chapter 71 Tughra of Suleiman the Magnificent Visually this is probably my favourite object, and I could talk about my love of Arabic calligraphy all day, but I've picked up on this because MacGregor uses it to point out that, "as the Ottomans demonstrated, paper is power", pointing out that while the Inca and Timurid empires lasted only a few generations, while the Ming and Ottoman dynasties endured for centuries, and the difference was, he claims, efficient sophisticated bureaucracy. "Modern polliticians proudly announce their desire to sweep away bureaucracy. The contemporary prejudice is that it slows you down, clogs things up; but if you take a historical view, it is bureaucracy that sees you through the rocky patches and enables the state to survive." Chaper 81 Shi'a Religious Parade Standard If you read about the Oxus Gold Chariot and didn't think know the tradition of respect for religious diversity in Zoroastrian Iran persisted into the Muslim era, this chapter is for you. Shah Abbas, a contemporary of Elizabeth I, eager to develop trade relationships, had a very multicultural court at Isfahan, and this standard, made for a Shi'a ceremony but with skills and materials from distant lands, shows what a cosmopolitan place Iran was through the period. Chapter 98 Throne of Weapons "For the first time in this history we are examining an object that is a record of war but which does not glorify war or the ruler who waged it" I am tempted to reply 'it's a bit late to get critical' but it wouldn't be fair, because MacGregor has viewed war-making raiders and cruel traders critically throughout. One thing that this history has in common with the more familiar kind is that extent to which it is a history of power, but it is, much more than traditional history, a narrative in which the vanquished answer and cannot be silenced. It is not, in my view, a radical history, but it contains the seed of radical histories, and in this object, one of them begins to germinate. Chapter 100 Solar Powered Lamp & Charger The promise to tell the stories of ordinary people has been difficult to keep, but the intention returns MacGregor to this cheap, mass produced, but for many, potentially life-changing device. We now live in a world clogged with discarded objects, representing expended energy and released carbon. If there is to be any more history of us, we must become sustainable. That hope is embodied in this cutting edge, yet inexpensive technology.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ian

    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 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 up as a collection of self-contained pieces, that I could dip in and out of whenever I chose. Naturally there were sections I liked better than others. One of my favourites was the gold cape found in the unfortunately named town of Mold, in North Wales. Partly that was down to it being a particularly impressive object, and partly because of the story of its discovery. The chapter on “Pieces of Eight” provided a thoughtful account of the economic effects of the gold and silver extracted by the Spanish in South America, and how those effects were not understood by the Spanish Crown itself. That on the Akan Drum, made in West Africa sometime before 1750 but found in Virginia, was another of the better sections, and I liked the “Swimming Reindeer” from c. 11,000BCE, both on aesthetic grounds and because the chapter contained an exploration of the origins of art. I also enjoyed the discussions on the interpretation of three later works of art, Hokusai’s “The Great Wave”, Hockney’s “In the Dull Village”, and the sombre “Throne of Weapons”, made in Mozambique in 2001. There are other sections I would like to talk about, but if I’m not careful I’ll fall into the trap of discussing each item in detail. Taken as a whole I thought the book provided a slightly rose-tinted view of human history. It will probably be useful to me in future as a reference book. At the same time, I didn’t find it the quickest of reads.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    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 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 wider context of human development. Just hearing the voices of Seamus Heaney, Amartya Sen, Wangari Maathai and many more - reflecting on the meaning of certain objects within the symbolical landscapes of their societies - made the radio show a delight. During a stay in London, I decided to follow the path of the objects in the British Museum as well, and having learned more about the way they entered the famous museum made them all the more precious. The Rosetta Stone, for example, is not just a symbol for early multilingualism in the Northern African ancient world, or for 19th century international linguistic science, or for the French-British conflicts during the Napoleonic wars, it is also a symbol for the changing nature of humans’ approach to objects. I had to lift my daughter high in the air in order for her to see the “stone that made cracking the code of the hieroglyphs possible”. For her, as for hundreds of other visitors in front of her, that was the most important exhibit, photographed over and over again. Funny to think of the centuries it lay buried in sand after losing its immediate propagandistic and political meaning of enhancing the power of an ancient king, only to gain a new kind of reverence in the modern world of science and exhibition. Other objects are completely overlooked in the vastness of the British Museum, and one of the benefits of the concept of the book is to give them more value and importance, more visibility. When we walked through the collections, one thought struck me over and over again: every single object can tell a different version of the human story. All of a sudden, not only the 100 objects picked by Neil MacGregor, but the thousands and thousands of others as well, became carriers of humankind’s history in a more obvious, natural way. There could potentially be at least a five page chapter, fifteen minute radio programme on the geographical, historical, political, social and aesthetic value of them all. I ended up buying a copy of the book in the Museum store, of course. And again, I am thrilled at the nuance the reading experience adds to the previous listening and watching. Details become clear, dates are easier to put into context, maps illustrate the geographical spread of the objects, and the quotes by illustrious and knowledgeable people are rendered in their entirety, giving them depth and reflective power. Cross-references between different chapters can be checked. The objects truly engage all senses, as well as a great deal of imagination, in order to visualise the life of people who felt the need to create all those different things: “Objects force us to the humble recognition that since our ancestors left East Africa to populate the world we have changed very little. Whether in stone or paper, gold, feathers or silicon, it is certain we will go on making objects that shape or reflect our world and that will define us to future generations”, thus the closing remarks at the end of the book! I enjoyed every moment of reading, and highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in an overarching, loving account of humankind’s roller coaster ride through time and space!

  7. 4 out of 5

    7jane

    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 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 benefit from being in bigger size), with some getting a color picture in the two color-pictures part around the middle of the book. I think the choosing of the objects was pretty well done, considering the limit, and in the back you see where they are from from around the world. In the back are also their dimensions and the museum inventory number, if one needs them; there is also some bibiliography. The objects visits various points of history, from 2,000,000 BC to 2010; not exactly in straight A to B way, but most of the time (the themes kind of dictate the way). Each objects also gets some commentary, from various people who in some way can be connected to the objects (like being from the same country, or working in the finance field, or able to make similar objects etc.). It is mentioned that sometimes only objects can tell about the people, since there was no writing, or the written texts were on a material that couldn't stand the wear of time (the climate, the place, the robbers and so on). One of the objects I have as a museum souvenir (the Rosetta Stone) - a paperweight. The book can also provide some facts that can be surprising and new; for me, these included that some inventions happened in several places more or less at the same time (farming, writing, pottery, coins); that the first liquid we used from cows was blood not milk; that there is jade up in the Italian Alps; that there are bull-leapers even today (recortadors); that Xanadu can from the city name of Shangdu. And much more. (A familiar face briefly appears from another great book I've read, in chapter 74: Babur, the writer of Baburnama). I liked what was chosen as the last object: a solar-powered lamp (and charger). This choosing was well-explained and shows optimism for the future. Another thing was that I slowly realised how much connections between people can determine where objects end up, what objects end up looking like, how much both objects and ideas can influence, and how much humanity can desire the connection (and how important it can be for a city to exist, to be full of life). This book really shows how identity matters, how great it is to be connected, how creative the humanity can be. Impressive.

  8. 4 out of 5

    E. G.

    Preface: Mission Impossible Introduction: Signals from the Past --A History of the World in 100 Objects Maps List of Objects Bibliography References Text Acknowledgements Acknowledgements Index

  9. 5 out of 5

    Emma

    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 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 them. Though the book acts as an enthusiastic and informative guide to the ways in which objects can tell us stories about ourselves and our past, it remains aware of the issues with museums and the destructive process of collecting that filled them. It engages with the debate, offering no answers, but posing questions that the reader can consider, and manages to balance a celebration of the artefacts and their cultures without negating the controversial aspect of their current home. Highly recommended. ----- Since we're all stuck at home in desperate need for something to brighten our day, it might be worth visiting the British Museum virtually and seeing some of the objects for yourself. Take a look at this blog to find out how: https://blog.britishmuseum.org/how-to...

  10. 5 out of 5

    Celeste

    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 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 of this book, and we three decided to read it together over the course of 100 days. It was such a lovely experience to share across continents. When it comes history, I view it very much in the same vein I view my Novel Notions friendships: I might never get to experience these events and locations myself, but I can connect with them through the marvels of modern technology and the thoughts written by others to be shared with the world. I might never make it to the British Museum but, through this book, I am able to admire 100 of the objects that live there, and gain insight both into the objects and what they say about the cultures they represent and the world at large through MacGregor’s careful research and philosophical examination, as well as the thoughtful interviews he conducted and included in this book. MacGregor did a wonderful job of balancing scholarship and storytelling. He raised a lot of profound questions. And he did all of this while carefully including as many historically important eras and events as possible, as well as representing as wide a swatch of the globe as he could manage. Something I very much appreciated was his inclusion of the mundane among the precious, the balance of everyday and extraordinary he was able to strike. Reading this book with TS and Emma was a wonderful experience. I appreciate MacGregor giving us an avenue by which we were able to travel the world together.

  11. 4 out of 5

    TS Chan

    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 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 so much more interesting and engaging than I thought possible. I can't even remember when I've came across this title but it was definitely after I've made my way to the British Museum recently on a solo holiday to London; and being able to slowly explore the museum to my heart's and mind's content. I wished I could go back there now, with this book in hand and visit each of the hundred objects, armed with new insights and knowledge about the significance each of them had in telling a story of humankind. In fact, I was already planning to do so and was just short of booking my flight and accommodation when this global pandemic reared its horrific head. I'm merely writing all these down for posterity. I read this book with my co-bloggers, Celeste and Emma; 100 objects in 100 days. Both are history buffs who have a much better foundation and grasp of the subject matter than I do, and as such buddy reading with them provided me with additional insights which made the experience even more fulfilling. What I want to say most about this title is that it's a must-read for all history lovers. It was superbly written, very enlightening and most crucially, did not shy away from stating certain ugly truths. For how else did the British Museum come to have all these objects in their possession, if not for the British colonialism.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Cecily

    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 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 voice in my head as I read it, my enjoyment might be slightly diminished.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    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 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 famous and a few are not even on display on a regular basis. Each item gets a chapter that runs 4-5 pages. MacGregor conencts the item to the world at large as well as gives a brief history of the item. In some cases, he even ties it to the modern world. Some, such as the Sudan items, are especially relvenet today with the independence of South Sudan. Additionally, it is difficult to look at the print of the Wave without thinking of not only WW II but the tsunami of 2011. In some cases, such as some of the stoneware fragments, the discovery matches the purpose of the item. This book is amazing, and not be threatened by its size. It is extremely readable. The pages fly by.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Emma

    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 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 their appreciation of the object, and these have therefore layers of history to them. Each object has its own essay which places it in political, social and historical context on a global scale. It addresses the synchronicity of development in contrasting cultures across the globe and the part that science plays in encouraging us to return again to objects, when new technologies come along. Very well done study, deserving of the reread I am about to do. I believe the author also wrote a similar series for Shakespearean times. I went to see the accompanying exhibition..

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ray

    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 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

  16. 5 out of 5

    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 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 any remnants of the extinct crop. The book is roughly the size of a personal meal-processer, but a lot thicker and heavier. It looks superficially like a rectangular prism; but closer inspection reveals that, far from solid, it consists of hundreds (in this case, 350) of pieces of fabric (made from trees) folded tightly together. This cumbersome process was used to cram as much surface-area as possible into a small, portable object, thus allowing for the writing in use at the time. We have, of course, encountered scattered examples of writing already on our tour of human history. This book represents a fairly late and advanced stage in textual writing. The font is easy for the eye to discern at a typical reading distance (45 cm, give or take) and there are glossy photographs (reproductions of the way objects look) to give the reader an idea of the objects under discussion. In the days before direct informational download, assimilating the information in books like this was a time-consuming affair. Calculating from the known average reading speed and the document’s word count, we know it would have taken several hours to read in its entirety. And even after such an extreme expenditure of time, most readers would not retain even a fraction of the information contained in the text. Yet this book was written for pleasure reading—as an activity to reduce stress—and so most readers probably did not take the time to carefully study the document, in the way that academic and political documents had to be perused in order to be fully grasped. By chance, we have discovered that a contemporary writer (recovered from a recovered newspaper stash, discussed in Chapter 103), has written a “review” (or evaluation) of this book. Given the length required to read books, people would read these reviews to determine whether they wanted to invest the necessary time. Of course, this ironically led to the need to read hundreds of reviews, defeating the purpose. This review, in a largely positive appraisal, calls the book “intellectual cotton candy.” Now, cotton candy was an example of sugary food that caused the widespread health problems in this era. But the reviewer does not appear to have meant anything negative with the phrase, but rather intends us to understand that the book is pleasurable and also educational, which seems a likely judgment. Neil MacGregor, the author of this particular book, was the director of the British Museum, in London, one of the biggest terrestrial cities of the time. He speaks about objects on this museum’s collection. Many of these were collected during the years of the powerful British Empire, which for centuries controlled much of the globe (see Chapter 71). Thus, unsurprisingly, many of these objects were obtained by less than legitimate methods. This puts MacGregor in an awkward situation, since he attempts to be inclusive of different ethnic groups and to speak plainly about acts of oppression. As a result there is a sort of balancing act apparent in the text, as the author profits from colonial plunder while presenting an anti-colonial narrative. It is also worth noting that this book originated as a series of audio transmissions known as “podcasts.” These were popular during this epoch, as a way of absorbing verbal information aurally, which allowed people to do other things at the same time. Unfortunately, however, listening to spoken text took even more time than reading it, and had an even poorer retention rate. There are some peculiar things about our copy of this book. Its owner has underlined and marked a few passages, some with a graphite pencil and some with a type of marker called a highlighter (which left a bright streak of color without obscuring the text). This was a common practice at the time: readers marked passages that they liked or that they needed to memorize or use in some way, since otherwise it could be difficult to find it among such a mountain of text (all of which, you will recall, is composed of the same handful of symbols in various combinations, which took years of training to decode). More interestingly, on page 574 and 575 there is a small streak of dried blood, presumably belonging to the owner. (DNA analysis reveals that he was a tall, extremely handsome man.) The pattern of the blood is unusual, and for some time perplexed our researchers, until the solution was found: the blood was not in the reader’s body, but in the body of a mosquito (an extinct blood-sucking insect) which had just finished feeding, and which was then immediately crushed between these pages. I find this bloodstain unspeakably poignant, since it shows how easy it was to damage or besmirch the pages of these books; and it also reveals how intimately connected these forgotten bearers of information are to our species’ history.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    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 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 it a few objects at a time over several months when I needed a break from other reading. I shall always treasure this volume because it was given to me by my very dear friends Mr. & Mrs. Mellor when I visited them in their home in 2013.......Michael

  18. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    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 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 objects before, but this book is a delight. It's a biggie - at 700 pages it's not something you want to drop on your foot - but it is also hugely readable. Via one precious object after another, he shines a torch on different eras and different cultures, lighting them up so they come to us with freshness and brilliance. Not only does he use his own scholarship, but he calls upon a whole host of specialists, plus other people whose work on the surface looks completely unrelated.... like Michael Palin, the Archbishop of Canturbury, Madhur Jaffrey and Bob Geldof. The book is bursting with fresh ideas. Before I started reading the book, I'd heard parts of it broadcast on Radio 4. The trouble is that when listening to the radio you are inevitably doing other stuff. Being able to read the actual book is infinitely more rewarding....both in terms of being able to go back and re-read paragraphs if necessary, or to check out the maps at the back of the book. (It is really nice to be able to see on an atlas where things come from.) Just in case anyone fancies a taster, or to give you a flavour of the things described, my favourite objects were: 05 Clovis Spear Point 12 Standard of Ur 13 Indus Seal 19 Mold gold Cape 25 Gold Coin of Croesus 26 Oxus Chariot Model 36 The Warren Cup 39 Admonitions Scroll 40 Hoxne Pepper Pot 44 Hinton St. Mary Mosaic 51 Maya Relief of Royal Blood-letting (not for the squeamish) 55 Chinese Tang Tomb Figures 59 Borobudur Buddha Head 61 The Lewis Chessmen 72 Ming Banknote 80 Pieces of Eight 91 Ship's Chronometer from HMS Beagle 92 Early Victorian Tea Set 95 Suffragette-defaced Penny 98 Throne of Weapons 100Solar-powered Lamp and Charger I am sorry I didn't put in the date I started reading this book - as it took me a while to get through it. I think I averaged about 3 objects a day, which would mean I probably read it over about a month. I loved its format - with each object being given its own small chapter. It made it so easy to pick the book up and put it down, and to feel you were going forward in little incremental steps. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  19. 5 out of 5

    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 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 (lovely pictures ARE included), he gives a fascinating context of the period in which this object was used, and finally, provides an analysis of what the object "says" about the people, nation, and region that used or owned it. I find this method of historical explication incredibly engaging. Rather than begin with abstract concepts like democracy, Federalism, or ethnic cleansing, MacGregor begins with the concrete--a vase, a coin, a flower pot-- and says here's what this culture produced, here's what that says about them. This also dovetails nicely with what I teach in class regarding advertising; that we can come to understand the ideals of a nation by studying its advertisements. Interestingly, the objects MacGregor chooses also function as "advertisements" for their respective milieus. A testament to how well this book is written and constructed is that I read it incredibly quickly. Before I knew it, I was on object 56 at the 300 something page mark and I had no mental fatigue. The fact that the book is organized in 100 3 to 4 pages "chapters" helps a lot because I found myself reading a few objects here and there whenever I had some spare time. I recommend this book highly to anyone who has even a fleeting interest in archaeology or cultural materialism; your efforts, and the rather hefty price of the book will be worth it.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ana

    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 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 another one. The writing is very good and appropriate for the presentation style - I was gripped from the first few pages by the eloquence and warmness of the author's tone, a man who is clearly in love with history, culture and art. I recommend this to anyone who has a keen interest in the world as a whole organism, and how each and every "tissue" relates to the others.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Alan

    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 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 sometimes fail to transcend British cultural myopia. A Native American pipe gets described (on p.235) as similar in size and shape to a "bourbon biscuit"—whatever that is. Other references to football pitches and sheets of A3 paper are more translatable, if no less Anglocentric. Setting aside the literal insularity of its viewpoint, though, A History of the World in 100 Objects is a truly amazing compendium. And then there are moments of clarity, like this observation—so much against our conventional wisdom—about bureaucracy as "life-saving continuity":Modern politicians proudly announce their desire to sweep away bureaucracy. The contemporary prejudice is that it slows you down, clogs things up; but if you take a historical view, it is bureaucracy that sees you through the rocky patches and enables the state to survive. —p.463 I was lucky enough to be able to visit the British Museum in London several times during a once-in-a-lifetime visit to England back in 2013, and I was amazed by the breadth and range of its collection. I saw several of the artifacts featured in this book firsthand—among them, the Rosetta Stone (Ch. 33), the moai Hoa Hakananai'a (Ch. 70) and this Aztec double-headed feathered serpent (Ch. 78): I was (if I may use a Britishism here) gobsmacked by their antiquity, and also by the respect with which the Museum treats the objects under its care. It's certainly possible to dispute that the British Museum should be caretakers for the many items in its collection that come from other parts of the planet, but you can't argue with the care itself. A History of the World in 100 Objects is a long book, but it is a lively and entertaining one as well. Its short chapters lend themselves to episodic reading, and the photographs of the artifacts it highlights are uniformly of high quality. You'll notice, if you read through this book from start to finish, that there's a fair amount of repetition—phrases and observations that crop up again and again. However, this book was originally a series of audio segments broadcast on BBC Radio 4 (which amazes me anew, as being able to see the objects discussed, even if just in photographs, adds so much to the text), and so the repetition is not a flaw, but rather a way to tie these pieces together. And tied together they are. The final quotation out of the many in A History of the World in 100 Objects sums this up rather well:"When we look at the history of the world, it is very important to recognize that we are not looking at the history of different civilizations truncated and separated from each other. Civilizations have a huge amount of contact, and there is a kind of inter-connectedness. I have always thought of the history of the world not as a history of civilizations but as a history of world civilizations evolving in often similar, often diverse, ways, always interacting with each other." —Amartya Sen, p. 658Perhaps this book's 22nd-century reissue will even include the current edition as its 101st object. From this viewpoint, that seems like an excellent choice.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    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 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 read several essays in a row. But more often my reading was more spaced out because a single essay could set off a chain-reaction (like the entry on the Standard of Ur, which led me to read Sir Charles Leonard Woolley's first-hand account of his fabulous archeological discoveries in the ancient Sumerian city in the mid-1930s). I spent hours researching the objects on the Internet, looking at images, looking at maps. The book takes you through pre-history to the present day, with objects selected from every period of human history and almost every continent, encompassing individual as well as collective human experience, with often surprising and unexpected connections. I loved the sophisticated thinking about each object distilled into five to eight pages of text, and the invitation to look really closely at the objects, each of which is worthy of a lifetime of study. My friend Dean invited me to the annual conference of the American Association of Museums in Philadelphia a few years ago and I attended a fascinating presentation by Sherry Turkle, a psychologist/sociologist at MIT who has written a book titled Evocative Objects. Something she said then that has stuck with me is that we think with the objects we love, and we love the objects that we think with. Some of the most evocative objects for me in this book that I continue to think about (and think with too perhaps) include: The Ice Age carving of two swimming reindeer as seen from above, which is one of the most remarkable things about it it seems to me; the unusual perspective is beautifully rendered. The piece was made 13,000 years ago from the slightly curved end of a mammoth tusk. The Paracas textiles, dating to 200-300 BC in Peru, which I think are not usually on view to the public because of their fragility. They are intricately sewn flying half-human figures that appear quite whimsical until you realize that they carry in one hand a curved blade and in the other a severed head. The breath-taking, majestic brass Ife head from Nigeria from 1400-1500 AD, a portrait of African royalty. The ceremonial sloping wooden stool carved in an intriguing half-animal, half-human form that was made by the Taino people of the Caribbean whose society was devastated by the arrival of the Europeans in the West Indies. Thanks again for this one, Dean!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    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 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 came into creation but also about the later receptions of the object, not least our own. Each chapter has a photo of the object but they're really just an appetiser, a way of encouraging us to check out the real thing at the BM or at least online. MacGregor's own narrative is supported by commentators in the field (and his choices wouldn't always have been mine...) and he himself comes over as a marvellously charismatic and engaged narrator. I did have a few little niggles: perhaps an overplay of the `people in the past were always just like us' idea which I think it only partially true; and it would have been helpful if rather than the BM inventory number the book had included the BM location - most objects, after all, very rarely get moved. But these are tiny niggles which are easily overcome - a very generous book brimming with enthusiasm.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sesana

    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 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. It's a massive chunk of reading (more than 650 pages) so this might be best read a few short chapters at a time.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    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 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 history of the human race. Short essays describe each pictured object and explore its significance in a broader context--religious tolerance and intolerance, exploration and colonization, trade and the global economy, among others. Each essay represents a number of voices and perspectives on the objects, so for a Benin bronze we hear from an early Dutch traveller, a British museum curator, and several contemporary Nigerian writers. The clear photographs of each object make this a beautiful book. My only niggle is that the title is a little misleading, since this is more the story of humanity than the world as a whole.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kristina

    I bought A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor three years ago from the British Museum in London. MacGregor takes the reader through the history of the world by highlighting artifacts from the British Museum. This is an interesting read. There are 100 chapters split into twenty parts. Each chapter is accompanied by a small black and white picture of the object. There are two insets of color pictures of selected objects. The chapters themselves are the perfect reading length—bet I bought A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor three years ago from the British Museum in London. MacGregor takes the reader through the history of the world by highlighting artifacts from the British Museum. This is an interesting read. There are 100 chapters split into twenty parts. Each chapter is accompanied by a small black and white picture of the object. There are two insets of color pictures of selected objects. The chapters themselves are the perfect reading length—between 3.5 and 4.5 pages, about 15-20 minutes of reading. At the end of the book, there are maps locating where each object was found, a list of objects, a bibliography, references and an index. MacGregor, the director of the British Museum, is a competent writer. His prose is informative, to the point, and sometimes humorous. Each chapter includes an interview by a specialist in a related field or (if the object is an art piece or musical instrument) a musician or artist. Each object is discussed as its importance to everyday life and what it says about that particular culture. The commentary is thoughtful and I liked knowing more about the objects, particularly the ones I saw when I was at the museum (the Rosetta Stone, the Sutton Hoo treasure). One of the chapters I found most interesting was 61: The Lewis Chessman, chess pieces found on the Isle of Lewis, Scotland and probably made in Norway around the 12th century. I’ve played chess before and understand the basic tenets of the game, but I’m not a frequent player. It requires way too much thinking and seriousness. But I really liked hearing the history of the game and how chess sets are used as status symbols and the pieces change appearances to agree with the culture playing the game. Overall, this is a very interesting book. The chapters are short and can be read in any order (if you don’t mind your world chronology being out of whack). You can put it down for long stretches of time and not have to remember a plot or characters and pick back up where you left off without rereading the previous chapter. The only problem I have with the book is the lack of color photos for each object. Out of a 100 objects, only a few are featured in the color panels and even those are not full-size. More photos would have been helpful or even a website connected to the book that featured all the objects. Otherwise, excellent and fun book. Note: I have found a website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryofthewor... The book was also presented as part of the BBC’s Radio 4 and episodes can be downloaded (but maybe only for those in the UK? Not sure—didn’t try).

  27. 5 out of 5

    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 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 confined to the living room, as it was too darn heavy to read holding it in bed. While there were some gems hidden away in the mass of words, the juice wasn't worth the squeeze. The concept was a good one - take 100 objects and tell the history of the world. The problem is that the 100 objects came, for the most part, from acquisitions of the British Museum, which greatly limited the story-telling. It's sort of like saying tell the history of the automobile using only what you have in your garage. The second problem with the book is the ethnocentric perspective - viewing the world through the lens of Great Britain and the British Museum. At times, I became angry reading about how the museum acquired rare and valuable artifacts through what amounted to pillage of under-developed countries. It could be argued that the British Museum was a safer harbor for some of those artifacts, especially in regions at war. And it could be argued that more people could see the artifacts if they were housed in a museum in London versus an inaccessible country in the Middle East. BUT, some of the artifacts have religious and historical significance to the people (or their ancestors) in those countries. The audacity of Western museum curators to think that they should keep possession of such artifacts! MacGregor talks about how Greece wanted some of their artifacts back, but the British Museum declined. And the very idea that "treasure hunters" would desecrate graves of ancient people in order to scavenge valuable items buried with the bodies. Anyway, this is a rather dull book that can inspire anger and even outrage, but not much interest otherwise. I don't recommend reading it (especially in bed!).

  28. 5 out of 5

    Annette Abbott

    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 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 which are from the collection at the British Museum. It starts with one of the earliest of objects made by man: a chopping tool from Olduvai (2 mya) and finishes with a solar powered lamp and charger (2010). It's also divided by subjects -- food, sex, religion, trade, status, economy, etc. I've been to the British Museum a number of times and each time found myself in awe of their collection. Reading this book has renewed my interesting in buying a ticket to return to London for a long weekend simply to revisit its museums. THIS is the book you'll want to buy everyone for Christmas 2011. History buffs will like it. Information/trivia geeks will love it. Those who love museums and rich photos will love it. Any human would love it -- after all, it's essentially about him and his species.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    This book was an ambitious undertaking. I can't say that he's certainly failed, nor succeeded. MacGregor tells the story of mankind's history through objects on display or owned by the British Museum. I've spent several days wandering through the British Museum so I can certainly confirm its vast collection and millions of stories to tell. MacGregor wrote a very compelling introduction that motivated the use of objects to tell history rather than relying on the history that is typically told thro This book was an ambitious undertaking. I can't say that he's certainly failed, nor succeeded. MacGregor tells the story of mankind's history through objects on display or owned by the British Museum. I've spent several days wandering through the British Museum so I can certainly confirm its vast collection and millions of stories to tell. MacGregor wrote a very compelling introduction that motivated the use of objects to tell history rather than relying on the history that is typically told through the winners' (financial, war, religion, etc.) eyes. Although I was very interested in the objects chosen by MacGregor, I was let down by the amount of speculation and subjectivity that appears to be taken as fact by quoted anthropologists, historians, and archaeologists. I believe that we as readers are meant to simply accept everything he says as true, but I often found myself thinking "how could you possibly know this object maker's motives just based on the _____ of the object?" In the middle of the book, I thought I'd give it a 2-star rating but the last few chapters really improved my overall outlook. It's probably because I accept the last few chapters' narrations as true, especially since the objects were made during documented historic times. MacGregor didn't need to infer any motives.

  30. 4 out of 5

    thefourthvine

    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 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 many separate chapters, and it is one about the British showing up in a place and taking whatever they wanted, again and again and again. And, I mean, fair! That happened! And, honestly, few countries have any kind of history in that area to be proud of. But what is frustrating is how completely MacGregor just — accepts it. He talks about how people in various areas are building new identites around ancient objects that have deep meaning for them — ancient objects the British Museum has, and plans to keep, even though those people desparately want them back. He talks about how the museum didn’t know what a Japanese mirror was for, or what its history was, until a visiting Japanese scholar explained it, yet never wonders if perhaps the items in question might be better understood, might speak more effectively to the world, in a museum closer to their original home. He mentions how odd it is, in a secular museum, to find offerings in front of statues of gods, and never wonders if perhaps those statues belong in a place of worship instead. I’m sure he does grapple with those issues in private life — I hope he does — and it’s also very clear that in presenting this all as “isn’t it great that the British Museum has all these things?” he’s toeing the official party line, but GOD was it frustrating to see essentially no acknowledgement of these things in the book. But, you know, I did read it. (Though it took a month, what with all the breaks I took.) And I did enjoy it. (Albeit with some shrieking of, “It’s more complicated than that!” about the few areas of history I knew something about.) I just also grabbed a friend who is a Hittite scholar and made her justify museums (“I can’t, really”) and ranted at her for probably longer than she wanted.

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