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History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor

January 12, 2012

BOOK REVIEW:  A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor. Allen Lane (2011), Hardcover, 707 pages.

Positive reviews at NYRB and NPR led me to buy this book as a Christmas gift for my husband. I am glad I did. Now I am ordering a copy for my daughter for her birthday.

For History of the World in 100 Objects, the director of the British Museum has chosen objects in his collection to tell the story of the people from all over the world who made, traded and used them. Each artifact appears in an elegant photograph accompanied by 5 or 6 pages describing its history, materials, construction, and significance. Discussions are extremely knowledgeable, enjoyable to read, and full of details I never imagined could be known.

This a global book, not a book about different national histories. This is people’s history, often literally from the ground up with archeological significance. Artifacts were chosen to reveal the greatest possible diversity; few are ones I recognized. You will be tempted to browse, but reading straight through conveys a sense of what was happening simultaneously and how changes occurred. Most remarkable is the way in which the artifacts, as described here, reveal complex relationships of trade and influence. For example, the objects show that before the rise of nation states, cultures were less connected to national capitals than to trading partners around waterways like the Baltic Sea or the Indian Ocean.

Highly recommended for everyone, even the most causal reader. A must-read for those wanting deeper understanding of our world. I know of no other book that describes so clearly the changing ways that global cultures have interrelated over the past millenium.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 13, 2012 5:06 pm

    I remember hearing about this one but have not picked it up yet. Thanks for reminding me about it. Great review.

  2. January 13, 2012 7:13 pm


  3. January 14, 2012 11:55 am

    Oh! So glad to see this review as I have been hesitating over this book for ages. I am sure my husband would love it, and that I’d get a lot out of it too. Thank you for the encouragement to actually track it down.

    • January 15, 2012 3:15 pm

      I think you both would enjoy it. It’s been on sale here.


  1. Connected Worlds: History in Transnational Perspective, co-edited by Anne Curthoys and Marilyn Lake. | Me, you, and books

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