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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Sunday, April 21

Gapers Block

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Over the course of the "22 Books" series, I've suggested good books for the interested reader on every area of the world from the Amur to Antwerp. In this final installation, I'd like to throw two last books into the mix that cover the entire history of the world and then let rip with the entire list.

The Whole World

A Short History of the World by Geoffrey Blainey
There are lots of good one-volume histories of the world out there, but for some reason Blainey's is one of my favorites. Blainey writes very well -- and I mean very well, and his version of World History is remarkably easy to swallow. He paints the course of history in broad brushstrokes -- what else can you do in a book like this? -- but also manages to help keep you on track as he tells his overall story. And finally -- and I know this is going to sound weird -- Blainey is Australian, and this gives the work a certain sort of worldliness that authors from Europe or the US lack. I don't know how to describe it -- there's a wonderful failure to take "The West" seriously that comes from growing up in the antipodes. If you are looking for a fun, easy to read general history of the world, give Blainey a shot.

The Human Web: A Bird's Eye View of History by John and William McNeil
By now, some of you are probably saying, "Why isn't this guys talking about Guns, Germs and Steel?" The truth is that although Jared Diamond's book won the Pulitzer Prize, a lot of social scientists don't take it very seriously. He never actually answers the question asked of him by his Papua New Guinean friend, his references to the evolution of human societies is based on work 40 years out of date and, uh, did you notice that India never actually appears in the book? If you're interested in a real book about guns, germs and steel, check out The Human Web. This book is a tag-team effort between father and son historians who couldn't be more qualified. William McNeil, you see, is the author of Plagues and People -- the classic breakthrough account of human history and illness that Jared Diamond stole all his material from. The McNeils whip through human history in half the pages that Blainey does, examining how the web of connections in Asia expanded and grew to create our present globalized world. The prose is sturdy and workmanlike (mercenaries are described as "subcontractors for violence") but the analysis flies think and heavy. So if you're ready for a slightly more challenging take on human history, check out The Human Web. It's a favorite of mine.

And Finally...

For your reading pleasure, here's the complete list of all the books from the column -- click on the region title to read the original column. Good reading and have fun!

North America
American Colonies, by Alan Taylor
A People's History of the United States, 1492-, by Howard Zinn
Bonus: Empire of the Bay: The Company of Adventurers that Seized a Continent, by Peter C. Newman

South America
Americas: The Changing Face of Latin America and the Caribbean, by Peter Winn
The Contemporary History of Latin America, by Tulio Halperin Donghi

A History of Europe, by J.M. Roberts
Natasha's Dance, by Orlando Figes

Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia: A Concise History, by Mary Heidhues
The Emergence of Modern Southeast Asia: A New History, edited by Norman Owen

East Asia
The Open Empire: A History of China to 1600, by Valerie Hansen
The Search For Modern China, by Johnathan Spence

Central Asia
The Silk Road: Two Thousand Years in the Heart of Asia, by Frances Wood
Dust of Empire: The Race for Mastery in the Asian Heartland, by Karl E. Meyer

South Asia
India: A History, by John Keay
Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India, by Lawrence James

West Asia
A Brief History of Islam, by Karen Armstrong
A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, by David Fromkin

Africa: A Biography of the Continent, by John Reader
The Scramble for Africa: White Man's Conquest of the Dark Continent from 1867 to 1912, by Thomas Packenham

The Pacific
Let The Sea Make a Noise: A History of the North Pacific from Magellan to Macarthur, by Walter McDougall
A History of the Pacific Islands: Passages Through Tropical Time, by Deryck Scarr

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robin.. / July 2, 2004 9:41 AM

best series ever. thank you for the great reading list! i'm sure to look very smart when i bring one o'these puppies to the beach...


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