An Experiment in History, Part Two

Part one is here.

When I decided to do something about my historical ignorance (it’s all in the past now) I had a huge whopping, monumental, problem: where should I start? After a small amount of research I decided to I had to read J.M Robert’s New History of The World, considered the best one volume introduction to world history by, well, by everyone.

I figured, after reading reviews of Robert’s world history and looking at the page count, that it was a guaranteed candidate for the used bookstore. I could smell that musty used bookstore smell even through the computer screen. This prompted my first visit to my new favorite used bookstore, Burton Lysecki’s. But I didn’t find Robert’s world history. Instead, I found:

Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
One of my five favorite books last year was Jared Diamonds answer to racist theories about the rising of civilization. Remember, it was the rise of civilization I was interested in, so I thought, “this is the book for me”. I didn’t even know there were theories about the rising of civilization let alone good ones and bad ones. Now, this book didn’t turn out to be exactly the book I was looking for – but that’s okay, I don’t know what’s good for me anyway – but wow, was it interesting. Although, all those Elk and Bison farms I pass on the highway make wonder about his ideas of un-domesticable animals.
I almost didn’t buy this book. I was debating buying another book at Burton Lysecki’s – a book I ended up buying anyway –

The Discoverers: A History of Man’s Search to Know His World and Himself by Daniel J. Boorstin
Another top five book from last year. This is the story of world history as discovery. In fact, Boorstin has no respect for anything that, in his view, has held back discovery in any form. Bit of a progressive, he is. Boorstin lays out this story in what he calls a shingle scheme – a scheme I thought was novel but now see as the only way to write history – moving forward, overlapping a future era, only to stop and move back a bit to begin the next era. This is not a book about troop movements, or strings of kings and generals, but about the always exciting reach of never-satisfied man. I loved it – so I bought it’s sequel –

The Creators: A History of Heroes of the Imagination by Daniel J. Boorstin
Not so good as the first one. But – but – this book had more of an impact me in terms of reading direction, adding three books to my list, two of which I now own, one of which is introduction by Boorstin. More on that soon. Anyway, this book is made up of short, biographies of the creators of western civilization. Starting from the Hindus of ancient India and ending with the cinema. In between we have short histories of the great persons of art: Homer, Giotto, Goethe, Whitman, Bach, Rabelais, and more and more and more. The only failing, as I see it, of this excellent book is that it lacks the driving progressive punch necessary to the structure of it’s predecessor. Where The Discoverers gets to move faster and faster as it progresses, The Creators has to become less and less mysterious as it progresses.

Reading Boorstin’s two books plus Diamonds book gave me what I thought was a pretty good introduction to world history. It was like a really great PBS pledge drive program schedule – without all the bad suits and shots of volunteers waiting to take my pledge. Do they still do that? I haven’t watched a PBS pledge drive in years.

I don’t think I was ready to dive into a terrifically specific academic work without some kind of foundation. So the unique general overview of these three books set out a pleasant path for me to follow. I was definitely ready for more though.

Coming Up: I buy the wrong book. But then I get the right one. And more!

3 thoughts on “An Experiment in History, Part Two

  1. I think I saw Guns, Germs, and Steel on PBS during pledge week! ;)I’m confused–did you read Roberts? I’m slowly wending my way through it myself.

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