History: An Illustrated Guide by DK Publishing


As a student, and former teacher, of history I am always interested to see how authors and publishers attempt to present the grand sweep of history.  So when DK Publishing sent me information about History: An Illustrated Guide to the Ideas, Events and People that Shaped the Human Story I was intrigued. Here is the description from the flap jacket:

Homo sapiens have remained the same species, largely unchanged in genetic makeup and anatomy since the Cro-Magnon era. By contrast, the cultural, social, and technological changes since then have been nothing less than extraordinary. At the core of this development is the ability of humans to store and transmit knowledge, so that each new generation stands upon the shoulders of its predecessors. This ability to use what has gone before is what sets humans apart.

Telling our story, from prehistory to the present day, DK’s History is a thought-provoking journey, revealing the common threads and forces that have shaped human history. Taking a broad-themed approach, acknowledging varied factors at work, from climate, ecology, disease, and geology and their roles in the human story, this visual celebration makes history accessible and relevant, putting events in their wider context and showing how they have shaped the world we live in.

Having spent some time with it I have to say it is a remarkable work. Like the recently reviewed China: People Place Culture History, also from DK, the photographs, illustrations and graphics are remarkable. Just flipping through it and looking at the pictures and illustrations is fascinating. But it is more than just a coffee table type book. It is a useful educational tool. It has all the building blocks for a broad based knowledge of history: time-lines; large cultural, social, and political themes; key individuals and events; as well as important issues like climate, geology, and scientific innovation, etc.

It is organized by time periods connected to larger themes. So if you simply want to check out a time-line for a specific period you can look at an illustrated time-line of major events and historical figures. If you want to learn more about that time period you can dig deeper in the chapter. If you want to get a sense of the scope and periodization of the past you can simply flip through the pages like I did this past weekend.

It is big enough to involve a great deal of detail yet as an illustrated guide it is not as intimidating as a text book or encyclopedia. This would be a great resource for school age children or for an adult who wants a better grasp of world history. Heck, I have a graduate degree in history, and taught Western Civilization, and I have really enjoyed dipping into the sections dealing with time periods and areas outside my knowledge.

From what I could tell by reading sections and subject matter I knew best, the content seems based on consensus academic history; almost goes out of its way to present a balanced picture without becoming politically correct. As I said, a great basic overview of the scope of world history.

With so much information online these days, I am not sure how many people would look to have a book like this at home. But I found it to be a fascinating and valuable resource. It is a pleasure to look at and contains a staggering amount of information. I know educational entertainment can be a misnomer and often fails to live up to the education aspect, but to me – an admitted history buff – this is educational entertainment.

As I noted above, if you love history or have students in the house this would be a great addition to the library.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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