Has there ever been a history of the world as readable as this?
In The Human Story, James C. Davis takes us on a journey to ancient times, telling how peoples of the world settled down and founded cities, conquered neighbors, and established religions, and continues over the course of history, when they fought two nearly global wars and journeyed into space.
Davis's account is swift and clear, never dull or dry. He lightens it with pungent anecdotes and witty quotes. Although this compact volume may not be hard to pick up, it's definitely hard to put down.
For example, on the death of Alexander the Great, who in a decade had never lost a single battle, and who had staked out an empire that spanned the entire Near East and Egypt, Davis writes: "When they heard how ill he was, the king's devoted troops insisted on seeing him. He couldn't speak, but as his soldiers -- every one -- filed by in silence, Alexander's eyes uttered his farewells. He died in June 323 B.C., at the ripe old age of thirty-two."
In similar fashion Davis recounts Russia's triumph in the space race as it happened on an autumn night in 1957: "A bugle sounded, flames erupted, and with a roar like rolling thunder, Russia's rocket lifted off. It bore aloft the earth's first artificial satellite, a shiny sphere the size of a basketball. Its name was Sputnik, meaning 'companion' or 'fellow traveler' (through space). The watchers shouted, 'Off. She's off. Our baby's off!' Some danced; others kissed and waved their arms."
Though we live in an age of many doubts, James C. Davis thinks we humans are advancing. As The Human Story ends, he concludes, "The world's still cruel; that's understood, / But once was worse. So far so good."
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James C. Davis taught history at the University of Pennsylvania for thirty-four years. He is the author of four other books, dealing with Venice, the early history of European nations, and the lives of peasants and blue-collar workers.From Publishers Weekly:
Davis, who taught history at the University of Pennsylvania, has taken on an unusual project—to relate all of human history in the simplest terms possible for the broadest audience possible. The chapter titles illustrate his method of abstracting large themes from a multitude of events—"The richer countries grab the poorer," for example, isn't a bad summary of 19th-century imperialism, but it does risk seeming remedial. At his best, Davis does for human history what Stephen Hawking did for the atom and the universe—take a step back from the details and translate them into common terms. But human history lacks the elegance of subatomic particles, so the book constantly flirts with a kind of riotous overgeneralization, treating immensely complex entities like "England" or "workers" as much as possible like single individuals in psychological terms. The method works better for events that are known widely but not in detail—an example is Stalin's purges—for which Davis can bring the reader a smattering of pungent details and move on. For more familiar subjects, the reader may feel the author is being glib. Davis elevates thinkers above leaders, devoting far more space to Newton and Darwin than to Napoleon and Caesar. It is refreshing to have a treatment of human life at once learned and optimistic, and one that so forcefully focuses on the primacy of ideas in our triumphant story. 9 maps, 4 line illus.
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