Dan Sandman

11: A History of The World In 100 Objects

In Books, History, Non-Fiction on 14/03/2014 at 12:00 pm

A History of The World In 100 ObjectsI live near the British Museum: 40 minutes by foot or half an hour by public transport. Established in 1753 as the first national public museum in the world, the British Museum receives around 6 million visitors a year. It is vast, stuffed full of historical objects, and contains over 90 fully stocked rooms. In fact, the museum is so full of interesting things and experts that it is possible to discover the entire history of the world within its walls. That’s exactly where A History of The World In 100 Objects steps in. It helps to make the museum more enjoyable.

Written by the museum’s director Meil MacGregor, this book was originally presented as a BBC Radio 4 programme. Over the course of 20 weeks, each weekday programme discussed 5 objects, each discussion lasted around a quarter of an hour. An audio version of the show was later released on CD lasting approximately 25 hours (that’s 20 CDs worth of historical chat). I was lucky enough to borrow both the audio version and the book version from my local library.

The text has been slightly altered from the book adaptation, but the 20 chapter categories and 100 objects  remain chronologically unchanged. For example, part one begins with a prehistory – an Egyptian mummy, a Tanzanian chopping  tool and a handaxe, a swimming reindeer from France, and a spear point from the USA. Finally, part 20 concludes with a solar-powered lamp from China alongside a credit card from the United Arab Emirates. All of these objects span the globe, telling the story of people through things.

And it is a tale of war and displacement, poetry and science, money and religion, food and sex; a history of epic proportions, spanning the entire globe, usually tolled by the victorious and portraying the leadership – the Alexander The Great’s and Jesus Christ’s of history. Ordinary people are glimpsed at, alluded to as migrating masses, often not wealthy or powerful enough to be immortalised by historical objects, but nonetheless an important part of the scene. The history of the world in 100 objects: a beautiful patched quilt representation of life; a sweepingly ambitious attempt to make sense of the world.

I highly recommend this book to readers with a broad interest in world history and to visitors of the British Museum.

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