The year’s best book?


At the end of each year, I sit back and review the reviews, to come up with the book that appealed the most. This year it was Andrew Marr’s History of the World (ISBN978-1-4472-3682-5, Pan Books 2013). We already know when the ‘Big Bang’ went off (give or take a millennium or two), we know when the dinosaurs met their doom, and we even have it nailed as to where we all came from. However, there are always ‘holes’ in our knowledge and I was hopeful this book might help the total picture.

I immediately warmed to the book where Marr begins with, “Writing a history of the world is a ridiculous thing to do. The only case for doing it, and for reading it, is that not having a sense of world history is even more ridiculous.” With those opening sentences, Andrew Marr had me sucked in.

He shies away from the Big Bang, dinosaurs and Charcharadon megalodons and commences his take on our history around 70,000 years ago, with our forebears including the one called “Mother”, and who lived a nomadic life in Africa and with whom we all share some DNA.

Marr is able to combine sociology, geography, history, agriculture and hard facts to show just how “we” began to evolve and does acknowledge “our” part in the development of the world, writing, “We began, and we remain, agents of instability.”

He divides our 70,000 years into eight slices, with Part 1 called Out of the Heat and into the Ice, and the final section simply 1918-2012 Our Times. There are also three sections with numerous color plates.

I found the section on the banking system quite fascinating, with the Wisselbank in Amsterdam opening in 1609 which would value different currencies that were being traded (for a fee of course)! One year later the Amsterdam Bourse opened, which had limited trading hours, which gave it an air of business-like frenzy, which has carried on through to today.

The book even shows the origin of the German swastika.

Marr manages to see a common thread in the American Civil War, Saigo Takamori’s Samurai warrior’s last stand and the Scots at Culloden in 1746. If nothing else, Instability reigned supreme – for a while.

It is also written in a most conversational style which make for easy reading of what can be heavy subject matter. For example, “When the Spanish arrived in Mexico and Peru, they brought microbes and mayhem, but they also brought monasteries and the mass.” And in discussion of the Nazca lines, “It was proposed earlier that the Nazca had some kind of smoke filled air balloon, but this theory has now crashed to earth.”

Any information about our past, in my opinion, is priceless, so at B. 468 for 565 pages, plus Notes, Index and a Bibliography, this is a literary bargain. Available at Bookazine (I got mine from The Avenue outlet) this book has the answers for even the most enquiring minds as to where and why in the History of the World.

This was an excellent book, very readable and highly recommended.