Reviewer: David Bross of Williamsport.
What I read: "A History of the World in 100 Objects" by Neil MacGregor.
Synopsis: Imagine creating a history of your life using only toys, tools and other frequently used objects. Furthermore, for each stage of life (infancy, childhood, adolescence, etc.), you could only pick five objects. This is what the author has done in creating a history of the world.
Since most societies existed before the advent of writing, MacGregor believes that they are often ignored when studying the evolution of civilization. Another strike against pre-literate societies comes when cultures clash. When this happens, MacGregor believes that, "It is the victors who write the history, especially when only the victors know how to write. Those who are on the losing side often have only their things to tell their story."
Even as the book moves through more recent centuries to contemporary life, the author continues to show us how examining objects can be as revealing about a society as any document.
Stats: Published by Viking Press 2011, 658 pages, $45.
What I thought: It was fascinating to learn how modern medical technology (cat scans, MRIs, etc.) allows researchers to "virtually dissect" objects without damaging them. These technologies allow the objects to "speak" to archeologists and historians more clearly than ever before.
For example, when Egyptian mummies were examined to determine the materials used in the mummification process, these techniques also allowed researchers to determine the geographic origin of the materials.
This information gave them insight into the economic and political connections that existed between Egypt and its neighbors.
In another example, pottery shards found on a beach in Tanzania revealed that the Indian Ocean had served as a "center of the world" just as much as the Mediterranean Sea.
All told, the combination of insightful text and beautiful photographs make each object come to life and make this book difficult to put down.
What I'm reading next: "The Fish That Ate The Whale" by Rich Cohen.