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“A Brief History of the Human Race” by Michael Cook Essay

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Updated: Dec 14th, 2021

Introduction

Michael Cook’s “A Brief History of the Human Race” portrays the general outline of global human history over the past 10,000 years. Michael Cook, Princeton University professor, is a specialist in Islamic history. Cook is more a confrontational questioner of human history rather than a speaker of it. In this book, Cook has done an admirable job covering the main themes of world history in a nutshell. Though there is some scope for negative criticism, the book is amazingly balanced and comprehensively narrative and adds value to the title by outlining the up-to-date human history. The book is a real achievement which is readable and informative.

Main Body

In this book, Cook discusses world human history and human life in a broadly materialistic way using four parts. Part one speaks about prehistory (the Paleolithic, the Neolithic, and the emergence of civilization) using three chapters. Part two speaks about the smaller continents (Australia, the Americas, Africa) using three chapters. Part three speaks about Eurasian landmass using five chapters, and it focuses the Eastern civilizations and sections on India, China, the Mediterranean world and Western Europe. Part four describes the recent centuries using three chapters. Part four focuses on Islamic civilization in its first chapter and on European expansion in its second chapter. The final chapter of the part four focuses on the major role of Britain in the industrial revolution, and also focuses on the cultural and religious forces that are opposed at the onset of the 21st century.

I must agree that the book does not provide complete picture of the human history as per the title of the book. Many incidents are missing. For example, Cook fails to mention about prehistoric megaliths of northwestern Europe, Indus Valley civilization, etc. Even the author does not provide an organized outline of the human history. Though Cook states, “The account of human history given in this book is broadly materialist” (Renfrew, 2004), he gives only little consideration to technological developments over the past years. Moreover, the illustrations given in the book are of poor quality with unclear photos. Even though the book does not give attention to the complete details of world history, it covers the broad themes with interesting information and good arguments.

The book is a well-structured and thought-provoking literary exploration of human life from Paleolithic age to recent centuries with interesting questions. The author explains about the “prehistoric origins of human history across the world through the increasing unification of the world, initially by Muslims and then by European Christians in the modern period” (A Brief History of the Human Race), revealing the incidents that have lead to broad historical change. Cook first provides “an overview of a particular region’s history, and then analyzes in depth some of its cultural developments” (A Brief History of the Human Race). Cook has done a praiseworthy exploration covering the main themes of world history. Though readers looking for human history may be disappointed for not able to get the complete picture of the human history, the author’s excellent trail to integrate geography to the histories of major events makes the book really useful for the readers. Moreover, Cook’s writing style and language are clear and enjoyable.

Conclusion

Overall, this book is a balanced and well-structured narrative that takes you to a tour of cultures and eras over the past 10,000 years. Though the author discusses a few important historical events, the book is about broad themes. The author has to be appreciated for this informative and entertaining book which is a real achievement. This is a great book for people with some prior knowledge about world history.

Reference

A Brief History of the Human Race. (n.d.). 2009. Web.

Renfrew, C. (2004). Fast forward through all humanity. Web.

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IvyPanda. 2021. ""A Brief History of the Human Race" by Michael Cook." December 14, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/a-brief-history-of-the-human-race-by-michael-cook/.

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