“From the sixteenth century onward the history of mankind is a story of political and social institutions becoming more and more plainly misfits, less comfortable and more vexatious, and of the reluctant realization of the need for a conscious and deliberate reconstruction of the whole scheme of human societies in the face of needs and possibles new to all the former experiences of life.” (Ch.52, p.250)
First published in 1922, crammed into just under 350 pages, in highly lurid and readble prose, is the history of the origins of the world millions of years ago until the outcome of the First World War. The book is impressive in its scope and groundbreaking in its approach. It’s the first book of its kind to try and narrate the entirety of the planet’s history on an evolutionary, sociological, and anthropological basis.
Although it’s a period piece, somewhat outdated, Wells gives us a survey of how the world, or more aptly, its political organization comes to be such today. It is free from the certainties of opinion held in Edwardian England. It is not Euro-centric, only focusing on the significant role Europe and its empires over the centuries plays in the development of human beings.
Wells’ history doesn’t focus on the actions of great men. His history is narrative, a sequencing of events that occasionally stops to discuss issues or matters that stand out to him as significant. He is good at giving reader a panoramic view of events happening concurrently over different parts of the world in the same period. Wells presents history without any attempt to place it into a politicized framework. Nor does he discriminate any race. In elegant prose he describes the Aryans, the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Persians, the Romans—all flourished remarkably up to the 4th century AD but they declined for some centuries, until Western Europe started off again. In the interim, after the fall of the Roman Empire, the rise of papal imperial power, the Great Schism of the Church, the Semites and the Mongols had dominated most of the Eurasian landmass.
The vast period following the split of the Roman Empire (into West and East Empire) has significant impact on languages and religious of the world today. Wells describes in details how western Europe came to be Latinized—how the Romanian, Italian, French and Spanish languages are all variations and modifications of Latin. Eastern Europe and Asia Minor remained adamant in their languages and gods, rendering the region a constant battlefield of Christendom crusades. The lack of central government in Europe after Roman’s fall, such antagonism among the local states, the narrow intense struggle for phantom predominance is to consume European energy for 1,000 years, until 18th century. However, Wells doesn’t believe history is a cyclical process, more a result of intelligence (or the lack of) on the part of humans. The book demonstrates Wells’ admirable skill in the compression of material, and extraction of what matters, with a sense of moral purpose.The history is seen through the perspective of human psyche—the frailties and limitations.
371 pp. Penguin Classics. Trade Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]