Has there ever been a history of the world as readable as this In The Human Story , James C. Davis takes us on a journey to ancient times, telling how peoples of the world settled down and founded cities, conquered neighbors, and established religions, and continues over the course of history, when they fought two nearly global wars and journeyed into space. Davis's account is swift and clear, never dull or dry. He lightens it with pungent anecdotes and witty quotes. Although this compact volume may not be hard to pick up, it's definitely hard to put down. For example, on the death of Alexander the Great, who in a decade had never lost a single battle, and who had staked out an empire that spanned the entire Near East and Egypt, Davis writes: "When they heard how ill he was, the king's devoted troops insisted on seeing him. He couldn't speak, but as his soldiers -- every one -- filed by in silence, Alexander's eyes uttered his farewells.
Davis, who taught history at the University of Pennsylvania, has taken on an unusual project-to relate all of human history in the simplest terms possible for the broadest audience possible. The chapter titles illustrate his method of abstracting large themes from a multitude of events-"The richer countries grab the poorer," for example, isn't a bad summary of 19th-century imperialism, but it does risk seeming remedial. At his best, Davis does for human history what Stephen Hawking did for the atom and the universe-take a step back from the details and translate them into common terms. But human history lacks the elegance of subatomic particles, so the book constantly flirts with a kind of riotous overgeneralization, treating immensely complex entities like "England" or "workers" as much as possible like single individuals in psychological terms. The method works better for events that are known widely but not in detail-an example is Stalin's purges-for which Davis can bring the reader a smattering of pungent details and move on. For more familiar subjects, the reader may feel the author is being glib. Davis elevates thinkers above leaders, devoting far more space to Newton and Darwin than to Napoleon and Caesar. It is refreshing to have a treatment of human life at once learned and optimistic, and one that so forcefully focuses on the primacy of ideas in our triumphant story. 9 maps, 4 line illus. Agent, Richard Balkin.(July 1) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
July 26, 2005
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from The Human Story by James C. Davis
Our tale begins when humans much like us evolved and filled the earth.
Before that happened other humans had already come and gone. The most important of our forebears was Homo erectus, or Upright Men, so named because they stood on their two feet. They evolved in Africa about two million years ago and wandered into Asia. They sometimes lived in caves and sometimes in the open, and they chipped their simple tools from stone and learned the use of fire. Erectus had heavy brows and flatter skulls than we do, and if one were to enter a bus today the other riders probably would stealthily slip out.
Before erectus vanished perhaps 300,000 years ago, they begat the species we belong to. We of course are Homo sapiens, or Wise Men. Immodestly we gave ourselves that name because we have larger brains, encased in higher skulls, than erectus. In spite of having larger brains, the early sapiens humans may not have had the gift of language.
* * *
They change their minds every time they find an ancient skull, but anthropologists are fairly sure that our own subspecies evolved from sapiens about 160,000 years ago. We probably evolved in Africa, below the Sahara Desert. To indicate that we are a subspecies of sapiens, we call ourselves Homo sapiens sapiens, or Wise Wise Men. We are now the only variety of humans on earth.
We evolved in different ways. Some of those in Africa developed tall, thin bodies that exposed a lot of skin and that air could therefore cool more easily. Dark pigment in their skin protected them from the tropical sun's ultraviolet rays, and their tight-curled hair protected their heads from the heat. But humans who lived in Europe and Asia, coping with the long, dark winters, had other needs. To keep their bones from weakening, they needed sunlight to stimulate vitamin D production. Dark skin would have blocked out too much sun, so they developed pink or sallow skin with little pigment.