Monday, November 5, 2012

A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil McGregor *****

Neil MacGregor has written the ultimate bathroom reader: A History of the World in 100 Objects. In 100 self-contained little chapters, MacGregor traces the history of the world from stone tools of the Olduvai Gorge to silicon ones manufactured in high-tech factories in Shenzhen.

Each chapter tells in interesting story illustrated with an object from the British Museum and insights from the long perspective of the British Empire.

This historical journey starts with a new definition with what it mean to be human. Gone are the old homilies about tools and language that have been discarded as natural scientists decode these behaviors among many other animals. The new criteria? Is the result more complex than necessary. Over design is what makes use human. Think about it.

Another charming example is the design of the first coins for a illiterate society. The largest denomination coin pictured a lion, and each smaller denomination showed less of the lion, until the smallest coins just had a lion's paw.

Juxtapose this with the archeologist's observation: "When a plate or a vase is whole it is alarmingly fragile; once it is smashed the pieces of pottery are almost indestructible."

Then there are the etymological gems. From the Taino, who first greeted Columbus on the shore of Hispanola, we get hurricane, barbecue, hammock, canoe, and tobacco. From the Nahuatl, who first greeted Cortez in Mexico City, we get tomato, chocolate, and avocado.

A simply wonderful book to be read in a hundred sittings, unless you get caught by the teasers at the end of each chapter taunting you on to the next chapter.

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