THE HUMAN STORY: Our History, from the Stone Age to Today

James C. Davis, Author . HarperCollins $29.95 (466p) ISBN 978-0-06-051619-2

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)

Reviewed on: 05/10/2004
Release date: 07/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 466 pages - 978-0-06-051620-8
Open Ebook - 480 pages - 978-0-06-072957-8
Peanut Press/Palm Reader - 480 pages - 978-0-06-072955-4
Ebook - 480 pages - 978-0-06-115655-7
Ebook - 480 pages - 978-0-06-174568-3
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