Roger Osborne,
(Pimlico, 2007)

Civilisation will allow history buffs to reduce the strain on bookshelves that are bowing under the weight of a dozen heavy tomes. Seldom has a subtitle been so apt as "A new history of the Western World."

Roger Osborne has done the almost impossible. He has managed to condense the history of the West into just under 500 pages without missing a single important epoch, incident or person. Indeed, not only has he tabulated the history, he gives some excellent, concise and erudite interpretations of events that will make reader consider points previously overlooked.

Starting in the beginning, naturally, with "Prehistory & Illiterate Societies" he plunges us headlong into a riveting read through our past. He moves seamlessly through the epochs and interprets the past in a light but telling manner. He reminds us that our conception of the "Dark Ages" is a common misconception.

His chapters on Italy in the Renaissance are a combination of exciting revelation of common knowledge and debunked myths. Few will fail to be intrigued by his expansion on the birth of banking. Other areas tackled include the rights or otherwise of kings, the revolutions and the growth of imperialism. The latter comes in for in-depth analysis that shows how the very few benefited from a strategy that we so often imagine as impinging on all peoples lives.

The reasons why the "war to end all wars" began is a fascinating read, as is the logic behind the huge death toll of that conflict. We seldom reflect on how warfare, equalization of opposing sides and the increasing industrial might of nations contributed to the deaths of vast swathes of the population.

The book is sweeping in scope, microscopic in examination and a joy to read. It treats so many epochs of history with new evidence that we can discard some of our older volumes.

review by
Nicky Rossiter

6 December 2008

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