History of the World
I've done a good amount of reading about history in my time. I love history, did as a youth, and even moreso now. However, I've always read bits and pieces, the Greeks here, the Irish there, the Romans over here, etc. Yet I've never really done a complete survey.
So I bought and am reading J.M. Roberts New (Penguin) History of THE WORLD (that's the way it looks on the cover.) I'm still in the very ancient world, having covered prehistory, Sumer and Mesopotamia, Egypt, and am rolling about with some of the smaller civs of the day, such as the Hittites.
What fascinates me the most is to try and get inside of the head of the people who lived in that day. Richard Dawkins, in his book The Ancestor's Tale, talks about the arrogance of the present. In other words, we have a tendency to view our current society as the pinnacle of civilization and evolution, and to view the past societies as aiming at the present, rather than being in and of themselves very present and, in a sense, their own pinnacle. It is in some ways a very fine point to make, but an important one. The people of ancient Egypt didn't sit there thinking, ah, someday we will all mean something when the whole world is populated and connected by magical communication machines and flying devices to travel the world over. They lived thinking, Ah, here we are, this is what God meant when he made people. Think I'll build a pyramid!
What did it mean to have hopes and dreams in Sumer? How did people view themselves and society? What did they feel? What did they feel when their children raced in from playing outside, laughing, arms outstretched? I would wager that they felt much the same six thousand years ago (get your mind around that) as we do today. Did they analyze their feelings? Did they try to find themselves? Did they become discontent? Did they have a midlife crisis? What did it mean to live your life by the light of the sun and the oil of a few lamps? What was entertainment? What was work? What was leisure? What was war? What was it like to march out with spear and shield, away from your family for months or even years at a time, no letters home, no email, no communication. Those lucky enough to return finding their young children grown, even married. What was a global perspective? How did you learn?
What was the meaning of life?
The questions can keep coming all day long. That's the beauty of history. Those that don't care for learning history miss the most glorious aspect of it: That history was made by flesh and blood people like you and me, who lived, loved, cried and died, leaving their little marks on the world so long ago.