Thanks to NetGalley & The School of Life for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.
The book is aimed at children and is definitely going to appeal to them with the illustrations. However, it is a book that requires an adult on hand to answer questions that children will have when reading the book (e.g. "Mama, what does 'subjugation' mean?"), but also to help talk over the little bit of whitewashing I can see going on here (mentions Trail of Tears but glosses over it as being a bit of a long walk), and stretching history (using "Britain" to refer to country of origin of settlers in the early days of the US when it was initially people from England specifically is not helpful, or correct). In other words, if you were a kid whose adult didn't know much about history, you could be in a little bit of trouble here. Having said that it was an enjoyable read despite these issues.
To be honest this is is one book that i was highly looking forward to reading since of the fact that there are a lot of big ideas floating around in history that have influenced our modern world in this time. And as a result I was really curious as to what the book would think was a big idea, its importance and how it may also relate to young readers
Instead I have to say <i>Big Ideas From History</i> is really an insidious book and one that should be more of cautionary read if you are really up for a challenge. Like many other books that can be found in this genre of political books geared towards children there is a lot of truth and good things to know to lull you into a sense that the publisher has your best interests at heart while the actual dangers lie wrapped up like needles in <i>Halloween candy</i>. Meanwhile there is no proof to the reader on what the political goals are of the publisher which also rankles me since I like to know what I am up against.
Unfortunately upon cracking this book open and starting to read it I was shocked at the actual presentation. One of the first examples that the book offers to readers about history is the fact that since Napoleon and the Germans from WWII were unable to defeat Russia then young readers should learn from history that Russia should not be attacked. Furthermore the knowledge that Russia should not be attacked isn't actually necessary for young readers to know anyway since many of them won't be planning any attacks on Russia anyway nor the fact that many of the readers will be a in position of power that may have to make said decision. Meanwhile there is no mention that part of the failure of the attack on Russia was since both enemies of that country were fighting a two-fronted battle thus spreading resources dangerously thin and destroying other resources on their way to fight the country while also at same time being badly prepared. As such history doesn't present us only with a lesson on not attacking Russia but also with lessons on strategy and wisdom for similar situations that can be applied personally in life as well as on a bigger stage. But I guess this isn't important....
And if you think that the author was just trying to thin it down they made wonderful points of gleaning lessons relevant to people and modern situation from other "non-necessary" situations later on.
From there the rest of the <i>Introduction</i> seems to play loosely with the rest of history while setting up the stage that the book is working on making activists of our kids or some type of commune-style since the major message seems to emphasize constantly and this will be found throughout the book that only one individual is necessary to make changes to society. At the same time this same introductory portion also showcases to the reader that the publisher is also willing to change history to meet their narrative by providing a famous portrait of Washington then making mention that he looks glum since even though he did change history it was only a little bit better instead of a whole better. Last time I knew about this topic he always seemed so <i>glum</i> due the uncomfortability of badly fitted dentures. Furthermore they play with history by mentioning that the American colonists were a part of the United Kingdom (origins 1801) and wanted their freedom although once more I thought it had more to do with no taxation without representation and unfair government practices.
The book does briefly dip into some of the major religions but instead or providing an in-depth look they trim the fat by picking out one major characteristic that later the reader will find out they like to add to their ideology. As a result Buddhism's core tenet is suffering, Christianity's is forgiveness and later in its own chapter Islam is mentioned for balance thus no exploration of the Noble Eightfold Path or the body of redemption. This is rather not surprising as the School of Life has earlier dismissed all ancient religions since they "weren't true".
At the same time there is a dilution of the Ancient Greek religion in which all the gods were mentioned as living on Mount Olympus when it simply wasn't true. But probably in the worst transgression of presenting a religion was the awkward juxtaposition of Apollo and Dionysus with the former being cleaned of all his transgression to be provided as a golden boy goody-two-shoes while the latter with lack of mention of him being a god wine being provided as your bad boy full of mischief and destruction. Please never again may I see this....
And finally on the religion front they blame the majority of Christianity for being the reason that people started to fight about religion although if you clearly study history you will see that this wasn't the case. True Christianity in its later phases with the separation of Catholicism and Protestantism had a lot of horrid bloodshed but people were fighting over religion long before Christianity appeared on the scene.
The book's publisher is also quite cruelly narcissistic and superior when it comes to beliefs around animals. Like a bunch of modern political reads they make mention that it is only our large brains that allow us, <i>homo sapiens</i> to have tools when clearly other animals have had tools and also a pop-up later of Neanderthal man also having tools. But wasn't it just us with our big brains? Furthermore only humans have cities and governments while also being the only ones to invent farming. And who came up with the fact that just because human of the past considered themselves superior translated that to mean being cruel since although not all human-animal interactions were based on cruelty?
In the historical aspects there was considerable whitewashing of history as could be figured into the picture in this political clime. Since we came to the Aztecs first I found this entry really a joke. The authors of this book wants the reader to know that since of their religion the Aztecs sacrificed themselves when clearly we know a lot better that the Aztecs were more likely to sacrifice prisoners and/or slaves to their gods and in usually massive numbers thus the reason their empire was so large. And as a result the book grieves for the hardships they dealt with at the hands of the conquistadors and waxes poetically how much they should have been allowed to continue in their development without interference. Are we taking into consideration any of the feelings of those who suffered under Aztec hands?
The history of the indigenous people of North America was basically chalked up as "subjugation" due to guns as well as the settler's fear and lack of wanting to get to know someone different than themselves. Basically a repeat that the Spaniards weren't really any better than the poor Aztecs but just had higher technology. Furthermore here is no mention of the attacks that the tribes also led against the settlers even if it was in retaliation or not just as there was no mention of people of color slave owners, indentured slaves or enslaved Native Americans when it came to the section on slavery. I do have to give them props, though, since they at least acknowledge that Africans were known for selling their own to the slave trade.
In the follow-up to these sections the book mentions <i>And while segregation no longer officially exists, many outdated policies and laws still promote an idea of inferiority and cause great harm to African Americans today.</i> Really? Why don't you name one or a handful since I haven't heard of any besides the lies that are passed around to divide our country.
The rest of the book takes a dive into some really weird concepts after providing the reader with modern concepts such as the failed attempts of communism, the ever-present capitalism and the fair yet illogical sense of democracy where those with the knowledge aren't "flying the plane". Again the book does make fair points but it doesn't provide answers to these same problems.
There is cause to celebrate for atheism, which like Islam basically has its own section. And then since of the need for god as a motivator for good and beautiful things we should replace that concept of religion with art. <i> - You could look at a picture and ask the kinds of questions religions were good at asking. Religions have always been good at asking these big, important questions. So if art galleries were going to replace religion they needed to ask and answer these questions too.</i> Although not too far into it the authors do concede the art as god movement failed since the peasants weren't well-educated enough about the points of the pieces used or something like that.
The attack on education started rather early in the book with the introduction making it seem like it was fine not to do your homework as long as you only did a little bit of it instead of none of it. Once you start getting towards the end of the book you are advised that the whole system of schools and education should be re-done. Teachers should be based upon how they inspire their students done the road while teaching subjects as: being a good friend, being sensible around money, finding out what you really want to be when you grow up, being creative and investing things yourself rather than staring at a screen, making sense of your parents and how to deal with bullies. Reading would no longer be an important concept but maybe a bit of pleasure while higher maths and science would be unnecessary. And to go with their model why would it be unnecessary to know how a volcano works on the inside, especially if you maybe want to be a volcanologist?
Meanwhile other aspects of the School of Life's viewpoints is more emphasis should be put on emotional education as well as how to make it where we can interpret people's emotions, making cities to be beautiful to visit and that we should dump money on the non-sustainable usage of renewable energy since as long as we can make it seem cheap people will swallow it. Statistics of the future should measure laughter and how people laugh since mean laughter isn't good. Thus it also wasn't a surprise that they would also want us to come up with some type of "harmless" chemicals to make vegetable foods taste more yummy.
And for some smaller issues the book had included a weird flop between the metric and imperial measuring systems, the mention of the Queen of England (may they change this to now reflect the new King before publishing?), a misspelling of bubonic, mentioning waiters at a royal court dinner, an incorrect location mentioned in a caption for the Aztecs and using the year 1493 for Columbus. And why is it a woman who was taking care of a baby couldn't help to find food since last I knew it was doable although probably not something you would look forward to but hey between dying of starvation or surviving you do what you have to do.
In the end after having dragged myself through this book I will say I am done and hopefully not have to see this again. I am sorry for those children whose parents will line up for this book and hopefully just maybe they will be able to pick out the facts, learn something or two then book the rest as fanciful cobwebs.
**I received a free copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.**
I think this book is mostly good! I liked that it was decently worldly and not completely Eurocentric. When talking about religions it included some major ones besides Christianity including the Islamic golden age, Buddhism, and atheism. It talked about how slavery has a long, normalized history across the globe but how the generational Transatlantic slave trade in the Americas was intentionally made way worse. It has a good mix of illustrations and real pictures.
Thanks to netgalley for a free copy in exchange for an honest review!
I love the way that it links big ideas from history to the everyday lives of children, making history relevant to everyone and showing how history helps us to understand ourselves and others around us. It's also beautifully illustrated.
I have been hunting for non-fiction books to recommend to my students and being a bit of a History buff, my eyes went all heart-shaped when I saw this on NetGalley.
When I read the contents page, I went, "Phwoar!" because it is colourful and seems well-organised. But as I read on, I am very torn over this. There are a few typos here and there but those are not my major concerns. It is the way it is designed and written that makes me hesitate over recommending this to my students. The pictures are great and seem to be for a younger audience. But there are some rather challenging words for children. The way historical events are presented is a bit wordy yet over-simplified. It is difficult to explain this without being a bit too harsh. Generally speaking, it is impossible to decide what age range this book is aiming for.
What a great, enthralling book about world history geared to young people! It's expertly organized and does a good job of including significant events from around the world. I loved that it didn't shy away from some of the controversial topics (at least here in the US) like world religions and evolution. There are very key and powerful concepts that are explained through some very relevant examples in everyday life.
While this may be for a younger audience, I would never hesitate to recommend it to any adult who a) may not feel they received the history education they deserve, or b) needs to brush up on what they may not remember. It may even be a good book to read together with the younger people in your life, and not just if you are a teacher. There is a lot of depth here that could add to good family discussions and may bring a sense of intellectualism to discussions with them.
I'm sure some kids may recognize the fact that this was not directly written for American kids (for some the use of "mum" may give it away) but I don't think that will stop them or that they will find it any less accessible. It may even be something that could be beneficial, for it doesn't matter who's telling the story when that story is all of ours.