Civilization: A New History of the Western World

Written by Roger Osborne
Review by Nancy Henshaw

From cave paintings to post 9/11, this book is a treasury.

New light on the Mesolithic; illumination of the Dark Ages; the pleasures and comfort of medieval urban living. A cool look at the Medici; Christianity’s yet unhealed, self-inflicted wound; the age of discovery and the despoiling of New Worlds. Revolutions: “Glorious” British; French, American.

The economic watershed of 1750-1800 ushers in the complexities of the Industrial Revolution: Britain’s head start taking home-based workers into the factory, the truly noble aims of the early trade unionists – high wages never compensated for degradation and crushed aspirations. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, immigrants and pioneers are shaping a continent.

The chapter “Towards the Abyss” warns us that the intolerable must be endured. This is humanity: adaptable, hardy, quarrelsome, capable of every extreme, never-endingly astounding. Osborne writes with robust, unsparing clarity of the extraordinary beings at present dominating our planet. The maps are useful, the bibliography extensive. And there is only one short footnote. Readers (especially those who found history tedious at school) are urgently recommended to read this timely, admirable book.