The History of the World in a 2 kilogram book
June 3, 2011 6:41 AM   Subscribe

If you could choose one very large, comprehensive book as a "general history of the world from 4000 BC to present", what book would you buy? Bonus points if I can buy it used from Amazon's third-party used booksellers.

This doesn't necessarily need to be a textbook, but should be written at a 12th grade or higher level if possible. Something with useful and relevant colour illustrations would be nice. This is to be a gift for a young family member that is just becoming old enough to read and comprehend high school level material.
posted by thewalrus to Education (19 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
I was obsessed with Asimov's Chronology of the World as a younger reader, and I still find myself flipping through it sometimes and getting sucked in.
posted by something something at 6:50 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was given the People's Chronology about that time and thought it was the best thing ever.

Short entries that are easy to digest and spurred me on to find out more in other places. It has been one of those books that I can still just sit down and flip through to find a few minutes to an hour of general reading.
posted by Tchad at 6:54 AM on June 3, 2011

I would buy something like Janson's History of Art.
posted by hermitosis at 6:56 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

This sounds flippant, but Larry Gonick's Cartoon History of the Universe books are fantastic high-level global histories. They're interesting and informative, while being pretty fun, too. And Gonick really does a good job of covering the whole world; Eurocentrism's definitely not a problem. Not a single-volume solution (I think there are 3 ..of the Universe volumes and then 2 ...of the Modern World, with the break between the two being roughly Columbus). I adored those books in high school, and frankly, I still do in my mid 30s.
posted by COBRA! at 6:59 AM on June 3, 2011 [8 favorites]

Seconding "People's Chronology."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:59 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I second Larry Gonick. I was just about to suggest him when COBRA! beat me to it.
posted by yeolcoatl at 7:01 AM on June 3, 2011

The problem with Larry Gonick, though, is that it's 5 or so books rather than just the one. However, if the OP does want to make that exception, it's well worth it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:12 AM on June 3, 2011

A Little History of the World not a "big" book but written for the younger reader. Check out some reviews.
People's Chronology mentioned upthread is wonderful but is basically a list of dry though interesting facts. Great for browsing.
posted by adamvasco at 7:18 AM on June 3, 2011

A Little History of the World is fun and a nice read, but too eurocentric to be really comprehensive.

I would recommend either the New Penguin History of the World for a traditional narrative, or the Times Atlas of World History for something visual.
posted by plep at 7:24 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

should be written at a 12th grade or higher level if possible

This is to be a gift for a young family member that is just becoming old enough to read and comprehend high school level material.

Based on the second, I'm wondering if you mistyped? Or are you looking for something particularly challenging?

I came in to suggest the Larry Gonick series, despite it not meeting your "one book" criterion. It's very accessibly written; I'd have reservations about content (sex and violence) before readability with regard to the maturity of the recipient. The biggest problem I see is that a person of a certain age might be offended to get "comics" as a present, though the aforementioned sex & violence might convince them that it was "grown up" enough.

(As a person generally sensitive to S&V, I think that Gonick's depictions are more matter-of-fact than gratuitous.)
posted by endless_forms at 7:26 AM on June 3, 2011

If you mean a 12 year old (rather than a 12th grader), I remember reading Plantagenet Somerset Fry's 'History of the World' when I was about 10. It helped encourage my interest in history, had lots of illustrations, and had suitable coverage of non-Western civilisations (Chinese dynasties, Mesoamerica, India), and also ancient civilisations. It had a nice timeline inside the front (BC) and back (AD) covers showing events in different parts of the world at any given time.

Plantagenet Somerset Fry authored a number of history books for children; he died in 1996 so I don't know what recent editions would be like. But I would recommend that book for a child of about that age.
posted by plep at 7:33 AM on June 3, 2011

Response by poster: endless_forms: I didn't mistype, the person that would be receiving the book is already reading voluminous novels intended for adults that are many years ahead of their peer group... given the instant reference of internet based dictionaries and thesauruses (thesaurii?) a college level history book is not beyond their grasp.
posted by thewalrus at 7:56 AM on June 3, 2011

Chiming in on Janson's History of Art. The great thing about Art History is that it's very interdisciplinary - you get lots of regular history, anthropology, sociology, etc. mixed in.
posted by Sara C. at 8:12 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding/thirding A Little History of the World by E. H. Gombrich.
posted by Paquda at 8:14 AM on June 3, 2011

I can't believe nobody's mentioned The Encyclopedia of World History. It's exactly what you want, as far as I can see; it only goes up to 2000 or so, but surely that's not a serious defect. I consult it all the time. Use the "Look inside" function and see if it works for you.
posted by languagehat at 8:56 AM on June 3, 2011

History teacher here: Larry Gonick is totally the way to go. Yes, it's more than one book. It's also totally worth it. His work is accessible, engaging, intelligent, realistic and fun. He doesn't shy away from the ugly stuff -- and I'm sorry, but history just isn't rated PG or even PG-13.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:07 AM on June 3, 2011

William McNeill's The Rise of the West is exactly like this: a massive book (2.5 pounds) covering the whole of human history, with color plates. It ends with the Cuban Missile Crisis. Amazon.

An alternate recommendation would be McNeill's A World History. It's shorter and has more of a narrative flow (so it may be more suitable for a young person who's reading adult-level novels); it doesn't have the color plates.

Another alternate recommendation for an intelligent young person would be Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel. It provides an even broader perspective, discussing the transition to settled agriculture and its impact on subsequent human history, but doesn't discuss individual civilizations in detail.
posted by russilwvong at 9:07 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Daniel Boorstin, The Discoverers. Best history book I've ever read.
posted by coolguymichael at 9:36 AM on June 3, 2011

One of the best survey course type tomes I've read is J.M. Robert's History of the World.
posted by cool breeze at 2:35 PM on June 3, 2011

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