File spoon-archives/marxism2.archive/marxism2_1996/96-07-31.055, message 111

Date: Mon, 29 Jul 1996 15:18:13 -0400
Subject: Re: Good History of Western Civilization?

Philip Locker writes:

>I know this is sort of out of the blue but I wanted some help finding a book.
>Can anybody recomend a good history of Western Civilization (It does not
>have to be marxist) from the Greeks on up.  It could be a serries or
>individual books on different periods (Greeks, Romans, Middle Ages, etc,
>18th century) or 1 book!  I'm looking for a all around hisrory in the
>historical sense, i.e. not that much of an interpertation ,but more what
>happened (intellectually, cultural, economic, political, etc.)

Well, this is maybe the opposite of the answer you're looking for, but
if you have the time, and assuming you have already a basic (high
school level) grasp of what happened when, I'd recommend a dual
course of action:

(1) Go to the library and check out a *bunch* of different stuff.  Go by the
blurb on the back, go by familiar authors, go by titles, go by the color
of the cover.  It doesn't matter.  But try to come up w/ twenty - thirty
diverse books on various historical subjects, from various time periods,
with various breadths of focus, geographical areas, etc.  A few, if not
several, of these should be biographies of folks you're interested in.

(2) Check out the collections of friends who're into stuff you don't know
much about.  Art history, literary history, the history of architecture.
Geography, travelogues, journalism.  Histories of institutions.  Basically,
you're looking for stuff that you wouldn't normally pick up.  Histories
of boat design, of military tactics, etc.

After you read all this stuff, you'll have a good idea of what to specialize
in as you pursue further those things that particularly interest you.  You
may have a list of authors who you like.  Or if there's a biography that
interested you, try getting three or four more about the same person by
different authors.

Basically, what I'm getting at is that my experience has been that history
is just too "big" to get any kind of handle on w/ one book or one series
of books.  It's too big for history books.  You will do best, I think, to start
w/ a shotgun approach, and only later try and fill in the blurry spots.

Oh, one more thing.  *Ask librarians*!  Books are their business, and
time and again I've been blown away by the stuff they'll recommend,
often in uncharted areas of the Dewey Decimal System rarely if ever
explored by the general public, that can start you on a whole new


-- Matt D.

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