Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

The Story of the World by W.B. Bartlett

How do you write a story of the world? The subject matter is of course vast to the point of almost being infinite and what to put in and what to leave out becomes a monumental challenge of Herculean proportions. In the end it is all a matter of personal choice.

Yet some informal guidelines help. For one thing I had decided from the start of writing this book, which took several years of my life to complete, that I would adopt a strictly chronological approach. World histories often adopt a thematic rather than a time-based view of things. I fully understand that but I also feel that there is an interest in knowing what was happening when. As a result the book was divided into chapters each covering a period of time, typically a century but as it moves towards modern times for shorter periods.

Story of the World 1That though posed a different challenge. The further back in time we go, the less agreement we have on when exactly things happened. When we get to the ‘BC’ period, there is a wide variation in estimates of when events took place. There is also the issue that new discoveries are being made all the time. As a recent example, news emerged in March this year that the origin of man has been pushed back half a million years with the discovery of a fossil that is 2.8 million years old in Ethiopia. One has to accept that this is happening all the time, and so too is the story of the world being written all the time.

At the back of my mind when writing this book though was the question ‘how did we get where we are today’? As a result I was on the lookout for major events and civilisations. Some I knew a good deal about already. My background as a medievalist prepared me well for that era in Europe. I had always had a passing interest in Ancient Egypt or Rome too.

But other areas required more research. I wanted to avoid making this too Eurocentric a book, so I studied the history of China and India, or the Americas and Africa, much more than I had done previously. Hopefully there is a bit of a balance in the book as a result.

Story of the World 2I also wanted to talk about people as well as civilisations. History really begins when we can talk about a person called ‘X’. When we go far back in time, into prehistory, we cannot pick out much about the lives of individuals. Archaeology can help to fill in some gaps but only up to a certain limit. It is writing that enables us to (almost literally) put some flesh on the bones of lives now long gone.

At the end of this rather large and challenging project, is there an overall conclusion to be made? There are perhaps many but one thing stands out for me. For many countries in the world, it is geography that shapes their history. Britain, with its narrow seas, has been largely protected throughout the past thousand years because of its island status. Other countries on the other hand live on political fault-lines which often expose them to stresses: Israel, Georgia, Romania for example. Or even the country where I am writing this blog from, Moldova in Eastern Europe, where half the population is of Romanian heritage and the other half Russian. Next door to Ukraine as it is, Moldova is well aware of the danger of being too close to conflict zones.

It was in any event an enjoyable book to write and I hope it will be an enjoyable one to read too. It will though need an update in 25 years’ time because much will surely happen in the intervening period that we do not currently anticipate.

World - 9781445646992

W.B. Bartlett's paperback book The Story of the World is available for purchase now.