We are an astonishing species. Over the past millennium of plagues and exploration, revolution and scientific discovery, woman's rights and technological advances, human society has changed beyond recognition. Sweeping through the last thousand years of human development, Human Race is a treasure chest of the lunar leaps and lightbulb moments that, for better or worse, have sent humanity swerving down a path that no one could ever have predicted. But which of the last ten centuries saw the greatest changes in human history? History's greatest tour guide, Ian Mortimer, knows what answer he would give. But what's yours?
From the outset of the book Mortimer gives the reader the scope and challenge about defining and measuring change, especially when focusing in specific 100 year periods. Avoiding the cliché answers of bright, shiny objects and larger-than-life historical figures from the get go, Mortimer looked for innovations of cultural, political, societal, and technological significance that fundamentally changed the way people lived at the end of a given century than when it began. Throughout the process Mortimer would highlight those inventions or well-known historical individuals that defined those innovations of change which resulted positively or negatively on Western civilization. At the end of each chapter, Mortimer would summarize how the ‘changes’ he highlighted interacted with one another and which was the most profound in a given century and then identify an individual he believe was ‘the principle agent of change’.
The in-depth analysis, yet easily readable language that Mortimer wrote on each topic of change he highlighted was the chief strength of this book. The end of chapter conclusions and identification of an agent of change is built up throughout the entire chapter and shows Mortimer’s dedication to providing evidence for his conclusion. Whether the reader agrees or not with Mortimer, the reader at least knows why he came to those decisions. When coming to a decision about which century of the past millennium saw the most change at the end of the book, Mortimer’s explanation of the process in how he compared different periods of time and then the results of that process were well written and easily understandable to both general readers and those from a more scholarly background, giving the book a perfect flow of knowledge and thought.
Centuries of Change was geared for the general reading audience instead of a more academic one. While I do not think this is a negative for the book, it did allow for those editing the book as well as Mortimer in reexamining his text to miss several incorrect statements on events and personages that while minor do to missing a word or two, just added up over the course of the book.
While looking at the progression and development of Western civilization is always a challenging process, Ian Mortimer’s Centuries of Change gives readers glimpse of how different types of innovations impacted just a 100 year period of time. Very readable for general readers and a nice overall glimpse for more academic readers, this book is a thought-provoking glimpse in how human’s bring about change and responds to change.
Would’ve given this book five stars if not for the last two chapters, which didn’t appeal to me because they include too much statistical comparisons and such like. At times, it felt like a maths or
I am, as stated at the beginning, a fan of Ian Mortimer, though, and the rest of the book was a pleasure to read. Nothing dry or tedious in the writing style here. The narrative is engaging from the start, and the changes throughout history discussed range from the interesting to the fascinating.
It walks you through each century, from 1000 to the
twentieth, examining what changed and who/what
was the biggest change agent.
The final chapter "Why it matters" is more speculative
than previous chapters.
He gives plenty of food for thought on what we may
to do to survive!