On The Penguin History of the World, 6th Ed

book cover - text the penguin history of the world j.m. roberts & odd arne westad

I have realized in recent weeks that I don’t have my mind wrapped very well around the broad picture of world history, so I set out in search of some books to read.

I have settled on the Penguin History of the World, 6th edition, by JM Roberts, and revised and updated for the 6th ed by OM Westad in 2014. Yesterday I read the first section, “Before History,” and while I do believe this will achieve the goal of a broad overview of the history of the world, I found myself making a variety of facial expressions ranging from bemused to aghast at the heavily gendered language and constant references to primitive society developing along the differences of the sexes.

Humanity, even when referring to the modern human species homo sapiens, is referred to as “man” throughout the text. There are broad assumptions that men did the hunting and the women stayed at camp, then immediately contradicting itself with discussions of plant foraging by women.

I might have glossed the whole thing over if not for the introduction to the 6th edition by Westad, in which he discusses his efforts to modernize the text and align it with our greater understanding of human evolution and cultural development, which in many ways sharply contrasts what most scholars believed about the ancient world when the original edition of this text was published in 1976.

This text is highly recommended, often used as a text book, and I’m going to charge on through it, as my goal is both a broad overview and a refresher of what version of history is taught today. It will give me some context before I dive into a number of books I’ve been eyeing on topics like forgotten Mongolian queens, pirates who were women, and other such perspectives that will give dimension and light to the view of a singular march forward in time of “man and the triumph of the West.”

Weekend Reading: Tubes by Andrew Blum

We made a trip to Book People today. I was excited to come across Tubes, by Andrew Blum, which is about the physical places that the internet depends upon to exist. I’m working on a new fiction project and have been trying to wrap my head around this exact subject for several days. I intend to inhale this book pretty quickly.

What I’m Reading and Watching Lately

cat with books

I’m reading this fantastic pop science book on physics, Spooky Action at a Distance, which discusses the very weird phenomenon known as Non-Locality, which is a thing Einstein hated because it looks like magic.

I’m listening to the audio book of The Fifth Season, the Hugo-nominated first installation in M. K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth series.  The audio performance is really good, and the story very much has my attention.  I find myself looking for the sorts of mindless tasks I can handle while listening to a book, which means the apartment is pretty clean right now.

I have, in the last month or so, finally indulged in watching Twin Peaks on Netflix.  I’d never seen it before, but people have been recommending it to me for years.  They were all correct, of course.  I love that oddball magical realism that was so popular in the 1990’s.

There’s this local “wrestling league” that is an extraordinary piece of performance art, called Party World Rasslin’.  They perform four times a year, and it’s pretty amazing.  A soap opera, political commentary, worship of a sleeping Elder God, it’s everything I could ask for.  They build out a huge set, turning this big warehouse space into a different setting for each show.  The most recent rendition was Winter WonderSlam III, set in an ice cave hundreds of miles below the surface of the Earth, with a major plot twist and the rise of corporate fascism in the world of the PWR Multiverse.  I love it.

I’m also caught up on The Walking Dead, but that mid-season finale needs to get its own post.  Wow.

Books and Other Joys

My reading queue is out of control.


This does not include the two shelves below of anthologies, out the pile of graphic novels.
If we won the lottery, I would spend the first month catching up on reading.

Audible is trying out a new feature called Channels, which seems to be a collection of curated podcasts.
I haven’t had a chance to dive into it yet, but a browse through the collection has me optimistic. Lots of science, news, and a channel called ‘Sci Fi.’
This has reminded me that I need to get back to Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs, the pop science book on dark matter and cosmology that I’ve been listening to. I’m enjoying it immensely, but my brain has been very full these last few months.
So many books.