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.”