When I first came across James C. Davis's The Human Story I was fascinated: the history of the world in less than 500 pages?! That would be quite an accomplishment if it could avoid a mere encyclopaedia-like listing of key events and actually tell a story or hold a narrative. Unfortunately life, and other books, intervened and I never quite got around to reading it.
Until now, of course. After having my first child and taking some time off work, I figured I better dive into some bigger history books before my free time shrinks even more. So, in what seems apropos, I dived in and finished The Human Story while holding my newborn child or watching her sleep. And having read this history of the world I must say that I was pleasantly surprised how interesting and informative it was even for a history buff (M.A.) like me. It was sort of like a quick tour through the centuries; a birds-eye view of history with a few good vignettes used to exemplify larger experiences.
Davis labels his chapters with short pithy statements meant to give a quick idea of the subject: We fill the earth; We found the worldwide faiths; We find each other; Here and there, the people rule; Some of us do well; et cetera. This gives you an idea of the conversational and laid back tone of the work. Davis realizes his job is impossible - there is no way he can really cover the material - so he tries to paint the big picture, dipping into the smaller details only to illustrate the larger pattern.
Since Davis is telling the "human story", his perspective is global. When he talks about "we" he means humans, not Westerners or Americans. He describes the events from a sort of realistic yet slightly optimistic point of view. As he says in his introduction to the reader: "In spite of all we hear and say, the world has been improving for a good long time." Davis seems to be saying that for the vast majority of time man has had a pretty rough lot in life and there is no sense in sugar coating it or looking for sinister forces to blame; that is just life. But he also points to the ingenuity and drive man has to improve himself and his place in life.
Those looking for the nitty-gritty details of history will be largely disappointed. This is not that kind of book. But anyone interested in getting a better grasp on the scope of history and its basic structure will find The Human Story useful and enjoyable. In big strokes Davis outlines the migrations of early humans; the growth of the major early civilizations; the push and pull of population growth and famine, war, and pestilence; imperialism and the New Imperialism, the growth of science and technology and their positive and negative consequences; the development of democracy and totalitarianism; and the "brave new world" we seem to be entering in the 21st century.