Worlds Together, World Apart: A History of the Modern World from the Mongol Empire to the Present

By Cline, Andrew | Ideas on Liberty, July/August 2003 | Go to article overview

Worlds Together, World Apart: A History of the Modern World from the Mongol Empire to the Present


Cline, Andrew, Ideas on Liberty


Worlds Together, Worlds Apart: A History of the Modern World from the Mongol Empire to the Present by Robert L. Tignor, et al. W.W. Norton & Co. * 2002 * 462 pages * $62.50 hardcover; $20.00 paperback

Reviewed by Andrew Cline

History books for college students are reputedly terrible. Do they merit that reputation? If Worlds Together, Worlds Apart is indicative, the answer is yes.

The authors of Norton's new world-history textbook set out to accomplish something they say no history text has done: teach the subject from 1300, instead of 1492, to the present and shift the focus away from the West so that all the world's peoples are given "fair coverage."

Cramming 700 years of human history into 462 pages requires a great deal of labor to separate the wheat from the chaff. With a year and a half to fit into each page, many individuals, movements, battles, events, and so on won't make the cut or will be reduced to a passing mention. The seven Princeton University professors who wrote Worlds Together, Worlds Apart undertake this historical culling with gusto. They chop, snip, clip, and weave like hairdressers on speed, creating a strange narrative in which Thomas Jefferson seems less important than numerous popular entertainers.

Take the twentieth century, for example. The authors carve out space for such people as Nelson Mandela (mentioned on five pages), Lenin (six pages), Hitler (eight pages), Gandhi (eight pages), Stalin (ten pages), and Chairman Mao (11 pages). But these people get only a mention: Woodrow Wilson, Margaret Thatcher, Pope John Paul II, Lech Walcsa, Japan's Emperor Hirohito, Malcolm X-as well as Boy George, Carmen Miranda, the Village People, Melissa Etheridge, Hideo Nomo, Toni Morrison, Josephine Baker, the Black Panthers, and Sting. It is difficult to see how students can get a coherent view of the century's crucial events from this kaleidoscopic presentation.

There was so much going on in the twentieth century that the authors obviously wouldn't have space to include everyone. I mean, they had to put Boy George and Carmen Miranda somewhere. So, naturally, they left out certain irrelevant figures. Among those not making the cut are J. Robert Oppenheimer, Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi, Sam Walton, Duke Ellington, Golda Meir, and The Beatles. Of course, reggae musician Bob Marley is mentioned on two different pages and has his own photo. …

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