A world where singers sing while soldiers die

7th November 1997 at 00:00
JUNIOR CHRONICLE OF THE 20TH CENTURY. Dorling Kindersley Pounds 20.

Chronicle is sometimes thought of as a poor relation of history. It presents events as they happen, without perspective and evaluation. It is, of course, the way in which most people encounter the past - through remembered events and the record made by those whose business it is to capture today's events for tomorrow's readers.

Dorling Kindersley has been faithful to the task. This substantial reference book has been written as a compilation of newspaper accounts, the only concession to interpretation being the separation of main and "lesser" events. The latter are categorised as world events, entertainment and innovations and appear in smaller type across the bottom of each double page.

The essence of chronicle is its reflection of human life in all its aspects - serious and frivolous, joyous and tragic. So, as the Somme campaign opens in 1916, the Coca-Cola Company introduces its contoured bottle; December the same year sees both Rasputin's murder and the completion of "The Planets" suite by Holst. And 1942, the year of the fall of Singapore, the battle of Midway and the opening of the Treblinka death camp is also the year when the first self-service store in the UK opens and Frank Sinatra makes his debut. Such juxtapositions can appear bizarre, even tasteless, but they remind us that reportage is as much about people as events, and in our world singers sing while soldiers die.

Inevitably, a balance has to be struck between the momentous and the trivial and the presentation takes this into account. The two world wars are given due prominence and covered fully, with several pages devoted to particular years - an entire double page gives the account of Hiroshima and its consequences, including the celebrations of Japanese surrender in Washington and Sydney, and Ho Chi Minh's declaration of a republic in Vietnam.

There are also additional features on such topics as architecture in the Thirties, the television age and the end of the Cold War.

In the world of chronicle there will always be a degree of uneven treatment as the intervals between events are as unpredictable as the events themselves, but the publishers have succeeded in giving events their due weighting, largely through length of coverage and layout. Disparities such as between Hitler's appointment as a Chancellor and Marlene Dietrich's trend-setting menswear simply mirror our interests at the time.

Six "galleries" of personalities, from superstars to world leaders, are as comprehensive as it is reasonable to expect and the elaborate index enables the reader to follow up particular subjects through the various news stories.

In a large book which stands or falls by editorial judgment, there are a few major errors and idiosyncrasies. Why are there features on gangsters and the Barbie doll, but nothing on education or religion? Why does Klaus Fuchs warrant a main entry for 1950 as "Atom spy jailed" whereas Guy Burgess and Don Maclean are consigned to the law-breakers' gallery at the back? Why Elgar but not Britten among the music-makers?

Overall, however, the century is there in all its fullness from the World Exhibition to Dunblane, attractively and durably packaged with easy-on-the-eye, double-page spreads and a running timeline. It is a must for the junior library.

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