Famous for a century;Subject of the week;Reference books

1st May 1998 at 01:00
THE USBORNE BOOK OF WORLD HISTORY DATES. By Jane Chisholm. Usborne pound;12.99.

A comprehensive reference book and something more, this book sets out 11,000 years of history spread across eight eras. There is a strong bias towards recent times, with the Ancient World, the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages balanced against separate sections for each of the past five centuries.

Events are arranged in columns, regionally and chronologically, with equal attention given to Africa and Asia, Europe and America. Scattered on every page are numerous small but clear maps and pictures, many of the latter taken directly from photographs. The Ravenna mosaics, Andean carvings, Islamic paintings and the Chartres windows all find a place. Samurai warriors, the Defenestration of Prague, the Battle of Gettysburg and many more subjects are illuminated by lively drawings. The Globe playhouse is shown in acut-away design, though the model used is significantly unlike the new London reconstruction.

Interspersed with these constellations of facts, there are several dozen brief readable thematic essays. These range from the inevitable major topics - the Holy Roman Empire, the Renaissance, the Ming and Ching dynasties, Trading Empires of Africa, the Enlightenment - to lesser but important episodes such as the Dutch Revolt, the French Wars of Religion and the Reign of Maria Theresa. The language in these sections is succinct and fairly demanding, but many keywords such as coalition, hegemony and serf are accurately and helpfully glossed.

The choice of famous names is expansive, even undiscrimin-ating. Shakespeare and Beeth-oven get a line each, no more than military commanders like Jan Sobiewski, Gustavus Adolphus and Prince Eugene. Influential thinkers like Hobbes, Bodin, Rousseau and Kant are there too. There is much for children of 11 to 14, and something for their teachers as well.

Tom Deveson

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