Michael Duffy takes a world perspective;Reviews;Subject of the week;History;Books

5th November 1999 at 00:00
LOOKING BACK SERIES. Imperial China from 221BC to AD1294. The Peoples of North America before 1700. The World of Islam before 1700. India under the Mughal Empire 1526-1858. Mesopotamia and the Near East from 10,000BC to 596BC. Civilisations of Peru before 1535. West African States before Colonialism. Japan under the Shoguns. Evans pound;14 each.

This new series, which presents "a broad overview of some of the most fascinating societies and cultures in history", is targeted at the world study element of the revised history national curriculum at key stages 2 and 3, and the eight volumes so far neatly bracket the examples listed in the recent curriculum review.

From the publishers' point of view, the age and ability span poses some problems, but in general these have been well resolved. Though the books' format - 64 pages, large print, colourful design - says "upper primary", the texts are more attractive and more demanding than appearances suggest. Plenty of parents will read them with appreciation and enjoyment.

For the truth is that, national curriculum orders notwithstanding, each of these books has important and vivid history to recount. In multicultural Britain, everybody should know of the remarkable achievements of Islam or of India under Akbar and his successors. As the millennium turns, everybody should know something of the three millennia of imperial China and of the Shoguns in Japan. That holds true of the other titles, too.

The great virtue of each of these short accounts is that they tell the story clearly and honestly (look, for example, at the sections on "evidence" in the volumes on America and the African states). Add some quite magnificent colour plates, and of course a time line, glossary and index, and you have topic books that will fascinate most young readers. Better, they will make them think. Best of all, they will make them understand how rich and varied the human journey has been.

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