People's century

25th December 1998 at 00:00
By Stewart Ross
Oxford University Press, #163;9.99.

Here, in a nutshell, is the most crowded century of human life. Twenty topics, 20 double pages, perhaps 600 words a topic - on any basis, a remarkable achievement. Most impressively, it so nearly works. Partly that's due to the choice of topics - "images and words" and "getting and spending" are included along with the conventional "empires and nations"and "war and conflict". "Rich and poor" and "saving the Earth" sit side by side with "show business" and "track and field". Partly, it is due to striking and sometimes unexpected photographs.

The first picture in the book is of a big burger - "the planet's favourite food". Inevitably, as this caption suggests, there will be some misunderstandings - and the rather random selection of events tabled for every topic ("1904: Pentecostal church set up in USA") will lead to some confusion. It seems strange, too, that in so short a book, R A Fessenden ("1900: R. A. Fessenden broadcasts speech by radio") should merit not one but three insertions.

Nonetheless, the outline of the story is commendably clear, and it will encourage many young readers to think for themselves and find out more. What more could you ask for less than Pounds 10?

Michael Duffy

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