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Even by its own high standards, Dorling Kindersley's new Atlas of World History is a remarkable achievement. Subtitled "Mapping the human journey", it opens with a sequence of 26 world maps that survey our history from earliest times to the present day - from palaeolithic art, for example, and the development of writing to the history of maps and the first calendars, to the world wide web and the rise of international crime.
Then, in 80 double pages, it turns to the history of the regions of the world - to North and South America, Africa, Europe, Asia (dealt with as three sub-regions) and Oceania and Australasia. There are four or five maps on each spread, featuring not only the political developments but the economic and cultural contexts - trade and exploration, landscape and climate or the spread of technology, for instance - that underpin them.
The maps themselves are impeccable. They are delicately coloured, always clear, consistent in orthography and design, and they use some strikingly original seen-from-space projections. They are a pleasure to look at and to use. But the maps are only half the story. There are also almost a thousand colour photographs of people, artefacts and places which, even in miniature, are instructive and enthralling.
Add to every map a short, clear commentary with timelines, with a comprehensive index of topics and locations, and you get a major work of reference which is a mouth-watering treat into the bargain.