For November, we at Read It & Steep read Neil MacGregor’s History of the World in 100 Objects. Now, I’m using the word “read” rather broadly. Steeper Rachel had chosen this massive work of non-fiction. At over 700 pages, we all felt fairly sure we weren’t going to get through it all. Therefore, from the start we agreed that we were each only going to read about the items that interested us.
We figured it would be interesting to see what we each found interesting, where we differ and where we are similar. Unfortunately, only 5 of our members were in attendance (and two of freely admitted that we had barely cracked the book) so our coverage wasn’t as wide as we had hoped. That being said, we enjoyed even paging through some of the book that night.
Mostly, we agreed that MacGregor is a bit subjective in his coverage of the items, which isn’t a great surprise as they are items from the British Museum. Steeper George felt as though MacGregor’s commentaries were very narrow and that some important artifacts were overlooked (chief among these was the Rosetta Stone, which we pointed out had been included, so George said, “Oh, guess I missed that.”) When George arrived he told Rachel he felt badly that he wasn’t going to be too kind to her book of choice. “I’ve got criticisms,” he told her.
“Oh!” She nodded, “I’ve got criticisms, too!”
“Well,” George smiled, “Then I feel at home.”
Overall, we all found that the book was interesting and had some truly spectacular items listed. We discussed the craftsmanship of days past and how incredible the intricacies of many of the artifacts had. We agreed that most people wouldn’t even know where to begin. This led to a discussion of The Walking Dead and other apocalyptic tales. I claimed that my profession as a librarian wouldn’t be terribly useful in a post-apocalyptic era. Bless Steeper Cheri who said, “You could find the book How to Kill Zombies.”
As part of our conversation on craftsmanship, we also talked about how many of the objects show wealth and power for whoever may have owned it. That being said, perhaps because the items were owned by people who could afford excellent work is the very reason that those items survived.
A History of the World in 100 Objects is great for those interested in artifacts and history, but it’s not sit down and read straight through kind of reading. We all agreed that this book is best in small doses, either vignettes before bed, or dare we admit it? Toilet reading.
That being said, I’m including a link to the original BBC radio segments on these amazing items. The world is a crazy and amazing place. It’s truly awe-inspiring to get a glimpse of the long ago past and wonder what we’re making today that can exist for a millennium.