The Usborne Encyclopedia of World History by Jane Bingham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
See my review on amazon for a complete table of contents.
I love the Usborne series of encyclopedias and other books, and was really excited to add this to our home's repertoire.
While there is not a lot of depth on some areas/topics (Ancient China and Japan, for instance), there is certainly a huge breadth of knowledge. I am excited that there are 100 pages dedicated to prehistory, including the birth of our planet and the beginnings of life. There is a really cool visual timeline of prehistory (kind of a mini Charlie's Playhouse Giant Evolution Timeline: Book & Play Mat, "Time Charts" for ancient, Medieval, and Modern history, and the "past 500 years" section includes mini topical sections on topics such as the cold war; cinema, radio, and tv; Christianity; and computers. The running timeline across the bottom of each page indicates both the era in history and the geographic area being discussed on those pages.
While I'm happy this book approaches prehistory from a scientific standpoint, I'm not thrilled about its handling of religion. It not only uses the outdated dating system of BC/AD (rather than BCE/CE), but it presents Christian mythology as fact while keeping other religions firmly at arm's length when discussing them. The Old Testament of the Bible is referenced as a place to read about the history of the Hebrews, and Jesus is definitively presented as a historical figure. The book suggests reading the Bible's New Testament to learn more about him and his works, which lends that book a certain historical credence it may not deserve. Other religions are not treated with the same hand, but their beliefs are clearly defined as just that - beliefs. It seems that throughout this "history" book, Christianity and its conquests are glorified, while everyone else is a footnote (in the index, Christianity gets 34 entries, Islam gets 3 (though Muslims get 18), Buddhism gets 6, Hindus get 7, and pagans get 4 (all bad)).
This bias is extremely disappointing in such a well-respected series. Luckily, my kids are still young enough to be read to, and I can orally edit and explain as necessary until they're old enough to read it on their own and understand the distinctions.
As for Internet-links, it looks like there aren't actually any links IN the book; rather, each section refers you to the Usborne quick-links web site, where you can search by page number for relevant links. This seems like kind of a pain at first, but if you think about it, it allows Usborne to constantly monitor the links and be sure they are up-to-date and accurate, rather than having in print links which may be expired and/or no longer relevant. They also claim to add new relevant links as they become available.
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