The Invention of Yesterday: A 50,000-Year History of Human Culture, Conflict, and Connection

PublicAffairs: Perseus. Oct. 2019. 448p. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781610397964. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781610397971. HIST
The biggest determiner in human history has not been the famous accomplishments of emperors or other leaders. Narratives are how our species has achieved both our greatest feats (the switch from nomadism to agricultural) and committed our most terrible transgressions (the Holocaust engineered by the Nazis). So contends Ansary (Games Without Rules) in this sweeping work, which makes connections between seemingly unrelated things that eventually culminated in revolution. For example, the Knights Templars became bankers, unintentionally, by safeguarding the wealth of pilgrims to the Holy Land. Their acumen as financial wizards led to their downfall because of papal and royal envy, but their methods were widely emulated. How societies dealt with ideologies from other cultures is what has led to the robust nature of human societies the world over. When faced with new ideologies cultures sometimes absorbed them, such as the Roman adoption of the Greek mythos, or fought vehemently against them, as exemplified by Japan’s isolation from Western culture until the 19th century. These meetings, happening often on the theoretical plane rather than on the temporal one, have been the catalysts for our overall progress.
VERDICT A masterly effort with an intriguing thesis put forward to explain key factors contributing to human history. Highly recommended.

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