A History of the World in 100 Objects

Neil MacGregor - Author

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ISBN 9781101545300 | 736 pages | 27 Oct 2011 | Penguin | 18 - AND UP
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The blockbuster New York Times bestseller and the companion volume to the wildly popular radio series

Neil MacGregor has blazed an unusual path to international renown. As director of the British Museum, he organized an exhibit that aimed to tell the history of humanity through the stories of one hundred objects made, used, venerated, or discarded by man. The exhibit and its accompanying BBC radio series broke broadcasting records and MacGregor’s book became a bestselling sensation on both sides of the Atlantic and a huge Christmas hit, with more than 100,000 copies in print in the United States alone.

Examining items from a chopping tool from Africa’s Olduvai Gorge to the credit card, A History of the World in 100 Objects is an engrossing and profoundly original work of history that will captivate readers for many years to come.

Preface: Mission Impossible

Introduction: Signals from the Past


Making us Human

2,000,000-9000 BC

1. Mummy of Hornedjitef

2. Olduvai Stone Chopping Tool

3. Olduvai Handaxe

4. Swimming Reindeer

5. Clovis Spear Point


After the Ice Age: Food and Sex

9000-3500 BC

6. Bird-shaped Pestle

7. Ain Sakhri Lovers Figurine

8. Egyptian Clay Model of Cattle

9. Maya Maize God Statue

10. Jomon Pot


The First Cities and States

4000-2000 BC

11. King Den's Sandal Label

12. Standard of Ur

13. Indus Seal

14. Jade Axe

15. Early Writing Tablet


The Beginnings of Science and Literature

2000-700 BC

16. Flood Tablet

17. Rhind Mathematical Papyrus

18. Minoan Bull-leaper

19. Mold Gold Cape

20. Statue of Ramesses II


Old World, New Powers

1100-300 BC

21. Lachish Reliefs

22. Sphinx of Taharqo

23. Chinese Zhou Ritual Vessel

24. Paracas Textile

25. Gold Coin of Croesus


The World in the Age of Confucius

500-300 BC

26. Oxus Chariot Model

27. Parthenon Sculpture: Centaur and Lapith

28. Basse-Yutz Flagons

29. Olmec Stone Mask

30. Chinese Bronze Bell


Empire Builders

300 BC - AD 10

31. Coin with Head of Alexander

32. Pillar of Ashoka

33. Rosetta Stone

34. Chinese Han Lacquer Cup

35. Head of Augustus


Ancient Pleasures, Modern Spice

AD 1-500

36. Warren Cup

37. North American Otter Pipe

38. Ceremonial Ballgame Belt

39. Admonitions Scroll

40. Hoxne Pepper Pot


The Rise of World Faiths

AD 100-600

41. Seated Buddha from Gandhara

42. Gold Coins of Kumaragupta I

43. Plate showing Shapur II

44. Hinton St Mary Mosaic

45. Arabian Bronze Hand


The Silk Road and Beyond

AD 400-800

46. Gold Coins of Abd al-Malik

47. Sutton Hoo Helmet

48. Moche Warrior Pot

49. Korean Roof Tile

50. Silk Princess Painting


Inside the Palace: Secrets at Court

AD 700-900

51. Maya Relief of Royal Blood-letting

52. Harem Wall-painting Fragments

53. Lothair Crystal

54. Statue of Tara

55. Chinese Tang Bomb Figures


Pilgrims, Raiders and Traders

AD 800-1300

56. Vale of York Hoard

57. Hedwig Beaker

58. Japanese Bronze Mirror

59. Borobudur Buddha Head

60. Kilwa Por Sherds


Status Symbols

AD 1100-1500

61. The Lewis Chessmen

62. Hebrew Astrolabe

63. Ife Head

64. The David Vases

65. Taino Ritual Seat


Meeting the Gods

AD 1200-1500

66. Holy Thorn Reliquary

67. Icon of the Triumph of Orthodoxy

68. Shiva and Parvati Sculpture

69. Sculpture of Huastec Goddess

70. Hoa Hakananai'a Easter Island Statue


The Threshold of the Modern World

71. Tughra of Suleiman the Magnificent

72. Ming Banknote

73. Inca Gold Llama

74. Jade Dragon Cup

75. Dürer's Rhinoceros


The First Global Economy

AD 1450-1650

76. Mechanical Galleon

77. Benin Plaque: The Oba with Europeans

78. Double-headed Serpent

79. Kakiemon Elephants

80. Pieces of Eight


Tolerance and Intolerance

AD 1550-1700

81. Shi'a Religious Parades Standard

82. Miniature of a Mughal Prince

83. Shadow Puppet of Bima

84. Mexican Codex Map

85. Reformation Centenary Broadsheet


Exploration, Exploitation and Enlightenment

AD 1680-1820

86. Akan Drum

87. Hawaiian Feather Helmet

88. North American Buckskin Map

89. Australian Bark Shield

90. Jade Bi


Mass Production, Mass Persuasion

AD 1780-1914

91. Ship's Chronometer from HMS Beagle

92. Early Victorian Tea Set

93. Hokusai's The Great Wave

94. Sudanese Slit Drum

95. Suffragette-defaced Penny


The World of our Making

AD 1914-2012

96. Russian Revolutionary Plate

97. Hockney's In the Dull Village

98. Throne of Weapons

99. Credit Card

100. Solar-powered Lamp and Charger


List of Objects



Picture Credits and Text




Praise for A History of the World in 100 Objects:

“A beautiful and absorbing book, a visual history of humanity . . . filled with equally fascinating objects, some famous, some not, nearly all of them intimate, telling and strange.”
—Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“Spotlighting artworks, artifacts and documents from the British Museum’s vast collections, Neil MacGregor—the museum’s director—brilliantly elucidates and connects items ranging from Zhou Dynasty bronze vessels to Victorian tea sets, from the Rosetta Stone to etchings by David Hockney, from pieces of eight to the modern credit card. Traversing continents, cultures and epochs with perfect aplomb, it is ultimately a defense of why the universal museum remains a vital institution in today's world. This is an enthralling and profoundly humane book that every civilized person should read.”
—Jonathan Lopez, Wall Street Journal

“A brave and original undertaking . . . Each of the sections has something interesting to say, and prior knowledge of a given topic does not prevent us from gathering new insights from the text and the illustrations, and new angles of vision. Some of the images scattered through the book are so astonishing and so far from our usual perceptions that I don’t think I will ever forget them. . . . MacGregor writes with energy and flair, and this is an entertaining and informative book.”
—Jonathan Spence, The New York Review of Books

“Arresting . . . This beautifully illustrated book demonstrates how much we can learn about past societies from the things they have left behind. British Museum director MacGregor provides insightful commentaries on each of the objects in an appealing, conversational style. . . . A book to savor, full of information and surprises.”
Kirkus Reviews

“MacGregor has done more to capture the magic and importance of history than any number of academic monographs. We are swept from Africa 2 million years ago to the dawn of the 21st century on a whistle-stop tour that avoids most of the obvious destinations but still feels enormously satisfying.”
Sunday Times, History book of the Year

“Bound to be a popular present this Christmas . . . Everyone knows about the sculptures from the Parthenon. . . . but I was amazed by the boggle-eyed monster carved into the base of a wooden stool that once belonged to a chieftain of the largely forgotten Taino people of the Caribbean, who gave us words such as hurricane, barbecue, hammock and tobacco . . . Erudite and entertaining, monumental yet relaxed.”
The Telegraph, Best book of the Year

“The most enlightening book of recent times.”
—The Independent

“Wonderful . . . The swirl and sweep of his story transports us to every corner of the globe, and illustrates how different cultures have always communicated, traded, and fought with one another.”
—Tom Holland, The Observer

“Marvelous . . . brilliant, engagingly written, deeply researched.”
—Mary Beard, The Guardian

“The style is authentic, personal and humorous. MacGregor demonstrates the power of objects to recover the place in history of lost civilisations.”
—Andrew Roberts, Financial Times

“None could have imagined quite how the radio series would permeate the national consciousness. Well over 12.5 million podcasts have been downloaded since the first programme and more than 550 museums around Britain have launched similar series featuring local history. . . . MacGregor’s voice comes through as distinctively as it did on radio and his arguments about the interconnectedness of disparate societies through the ages are all the stronger for the detail afforded by extra space. A book to savour and start over.”
The Economist

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