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The Twentieth Century: A World History

Ponting, Clive Author

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In 1991, British political scientist Clive Ponting published A Green History of the World, an ambitious overview of the many intersections between human events and the environment. He has followed it with an equally ambitious--and just as valuable--survey of world history in an era, he notes at the outset, marked by "the fact that the chance of a relatively stable and prosperous life has been confined to a very small and lucky minority of the world's people." For the rest, the 20th century has been marked by huge economic and societal shifts, by the rise of a global political order countered against a "huge increase in the number of states in the world" due to the end of European colonialism and the rise of countless varieties of nationalism.

Ponting has a fine eye for historical trends; he groups his discussions in sweeping chapters bearing titles such as "Revolution," "Repression," and "Globalization." Skipping about from theme to theme, the narrative is not strictly chronological--and thus sometimes a challenge to follow. But Ponting has an admirably clear style and a knack for storytelling with appropriate (and sometimes unpleasant) detail as he moves from war to war, atrocity to atrocity. Ponting's look ahead to the next millennium, with which he closes his volume, is both fascinating and sobering. "Given the way the world evolved in the twentieth century and the distribution of economic and political power at the end of the century," he writes, "it seems likely that, as in the past, the world will, over the next few decades, continue to be characterized by progress for a minority and barbarism for the overwhelming majority." --Gregory McNamee

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