Review: The Penguin Atlas of World History–Volume 1: From Prehistory to the Eve of the French Revolution

4 Star, Atlases & State of the World, History

Atlas HistoryHistorical Atlas, Priceless, Missing Three Big Things, July 30, 2008

Hermann Kinder

I am providing the same review for Volumes I and II.

The two volumes, together, represent an essential and priceless reference replete with details as well as clever visualizations. I venture to say that it is not possible to understand the sway of history in all its forms without such an atlas. It is, however, missing three big things:

1) Consolidated edition, larger print and larger pages. The gold in these two volumes is devalued by the reductions. Enough. Update it for 2009 and let’s get it right. It makes no sense to have to use one volume for the Middle East prior to the French Revolution, another for afterwards.

2. I could not find, in the book or via an online search, an online version of the consolidated books or even one of the books. I regard it as *essential* that Penguin begin to transition all of its excellent knowledge, and especially its atlases, into interactive online form so that one can, for example, flip through any region or topic (e.g. Islam or US imperialism) and “see” history passing before one’s eyes.

3. There a re a handful of automated time series depictions, e.g. of the spread and contraction of religions, the spead and contraction of various empires. We need that from Penguin for every country, every region, and every threat and policy, and I list them here from the UN High-Level Threat Panel and Earth Intelligence Network:

Infectious Disease
Environmental Degradation
Inter-State Conflict
Civil War
Other Atrocities
Transnational Crime


I am deeply impressed by the quality and focus on Penguin Publications. It’s time they discovered the 21st Century and the demand of Digital Natives as well as global strategists for coherent holistic online visualization and sense-making.

Here are other books on history that I consider exceptional, each with a summative review:
The Lessons of History
The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past
Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’
Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq, from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush
The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (The American Empire Project)
1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus
Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin
The Age of Missing Information

And for the future:
Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace