Friday, March 25, 2005

My Western History Odyssey, Part One

I'm coming to the end of an extraordinary literary and visual exodus through 2000 years (or so) of Western history. I thought you might appreciate a mini "Lonely Planet" guide to my trip. It's also my way of debriefing.

It all started last year when I read a book written about my Scottish ancestors who emigrated to New Zealand. So much of it didn't make any sense to me because I had no context. I need to learn more history, I thought. So I read A.H.Reed's The Story of New Zealand, which was rudimentarily good, but still assumed I knew a whole lot of European history, which I didn't. And probably many of my generation don't know, either.

So I took this journey of exploration through the "Western World", with a focus on Britain (which is the spiritual home of the New Zealand culture).

I look at it like a high-speed train trip with several stops along the way. The main journey is very rapid, and you just see the main features of the landscape. Sometimes you get off at a town and get to see things in minute detail, then it's back on the train and zooming into the future again.

My tour guides throughout the whole journey were:

Winston S Churchill, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples
Jacques Barzun, Dawn to Decadence
Michael King, The Penguin History of New Zealand
Simon Schama, A History of Britain (video)

And as I went, I discovered books and videos about particular times, particular people, that for me were like getting off the train and checking out landmarks, while the "big picture" books above were like a high-speed train trip.

In the next post, I'll explore the lightning fast trip from 50BC to 1500AD.


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