What’s it all about?:
The twentieth century should make sense. It’s the period of history that we know the most about, an epic geo-political narrative that runs through World War One, the great depression, World War Two, the American century and the fall of the Berlin Wall. But somehow that story doesn’t quite lead into the world we find ourselves in now, this bewildering twenty-first century, adrift in a network of constant surveillance, unsustainable competition, tsunamis of trivia and extraordinary opportunity.
Time, then, for a new perspective. With John Higgs as our guide, we step off the main path and wander through some of the more curious backwaters of the twentieth century, exploring familiar and unfamiliar territory alike, finding fresh insight on our journey to the present day. We travel in the company of some of the most radical artists, scientists, geniuses and crazies of their age. They show us that great innovations such as relativity, cubism, quantum mechanics, postmodernism and chaos maths are not the incomprehensible, abstract horrors that we assume them to be, but signposts that bring us to the world we live in now.
John Higgs brings us an alternative history of the strangest of centuries. He shows us how the elegant, clockwork universe of the Victorians became increasingly woozy and uncertain; and how we discovered that our world is not just stranger than we imagine but, in the words of Sir Arthur Eddington, ‘stranger than we can imagine’.
What did I think?:
First of all, a huge thank you to New Books Magazine and http://www.nudge.com for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review. When I first read the synopsis for John Higgs’ fascinating narrative about the twentieth and early twenty-first century I was instantly intrigued and had to know more. What I found within the brilliantly concise chapters was both interesting and highly educational with a dash of humour on the side and I really feel I’ve learned a lot about subjects I had previous little or no knowledge about.
The author takes a variety of different topics – with chapter headings such as Modernism, War, Individualism, and Uncertainty to name just a few and takes the reader on an epic journey to discover why exactly the twentieth century was so pivotal. Although I still have to admit to being none the wiser about Einstein’s theory of relativity, I count that as my own personal demon as Higgs explains theories, ideas and notions in a very down to earth and comprehensible fashion that will instantly make you want to go out and do further research of your own into certain topics.
Personally speaking, I’ve always been fascinated by psychology and the author’s chapter on the “id,” Freud’s model of our basic human instincts was a joy to read. However, there are so many other examples of interesting subjects that I’m certain every reader will find something meaningful and informative to connect with. For example, did you know that the author H.G. Wells predicted machines that could fly, wars fought in the air, fascist dictatorships and even the European Union? Or that the term “genocide” was only coined in 1944 to describe “a deliberate attempt to exterminate an entire race?” The word hadn’t even existed before then!
As a piece of non-fiction, this book ticks all the right boxes for me. It’s insightful, holds your interest with short, snappy chapters that get over what the author wants to say in perfect fashion and is a unique way of looking at certain concepts that are not really covered in other works. I didn’t connect with every single chapter but then again, I didn’t really expect to, everyone is different in their own personal interests. However, I did find it a solid, brilliant piece of writing that taught me much more than I could have expected.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):