William H. McNeill is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Chicago. His most recent books are The Pursuit of Truth: A Historian’s Memoir and Summers Long Ago: On Grandfather’s Farm and in Grandmother’s Kitchen, published by the Berkshire Publishing Group. His most recent publication, as editor, is the second edition of the Encyclopedia of World History.


Man Slaughters Man

Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur

by Ben Kiernan
Blood and Soil presents readers with the tangled record of the inhumanity of which human beings have shown themselves capable throughout recorded history. The author, Ben Kiernan, heads the Genocide Studies Program at Yale University and is a specialist on Pol Pot’s Cambodia, having published no fewer than eleven books …

Shall We Dance?

Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy

by Barbara Ehrenreich
Barbara Ehrenreich defines her “mission” in writing this book as being “to speak seriously of the largely ignored and perhaps incommunicable thrill of the group deliberately united in joy and exaltation…. The focus here is on the kinds of events witnessed by Europeans in ‘primitive’ societies and recalled in the …

How the Winds Changed History

Pathfinders: A Global History of Exploration

by Felipe Fernández-Armesto
Felipe Fernández-Armesto, a prolific and learned English-born historian of Spanish descent, begins his new book as follows: History has two big stories to tell. The first is the very long story of how human cultures diverged—how they parted and developed differences, in ignorance or contempt of one another. The second …

Conspicuous Proliferation

War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History, 1500 to Today

by Max Boot
War Made New begins with a crisp introduction, sketching four revolutions in warfare since 1500 around which Max Boot chose to organize his book. It ends in a fog of acronyms for weapons still on the drawing boards, uncertainty about future military revolutions, and “The Danger of Too Much Change—and …

Secrets of the Cave Paintings

The Nature of Paleolithic Art

by R. Dale Guthrie

The Cave Painters: Probing the Mysteries of the World's First Artists

by Gregory Curtis
In 1879 a Spanish landowner named Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola was searching for prehistoric artifacts on the floor of a cave on his family property in northern Spain when his young daughter interrupted, calling out “Look, Papa, oxen” as she looked up at the cave’s ceiling and “saw vivid yet …

Watch on the Rhine

The Conquest of Nature: Water, Landscape, and the Making of Modern Germany

by David Blackbourn
At the close of his introduction, David Blackbourn, Coolidge Professor of History at Harvard University, summarizes his new book as follows: This is a book about transformation on an epic scale. In the eighteenth century, German-speaking Europe looked so different from the way it looks today that many parts of …

Beyond Words

The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind and Body

by Steven Mithen
Steven Mithen, professor of early prehistory at Reading University in England, begins his preface by writing that “the propensity to make music is the most mysterious, wonderful and neglected feature of humankind.” Since, until the advent of recordings, most music-making and all singing left no tangible trace behind, that neglect …