Cultural evolution

A History of the World in 100 Objects, by Neil MacGregor, Penguin, RRP£9.99, 640 pages

Originally written for 100 daily broadcasts on BBC Radio 4, these short commentaries on objects in the British Museum’s collections build into an illuminating narrative of global cultural evolution.

From sensuous post-Ice Age stone and bone carvings that demonstrate skilled craftsmanship and an awareness of man’s place in the world to ornate French wine flagons, or a Mozambican throne made of gun parts, MacGregor shows how available materials are fashioned into culturally significant artefacts.

Each entry gives a general context and expert input from academics or contemporary observers, such as Mervyn King on Ming dynasty banknotes, sculptor Antony Gormley on the massive statue of Ramesses II, or Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif on the Rosetta Stone’s current resonance.

Throughout, some themes recur, which gives this superb compendium a narrative flow and continuity.

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