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Misreading History

1492: The Year Our World Began  by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto is a great read. It is only the second book I have ever read by the renowed historian - the other being the incredible Civilisations. The book argues that the process of forging the new modern world begun in 1492! Fernandez-Armesto traces key elements of the modern world back to events of that year. He takes the reader on a journey around the globe, drawing the together the threads that began to bind the planet. 

The tour begins in Granada, where the last Islamic kingdom in Europe collapsed, then moves to Timbuku, where a new Muslim empire triumphed. With Portuguese explorers, we visit the court of the first Christian king in the Congo. He then traces the frozen frontiers of the dynamic, bloody Russia of Ivan the Great, and explores the mystical poets in Asia. The book is perhaps not on the level of "Civilisations", but it is well worth the read. It will appeal mostly to those who love world, maritime or explorations history. 

At 346 pages, you will want to allow plenty of reading time. And be warned : though Fernandez-Armesto does well to debunk other people's reading of history, he is not himself free from the charge as evidenced by this quote :
History has no course. It thrashes and staggers, swivels and twists, but never heads one way for long. Humans who get caught up in it try to give it destinations. But we all pull in different directions, heading for different targets, and tend to cancel each other’s influence out. When trends last for a short spell, we sometimes ascribe them to “men of destiny” or “history makers”, or to great movements – collectively heroic or myopic – or to immense, impersonal forces or laws of social development or economic change: class struggle, for instance, or “progress” or “development” or some other form of History with a capital H. But usually some undetectably random event is responsible for initiating big change. History is a system reminiscent of the weather: the flap of a butterfly’s wings can stir up a storm. Because history has no course, it has no turning points. Or rather, it has so many that you might as well try to straighten a tornado as attempt to sort them out.
The above is clearly a reading of history that is self defeating. If history is not heading anywhere then why bother to study it? Why worry about something that is purposeless? The answer of course is that history does have a purpose because it is part of God's story of what he is up to in our world. It is that which makes it useful to study.

Copyright © Chola Mukanga 2013

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