Today I’m reviewing a non-fiction book called A history of the world with the women put back in by Kerstin Lücker and Ute Daenschel, translated from German by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp and Jessica West (The History Press).
I had heard interesting things about this book before my daughter (aged 6) received the book as a gift for Christmas. Now, I must admit, it is far too advanced for a six-year-old to sit and read – there are no pictures or images (other than in the first few pages) and it’s a good 400+ pages long – but as the authors point out in the introduction, they have also received quite a bit of attention from adults readers too. According to translator Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp, “it’s aimed at 11+ in terms of the content and length of chapters. The book is marketed in the UK as adult history (& also appears in the Feminism section I think in our local @cheltwaters) but in its original #German edition it was pitched as #YA/teen read”.
That saying, my daughter did ask me to read a few bits out to her, cue an interesting conversation with her teacher about why she might be talking about or drawing pictures of Joan of Arc being burnt at the stake!!
Written from a base line of assuming the reader has no prior knowledge of the subject, it is a run through world history starting with the beginning of human history leading right up to modern day. The language is straight forward and where historical terms and periods are referred to, they are neatly explained so everyone can keep up. The authors in their introduction highlight that while sexuality and violence are two massive topics to discuss within this subject area, they have purposefully chosen not to focus on them. In that way, reading about Joan of Arc with my six-year-old was relatively safe, with no fear of hugely graphic details.
The authors do not claim to be able to cover every single detail of world history in their book, and for me, there are areas I would have liked to have read more about (South America before the arrival of the Spanish, for example); however, don’t let that detract from what is covered. I really enjoyed finding out more about some areas of the world or some periods of history that I hadn’t previously known much about. The book doesn’t necessarily take these events into any great detail, but it is a great starting point to then go and dig deeper about a particular subject. I can also see that as my children come home with their homework on the Greeks or the Romans, for example, this will be a real go-to volume.
It is entitled A history of the world with the women put back in so a certain emphasis on women throughout history is to be expected, but this is not an exclusive focus. It does not concentrate on women at the expense of excluding men; rather it is trying to redraw the balance and highlight how women were involved at key moments throughout history. I welcome this – we are not trying to exclude men but rather be equal with them. As I imagine my kids doing their homework, I look forward to turning to these pages and enlightening them on important women who are perhaps not covered in the school curriculum.
The run through world history also raised interesting thoughts on religion: how the main world religions began, how they have changed, who has changed them and for what purposes. It also raises questions about motives for actions and how religion has been used as justification for atrocities across the globe. It discusses power struggles and entire populations being turned upside down thanks to the agreements and treaties of the wealthy and powerful.
There were times where I was overawed thinking about time scales of history. That things happen over hundreds of years, far beyond my own expected life span. It got me thinking about the changes, power shifts and motivations at play today. With the more recent history section, I was struck by how relatively recent the formation of nation states actually is and makes me reflect on our own society.
I also appreciate the fact that this book is translated and therefore offers a viewpoint from the German authors’ perspective, in particular the often (rightly) unfavourable view of British history as seen from the outside, rather than reading about our history written and told by us. While we have been involved in pursuing progress, we must also acknowledge the cost of suffering that we have inflicted on others in that pursuit.
While this book is, of course, too advanced for my six-year-old, I truly hope this is a book she will turn to over the years and enjoy a more balanced outlook on our world history.
For more reviews, articles and resources on world literature for children, head over to the World Kid Lit Blog.Follow @ClaireStorey16