A People's History of the World
From the Stone Age to the New Millennium

Harman, Chris
Publisher:  Verso, London New York
Year Published:  1999
Pages:  729pp   Price:  $22   ISBN:  978-1-84467-238-7
Resource Type:  Book
Cx Number:  CX7944

Harman describes the shape and course of human history as a narrative of ordinary people forming and re-forming complex societies in pursuit of common human goals.

Harman's presents human history as a story about people establishing and reforming societies for the sake of "common human goals." Societies interact with technological change, powerful people and revolutionary ideas to bring about events which become part of history. Inspired by Bertold Brecht's poem Questions From a Worker Who Reads, Harman argues that history should seek to answer the questions the poem raises because history is not for a specialized interest group or a luxury for people who can afford it. Harman's approach to history raises the question of why we believe our world; governed by capitalism, suffering and inequality; should and will survive.

Harman outlines how both "history from below" and the traditional "Great Man" approach to history miss out on the connectivity of events and fail to provide an understanding of the "wider forces" that shaped people in the past and our lives in the present. Harman tries to provide an overview of human history for the reader drawing on this principle of interrelated events. To study history is also to ask if and how we can change the world. Drawing on Marx, Harman relates how humans survive via new cooperative efforts, which change our relationships with one another. A change in forces of production cause changes in relations of production that in turn transform all of society. These changes are a consequence of social conflict and class. Thus, class struggles are the structure on which history rests.

A People's History of the World gives a general pattern of how we have arrived at the present, arguing that human nature is a product of our history not the cause. Harman also dispels the assumption that capitalism is the inevitable way of the world as human history is ever-changing. This history is provided in seven parts, each of which are made up of several chapters on the following topics: The rise of class societies, The ancient world, The Middle Ages, The great transformation, The spread of the new order, The world turned upside down and The century of hope and horror. This is followed by a compelling conclusion called Illusion of the Epoch. In order to aid the reader, Harman also offers a brief chronology to familiarize the reader with the sequence of events of history and a glossary of crucial names, places and unfamiliar terms.

[Abstract by Amanpreet Dhami]

Table of Contents


Part One: The rise of class societies
Prologue: Before class
Chapter 1: The neolithic 'revolution'
Chapter 2: The first civilizations
Chapter 3: The first class divisions
Chapter 4: Women's oppression
Chapter 5: The first 'Dark Ages'

Part Two: The ancient world
Chapter 1: Iron and empires
Chapter 2: Ancient India
Chapter 3: The first Chinese empires
Chapter 4: The Greek city-states
Chapter 5: Rome's rise and fall
Chapter 6: The rise of Christianity

Part Three: The 'Middle Ages'
Chapter 1: The centuries of chaos
Chapter 2: China: the rebirth of the empire
Chapter 3: Byzantium: the living fossil
Chapter 4: The Islamic revolutions
Chapter 5: The African civilizations
Chapter 6: European feudalism

Part Four: The Great Transformation
Chapter 1: The conquest of the New Spain
Chapter 2: Renaissance to Reformation
Chapter 3: The birth pangs of a new order
Chapter 4: The last flowering of Asia's empires

Part Five: The spread of the new order
Chapter 1: A time of social peace
Chapter 2: From superstition to science
Chapter 3: The Enlightenment
Chapter 4: Slavery and wage slavery
Chapter 5: Slavery and racism
Chapter 6: The economics of 'free labour'

Part Six: The world turned upside down
Chapter 1: American prologue
Chapter 2: The French Revolution
Chapter 3: Jacobinism outside France
Chapter 4: The retreat of reason
Chapter 5: The industrial revolution
Chapter 6: The birth of Marxism
Chapter 7: 1848
Chapter 8: The American Civil War
Chapter 9: The conquest of the East
Chapter 10: The Japanese exception
Chapter 11: Storming heaven: The Paris Commune

Part Seven: The century of hope and horror
Chapter 1: The world of capital
Chapter 2: World war and world revolution
Chapter 3: Europe in turmoil
Chapter 4: Revolt in the colonial world
Chapter 5: The 'Golden Twenties'
Chapter 6: The great slump
Chapter 7: Strangled hope: 1934-36
Chapter 8: Midnight in the century
Chapter 9: The Cold War
Chapter 10: The new world disorder

Further Reading

Subject Headings

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