This is not a book for the faint of heart.
My version is a giant hardcover that runs at 412 pages but feels more like 800. It is big. It is long.
However, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t interesting. Or at least, large parts of it.
The central thesis is that the accumulation of knowledge and the west’s ability to act on it, led to the domination of the world during the 18th to 20th centuries.
There’s an impressive array of facts to back this up. My favourite chapters dealt with the rise and continued improvement of cartography. The publication and continued revision of maps that led to greater classification and understanding of the world.
Also, my new most favourite fact about Bovril: the etymology of the word being ‘Bovine’ and ‘Vril’, an electromagnetic substance that gave a race of alien beings powers. This from a (probably) terrible book called The coming race written in 1870. BEST FACT.
But after you get through all the interesting 17th to 19th century facts, you get a few chapters racing through the technological change in the late 20th and 21st century. I found this less interesting, or at least less compelling, as I didn’t see the through-connection from the collection and classification of knowledge to government that we saw in the earlier chapters. It felt a bit speculative or at least, a big departure from the earlier chapters. Though, the bits about totalitarian information collection was quite compelling.
Anyway, it’s big. It’s interesting. Though at sometimes you wanted a big of a nap because those chapters were information rich and dense as hell.
I give it 4/5 stars for interesting facts about Bovril and mapmaking.