In This Review

The Human Web: A Bird's-Eye View of World History

The Human Web: A Bird's-Eye View of World History
By John Robert McNeill and William Hardy McNeill
368 pp, W. W. Norton, 2003

A brilliant synthesis of world history by distinguished father-and-son historians, organized around the theme of unfolding webs of human connection. All of humanity today lives in a "unitary maelstrom of cooperation and competition," and the global spread of ideas, information, and experience constitutes the overarching structure of human history. William McNeill is one of the great masters of world history, and J. R. McNeill has pioneered the study of environmental history. The collaborative result is a vivid and illuminating vision of the human experience spanning 12,000 years. The first human webs of our distant ancestors were formed through the rise of speech, migration, and primitive agricultural groupings. Metropolitan webs became integrated into the "old world web" connecting Eurasia and North America, and in the last century, local and regional webs have merged into an increasingly dense cosmopolitan web. Driven by the search for efficiency and advantage, humans have engineered increasingly complex social organizations creating the wealth and power -- but also the inequality and societal antagonisms -- on display today.