The World: A Family History of Humanity (Hardcover)
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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A magisterial world history unlike any other that tells the story of humanity through the one thing we all have in common: families • From the author of The Romanovs
A Best Book of the Year: The New Yorker, Smithsonian
“Succession meets Game of Thrones.” —The Spectator • “The author brings his cast of dynastic titans, rogues and psychopaths to life...An epic that both entertains and informs.” —The Economist, Best Books of the Year
Around 950,000 years ago, a family of five walked along the beach and left behind the oldest family footprints ever discovered. For award-winning historian Simon Sebag Montefiore, these poignant, familiar fossils serve as an inspiration for a new kind of world history, one that is genuinely global, spans all eras and all continents, and focuses on the family ties that connect every one of us.
In this epic, ever-surprising book, Montefiore chronicles the world’s great dynasties across human history through palace intrigues, love affairs, and family lives, linking grand themes of war, migration, plague, religion, and technology to the people at the heart of the human drama.
It features a cast of extraordinary diversity: in addition to rulers and conquerors, there are priests, charlatans, artists, scientists, tycoons, gangsters, lovers, husbands, wives, and children. There is Hongwu, the beggar who founded the Ming dynasty; Ewuare, the Leopard-King of Benin; Henry Christophe, King of Haiti; Kamehameha, the conqueror of Hawaii; Zenobia, the Arab empress who defied Rome; Lady Murasaki, the first female novelist; Sayyida al-Hurra, the Moroccan pirate-queen. Here too are moderns such as Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin, and Volodymyr Zelensky. Here are the Caesars, Medicis and Incas, Ottomans and Mughals, Bonapartes, Habsburgs and Zulus, Rothschilds, Rockefellers and Krupps, Churchills, Kennedys, Castros, Nehrus, Pahlavis and Kenyattas, Saudis, Kims and Assads.
These powerful families represent the breadth of human endeavor, with bloody succession battles, treacherous conspiracies, and shocking megalomania alongside flourishing culture, moving romances, and enlightened benevolence. A dazzling achievement as spellbinding as fiction, The World captures the whole human story in a single, masterful narrative.
About the Author
SIMON SEBAG MONTEFIORE is a historian whose best-selling books have been published in forty-eight languages and won numerous awards including the Costa Biography Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His books include Catherine the Great and Potemkin; Stalin; Young Stalin; Jerusalem; The Romanovs; and the acclaimed Moscow Trilogy of novels, as well as Written in History and Voices of History. He received his Ph.D. from Cambridge, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He lives in London.
Named one of the Best Books of the Year by The New Yorker and The Economist • The Times (UK) History Book of the Year • a Smithsonian Magazine Best History Book of the Year • a Kirkus Best Nonfiction Book of the Year
“This is not the history you learned in school. . . . The World tells the story of humanity through families, be they large or small, powerful or weak, rich or poor. It is a book for people who want to read about people. . . . The World pulsates with the hundreds of human stories Mr. Montefiore brings to life in vivid, convincing fashion. . . . This is history as collective biography, a journey across almost two million years, from the appearance of Homo erectus in east Africa to the rise of Xi Jinping’s China. . . . Mr. Montefiore has been working up to this ambitious project over his career. . . . Montefiore is a biographer at heart. Combining literary flair with keen insight into human psychology, he can evoke a person with a few choice words. . . . Among the many strengths of The World is its truly global perspective. This is an unabashedly multicultural history that refuses to privilege any particular perspective, be it geographic, cultural or ethnic. Africa warrants as much consideration as Europe, Asia as the Americas. Nor does the book forsake the lives of the common folk for kings and queens, tycoons and presidents. The focus on families allows for light to shine on women, children and others often ignored in our master narratives. . . . The relentless chronological march of Mr. Montefiore’s book is leavened, and given an aspect of suspense, by his habit of picking up the family stories of significant individuals long before they take center stage. . . . While not blind to the myriad challenges facing the world today, Mr. Montefiore maintains a belief in open societies as the best chance to confront our troubling future. It is only such societies, in which governments evince their faith in the governed, in the people, however flawed, that have the flexibility to invent and innovate.” —The Wall Street Journal
“In his new book, Simon Sebag Montefiore traces the perilous and prescriptive power of ancestry through centuries riddled with rivalry, betrayal, and violence. . . . As the title suggests, [The World] approaches the sweep of world history through the family—or, to be more precise, through families in power. In the course of some thirteen hundred pages, The World offers a monumental survey of dynastic rule: how to get it, how to keep it, how to squander it. . . . The World has the heft and character of a dictionary. . . . Montefiore energetically fulfills his promise to write a ‘genuine world history, not unbalanced by excessive focus on Britain and Europe.’ In zesty sentences and lively vignettes, he captures the widening global circuits of people, commerce, and culture.” —The New Yorker
"Simon Sebag Montefiore knows how to keep our attention. Perhaps understanding that facing down 1,300 pages of human history might cause even the most committed reader to quail, he makes certain to pepper The World with enough inventive gore, twisted villainy, and seriously kinky sex to keep those pages turning. This book may be huge, but the author ensures it is thoroughly accessible. . . . Montefiore’s accomplishment here is nothing short of breathtaking. It is no mean feat to create a comprehensive timeline of human history that is deeply researched, illuminating, addictively compelling, and — quite simply — a rowdy good time.” —The Washington Independent Review of Books
“A staggering achievement. Simon Sebag Montefiore has given us a tremendous gift: a pulsingly readable world history through the millennia and from one end of the globe to the other.” —Sir Simon Schama, author of The Story of the Jews
“A tour de force. Hugely ambitious, erudite and filled with surprises. This puts the family and families back into the heart of history.” —Peter Frankopan, New York Times best-selling author of Silk Roads
“Important and mesmerizing." —Michael Beschloss, New York Times best-selling author of Presidents of War
“Compelling, moving, epic, and diverse, Montefiore’s wonderful storytelling prowess and wide research pulls off this unparalleled world history in a single narrative with unforgettable style. All the drama of humankind is here from cavemen to Putin and Zelensky.” —Olivette Otele, author of African Europeans
“One word for Montefiore’s book: magisterial.” —Ben Okri, Booker Prize–winning author of The Famished Road
“In this work of astonishing scope and erudition, Simon Sebag Montefiore interweaves the stories of the servants, courtiers, and kings, pioneers, preachers, and philosophers who have made history. A brilliant synthesis that will impart fresh insight to even the most learned readers.” —Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Secretary of State
“Simon Sebag Montefiore took on the ambitious task of telling the story of mankind throughout time which he accomplished in splendid fashion! The World: A Family History of Humanity is a brilliant book, and its examination of our species’ experiences through the prism of the family is truly inspired.” —General David Petraeus (US Army, Ret.), former Commander of the Surge in Iraq, US Central Command, and NATO/US Forces in Afghanistan; former Director of the CIA.
“There is a certain satisfaction in holding, and reading a bulky tome. Simon Sebag Montefiore's The World: A Family History requires strong wrists, but is well worth the physical effort. It is a most readable and fascinating history of humanity from the perspective of that most enduring of institutions: the family. There is pleasure and learning on every [page].” ―Alexander McCall Smith, New Statesman, Books of the Year 2022
“A rollicking, globetrotting . . . truly global history spanning almost every continent. . . . A thrilling tapestry. Only a highly skilled storyteller and pen-portraitist could so deftly grip attention across twenty-three ‘acts’, spanning more than six millennia and packed with lavish and pullulating detail. . . . The World is wildly entertaining . . . certainly enriching and bracingly profane.” ―Times Literary Supplement
“This history of the world, told through the stories of eminent families, is a riveting page-turner. The author brings his cast of dynastic titans, rogues and psychopaths to life with pithy, witty pen portraits, ladling on the sex and violence. An epic that both entertains and informs.” —The Economist, Best Books of 2022
“A magnificent new book by Montefiore. . . . [A] magisterial tome. . . . To make sense of the chaos of world history, [Montefiore] has done magnificently and meticulously by choosing as his framework all the dynasties we know of that ever held power or make a name for themselves. . . . Dip into this book anywhere and the minutiae of history leap off the page. . . . Dip too into the author’s copious footnotes and there are gems to be mined. . . . [A] real-life Game of Thrones. . . . [A] compelling narrative, a massive effort of research. . . . Often sassy, always entertaining – of the first order. . . . To my mind, what it gives above all is perspective from which comes understanding and not a little wisdom.” —The Daily Mail, Book of the Week
“A history of the world from the Neanderthals to Trump. It's a rollicking tale, a kaleidoscope of savagery, sex, cruelty and chaos. . . . By focusing on family, Montefiore provides an intimacy usually lacking in global histories. . . . This book … has personality and a soul. It's also outrageously funny. . . . An enormously entertaining book.” —The Times (UK), History Book of the Year
“Deserves to be a roaring bestseller. . . . Think Succession meets Game of Thrones, history told through dynasty and intrigue and written with wit, insight, and more than a dash of scandal.” —The Spectator
“A delightful world history, told through influential families. . . . The device of weaving together the past using the most enduring and essential unit of human relations is inspired. It lets readers empathize with people who helped shape historical events and were shaped by them. . . . The method also allows the author to cover every continent and era, and to give women and even children a voice and presence that they tend to be denied in more conventional histories. . . . Despite the book's formidable length, there is never a dull moment. The story moves at pace across terrible battles, court intrigues, personal triumphs and disasters, lurid sexual practices and hideous tortures. . . . The author tells these stories with verve and palpable relish for the unbridled sex and inventive violence that run through them. His character sketches are pithy and witty. . . . The footnotes, often short essays in themselves, have the acid drollery of Edward Gibbon. . . . Overall this book is a triumph and a delight, an epic that entertains, informs and appalls in enjoyably equal measure.” —The Economist
“A history of pretty much everything everywhere from the evolution of Homo sapiens to Putin's invasion of Ukraine. . . . Dip into any page and you'll find history rushing by in prose that combines clarity, liveliness and even deadpan humour with intriguing little asides a specialty. . . . A staggering achievement.” ―Daily Telegraph
“This is not just an undoubted book of the year but of many years. . . . It's a treasure trove of marvellous stories, brilliantly researched and absorbingly told, fascinating characters who leap off thepages but, above all, the thing missing most in our troubled, self-absorbed society – perspective.” ―Daily Mail
“Poisoning, adultery, incest, murder & mayhem: Montefiore's entertaining history of the world is told through the dynasties that helped shape humanity. Plenty of world histories have come out in the past few years but this one is different - a family history of the world. . . . One extraordinary story follows another, all of them extraordinarily well told. It is hard to stop turning the pages. . . . One of thecommonest criticisms of world histories … is that they are all about the vast impersonal forces. . . . Montefiore's family-centered alternative is the perfect antidote, reveling in the peculiarities and downright perversities of its all-too-human cast. . . . No one who has watched TV dramas such as Succession or read Shakespeare will be surprised. . . . Montefiore's vignettes are fascinating, albeit in a disturbing kind of way. . . . There is no doubting that family is the central institution of human history and Montefiore's overview of its most recent five millennia is entertaining and consistently interesting.” ―Financial Times
“Succeeds in scintillating fashion . . . . [A]n epic rich in detail . . . . [O]n each page, you'll find an interesting idea, a witty observation or a footnote containing an anecdote emblematic of a wider point. Montefiore pays attention to the lives of women and children and to places slighted by Western historians. . . . This is an extraordinary work of wisdom and vivid storytelling.” ―Literary Review
“[Montefiore’s] major achievement is to make us see the world through a different lens - to make theunfamiliar familiar and, more important, the familiar unfamiliar. . . . [B]rings [history] most vividly, almost feverishly, to life. There is hardly a dull paragraph.” ―The Spectator
“To tell a history of the world through its most influential families is a clever way to marshal thousands of years of humanity . . . . [A]n incredible undertaking. Montefiore finds enduring resonances and offers new perspectives . . . . Because these are family stories, he adeptly eschews traditionally male histories to find greater texture and diversity. A remarkable achievement.” ―Observer
“The World is almost narcotic to read.” ―The Jewish Chronicle
“Violence, treachery, and sex are the motors of history in this sweeping chronicle. Historian and novelist Montefiore (The Romanovs) surveys wars, massacres, revolutions, plagues, famine, and socioeconomic transformations from the rise of the Mesopotamian city states to the Biden administration, giving China, India, Africa, central Asia, and pre-Columbian America as much space as the West. . . . Montefiore makes women central to the story, as queens and regents or as mothers and mistresses manipulating feckless kings. (They also hold their own in mayhem: the seventh-century Chinese royal concubine Miss Wu allegedly broke up Emperor Gaozong’s marriage by killing her own infant daughter and framing the Empress for murder.) And there’s plenty of sex, with the orgies of Rodrigo Borgia—aka Pope Alexander VI—perhaps taking the prize for debauchery. Setting a whirlwind pace, Montefiore skillfully guides readers through the tumult with elegant prose and evocative character sketches. It’s a bravura performance.” —Publishers Weekly [boxed and starred review]
“Award-winning historian Montefiore draws on 30 years of research, reading, and travel to create a panoramic, abundantly populated, richly detailed history of the world through the stories of families across place and time. . . . Some families that Montefiore examines are familiar to most readers—Medici, Bonaparte, Romanov, Habsburg, and Rockefeller—but Montefiore’s view is capacious, as he recounts the histories of Chinese, Indian, Middle Eastern, Hawaiian, and African dynasties as well as the more recent Bushes, Kennedys, Castros, and Kims. The history of humanity, the author ably demonstrates, displays 'cruelty upon cruelty, folly upon folly, eruptions, massacres, famines, pandemics, and pollutions'—yet throughout, he adds, an enduring capacity to create and love. A vibrant, masterful rendering of human history.” —Kirkus [starred review]
"The book depicts the major events of world history, covering both familiar and lesser known but equally consequential figures. Montefiore makes a conscious effort to intentionally include people and events from Asia, Africa, the Americas, Polynesia, and the Middle East. What this audacious project lacks in depth, it more than makes up for in breadth, and it even includes humorous asides and unusual facts. Coverage grows increasingly detailed as the book races towards the modern era; half of the book takes place after 1750. The author connects and illustrates how many contemporary global conflicts descend from disputes and struggles that have been centuries in the making. History buffs and novices will appreciate this extensive, accessible, highly recommended work; it may inspire them to dig into lesser-known areas of global history." —Library Journal [starred review]