The World: A Family History of Humanity (2024)


755 reviews145 followers

April 30, 2023

With over 1300 pages this book suffers under its own weight, leaving it without the necessary depth to make it a truly worthwhile read

Simon Sebag Montefiore is known for his hefty volums: about Stalin, the Romanovs or his biography about Jerusalem (the city). But this one is his 'magnum opus': with over 1300 pages (or in my case, a 68-hour audiobook) this book tackles the history of the world, focussing on families who have shaped and dominated it. It is no cosy family historie, instead it is a tale of murder, family feuds and brutal savagery.

However, after reading about Caesars, the Medicis, Ottomans, Hapsburgs, Rothschilds, Kennedys, Pahlavis, and Assads, but also the democratic dynasties as the Kennedys, Bushes, and Nehru-Gandhis at some point you have heard it all before: just when it gets interesting (what happened, where are they now, what did they actually achieve?) Simon Sebag Montefiore goes on to the next dynasty with the blood and betrayal that comes with it. This scope of this book (world history) is perhaps too big to become interesting and a reader already equipped with some basic world history knowledge will find no surprises. The strength of Simon Sebag Montefiore - amply shown in his previous works focussing on a particular period or dynasty - does not support this book.

    audible audio downloaded

Shahin Keusch

58 reviews18 followers

December 17, 2022

I thought this was a good book. But it had so much information in it that eventually I seem to have forgotten what I read. What I found really interesting though was how in the same chapter the author switched from events in one area of the world, like Rome, to another, like China. I loved reading how the different empires interacted and it was so interesting to read what events took place at around the same time.

But truthfully I will have to read this again. Next time I will have to take notes or use my highlighter option on the kindle to mark the very interesting parts.

By now I've read a few of his books and I have always enjoyed them all.

    2022 global-current-events-others

Camila - Books Through My Veins

632 reviews392 followers

April 5, 2023

- thanks to @hachetteaus for my #gifted copy

I read The Romanovs a few years ago, and it is still, until this day, one of my favourite Non-Fiction books of all time. This has to do with my obsession with the Romanovs, of course, but also because Simon manages to write utterly entertaining history books... something I did not think anyone was capable of.

The World is no exception.

With 1344 pages, it is probably the longest book I have read and will ever read in my entire life. However, even though the writing is exceptionally accessible and Simon's humour is embedded in the narrative from beginning to end, I would be right out lying if I did not mention that this book is incredibly dense. It took me two whole months to read this book while actively reading it almost every day. I could read up to one chapter a day, maximum. There is so much information in this book that I would not have been able to absorb anything from the pages had I not paced myself.

Regardless of my personal reading experience, it would be a crime not to mention the extraordinary and out-of-this-world research behind this book. Spanning millennia and continents, it covers the history of the world as we know it from the perspective of prominent families, some more well-known than others, but all of them fascinating nonetheless. I was mesmerised by this comprehensive look at world history and ultimately saddened to realise that, throughout the years, conflict, death and the suffering of millions of humans usually begin with the greed of a few.

In all honestly, nothing I say can possibly do justice to the immeasurable hard work of the author and every single person involved in bringing this book to life. I feel nothing but profound respect and admiration for this unbelievably relevant and crucial book, even more so because, despite its intimidating length and density, it is full of good humour.

Overall, The World is an incredible compilation of world history. Utterly unmissable and doubtlessly worth the unusual time investment.

Grettita Lee

102 reviews16 followers

June 18, 2024

Wow! Uno de los viajes históricos más completos, documentados, fascinantes e increíbles. Es verdad que resulta imposible retener toda la información, pero resulta ser una herramienta genial para acudir a un momento específico de la historia.
También es verdad que es imposible abarcar toda la historia, así que el autor hace una titánica labor de recopilación, documentación e investigación a través de esos 30 años de viajes.
El libro se define con una palabra: imperdible



508 reviews6 followers

March 24, 2023

Thank God that’s over! Never have I complained so much about a book that took me so long to read. So long, in fact, that it is massively overdue and the library has blocked my account. But once I had committed to about 500 pages, I felt that I had to keep going partly out of obtuseness (no big fat 1200 page book was going to beat me!) and because, flicking ahead, I’d find parts that interested me and wanted to reach them. But after probably six weeks of reading, was it worth it? Probably not.

Am I glad that I read it? Probably, in that I will probably take away flickers of recognition of names and cultures, and from the effect of seeing events that occurred contemporaneously that I had only seen in isolation previously. But it was damned hard work and I just don’t know -yet- whether it was worth it.
For my complete review, please visit:

Peter Ellwood

293 reviews4 followers

May 14, 2023

A romp through at least some of the history of the world. I say “romp” because Simon Sebag Montefiore thrusts his own cheery personality into the narrative on pretty much every page. Many historians adopt a more neutral style of language that befits the pomp and seriousness of the subject matter, but SSM’s approach is more personal. A couple of random examples, amongst many dozens, he speaks startlingly of one Roman emperor as a ‘fratboy’, or again, of a female member of a royal family as ‘hitting on’ her courtiers. The funny thing is, for me it worked quite well, and generates a particular and jolly tone for the narrative. His command of more serious language is total too, and I found myself frequently taking advantage of my electronic version of the book, enabling me to look up unfamiliar words speedily, where I would otherwise have shrugged and glossed over.

I say “some” of the history of the world because obviously, even at some 2300 pages, the account is quite selective. Selective and dense: the writing often comes across more as a set of ‘homework notes’ than a narrative of history. Here’s a random extract whose jam-packedness is echoed across hundreds of pages:

“In 1036, one of the Arab emirs of Sicily appealed to empress Zoë, who raised an army that included mercenaries led by a Norwegian prince Hardrada and the Hauteville brothers. Zoë’s Sicilian adventure was a disaster; the imperious Romarioi disrespected the Hautevilles, who thereafter hated Constantinople. The brother changed sides, joined the army of Heinrich, defeated Zoë’s forces and seized Apulia. Heinrich (now emperor) recognised Iron-Arm William as Count of Apulia. In 1042, they were joined by Humphrey and Robert. The latter was known as Guiscard, meaning wily, and was best described by Anna Komnene.
Phew. I would defy anyone to read more than a few pages of such rat-a-tat-tat concentration and absorb more than the barest details. In that sense it’s a pity the Covid lockdown didn’t last longer – forcing him to flesh it all out by another thousand pages or so.

SSM’s evident enjoyment of salacious details – of who chopped the largest number of enemy penises off, or who laid the largest number of concubines or other people’s wives (or husbands) – occasionally obscures other interesting aspects. I enjoyed all the sex and depravity for sure, but I’d have welcomed a bit more on the more boring things they did too. For example, after quite a detailed account of bedroom cavortings in Empress Wei’s court around 85 B.C., a throwaway phrase mentions that these oversexed charmers had also doubled the scale of China’s cultural artefacts and activity. It’s true the book is called a “Family History” and not a “cultural history”, but the mountain of genitalia surely gives a slightly incomplete picture of the ancient world.

On the other hand though, it’s worth recording that SSM does perform a kind of service through all the schoolboy chortling. If the book is a bit light on man’s spiritual journey in ancient times, it’s clear enough that most other historians have failed to convey what obsessive and saucy boys and girls we have always been, everywhere. It is simply amazing how many different cultures were fixated on genitalia. From “Abarsam [who] had himself castrated and sent his testicl*s to the king in a box of salt – surely an example of protesting too much”. to ”After [Andonilos] had been hung upside down in the Hippodrome, his eyes were gouged out, his genitals amputated, his teeth extracted, his face burned..”

This is more than schoolboy fun in a way – it puts our contemporary obsessions, both with talking about sex, and also with condemning such things: in a new light. We've always been at it.

Another fascinating aspect (for me) was the placing in a wider context of the great empires of old. In the west we have all possibly tended to assume/learn that the Egyptian, Roman, and Chinese empires were the colossal edifices in history, gigantic peaks that loomed over anything else for centuries. I exaggerate a little maybe. But SSM makes no attempt to sex them up in such a way, describing them instead in the same level terms as all the others – the Babylonians, Persians, Seleucids, Hittites and so on – and to my mind makes it all the better for that. The mountain range was bigger than one might think. Another of my private prejudices that crumbled is the sense that mighty China has somehow always been a separate planet, with its own civilisation remote and disconnected from the rest of us. To a large degree this is probably true enough: but it is fascinating to deduce from the text that China, with its several incursions into Turkic areas and vice versa, was a more active participant in world history than I had imagined. Xi’s Belt and Road initiative is not quite as precedent-setting as one might think. Neither, perhaps, is the Chinese civilisation quite so ground-breaking as the Chinese would have us believe.

More than that, the picture that emerges unbidden from these pages is that everywhere, all over the world, leaders have devoted their energies to attacking their neighbours (and beyond, in more exceptional cases like Alexander or Genghis Khan). If ever I had formed the vague impression that, say, England’s occasional wars over the centuries were driven by unusually obsessive leaders, this book corrects that: the whole of history, everywhere, has been marked by people trying to put one over on their neighbours through violence. In that sense, Vladimir Putin suddenly begins to look like a standard-issue megalomaniac, and the lifetime of civilised peace in Europe that I have enjoyed: as very much the exception.

In summary then, PMS’s romp is fun and helps depict an interconnected world since the beginning of history. But in jumping around like an energetic grasshopper he makes it quite difficult to follow, and you will need to read a more considered history of any particular period, to make real sense of it.

Finally, one technical angle which is a serious shortcoming and which the publisher needs to remedy: SSM inserts a large number of additional footnotes/endnotes, asterisked and assembled at the end of each chapter in my electronic version. Many are quite fascinating and well worth reading – but it is frequently difficult to work out which comment at the end relates to which asterisk in the body of the text, as his additional remarks often illustrate a point by going off at a slight tangent. That is a pity, as it disrupts the flow of his narrative quite significantly to hunt through and work out which bit applies to whom. In a book where it is already quite difficult to work out which country/person he is talking about, It would have been more of a romp if the footnotes/endnotes had been numbered instead of asterisked: you would know immediately where you were.

Still, a remarkable achievement of a book. If he had taken just another year or so to make it all less rat-a-tat-tat it might have been a masterpiece.


Author1 book5 followers

December 6, 2022

short and not long

    favorites history

Yair Zumaeta Acero

111 reviews28 followers

April 21, 2024

La pandemia derivada del COVID-19 y el confinamiento poblacional en casi la totalidad de las grandes urbes del mundo entero durante poco más, poco menos de año y medio es probablemente el evento axial de nuestra generación. En un par de décadas todos recordaremos -con pesar, nostalgia, terror o desprecio – la manera en la que invertimos nuestro preciado tiempo mientras el mundo de afuera se encontraba absolutamente detenido y la incertidumbre era el pan de cada día. Algunos cultivaron su mente a través de la lectura de cientos de libros y el aprendizaje de nuevas habilidades. Otros pasaron las horas dedicadas al ejercicio extenuante y muchos otros simplemente existieron viendo las horas correr si ninguna razón aparente. En el caso del famoso historiador británico y bestseller Simon Sebag Montefiore, la pandemia y el confinamiento fueron el escenario perfecto para escribir un proyecto muy subjetivo y a la vez hercúleo: La historia de más o menos 70.000 años de la humanidad, desde los primeros vestigios del hombre hasta la invasión rusa a Ucrania en 2022.

“El Mundo: Una historia de familias” es un ciclópeo libro que cuenta con más de 1440 páginas. Resulta virtualmente imposible escribir una historia de la humanidad en un solo volumen sin un hilo conductor para que no termine convertido en una sucesión de fechas, nombres y datos caóticos y frustrantes para la lectura. Es así como Montefiore se enfrente a esta gesta sobrehumana con un enfoque bastante ingenioso: relatar la historia a partir de la unidad esencial de la existencia humana en todas sus eras y culturas: La familia. Si bien es cierto, existen muchos libros sobre historia universal, en este la perspectiva es utilizar la historia de familias, dinastías y sagas políticas para ofrecer una dirección que permita conectar los grandes acontecimientos con el drama de la vida humana desde el tejido familiar, con relatos vitales de familias a lo largo de todos los continentes y todas las épocas, con personajes y dinastías que fueron excepcionales y a la vez reveladores de sus épocas y lugares. Una forma perfecta de contemplar cómo han cambiado los reinos y los estados; cómo se han ido desarrollando las conexiones entre personas y naciones, e incluso como distintas sociedades han absorbido a familias extrañas o se han fundido con otras. Van apareciendo los Ming, los Bonaparte, los Habsburgo, los Médici, los Borgia, los Tudor, los Romanov, los Nehru, los Rockefeller, los Assad, los Ramses, los Barca, los Escipión, los Han, los Tang, los Sasán, los Comnenos, los timúridas, los Moctezuma, los Valois, los Borbones, los Estuardo, la casa de Alí, los Kim y los Trump… aunque desfilarán las grandes personalidades de la historia humana (Se hablará de las familias de Ramsés, Alejandro Magno, César, Napoleón, Atila, Gengis Kan, Mahoma, Stalin, Hitler, etc, etc, etc), aquí también hay espacio para personajes menos conocidos; para profetas, actores, prostitutas, piratas, científicos, médicos, asesinos, bandidos y dictadores.

Quien ya haya tenido oportunidad de leer a Montefiore con alguno de sus grandes libros sobre Stalin o los Romanov, estará acostumbrado a su particular estilo narrativo que impide que un libro tan voluminoso quede convertido en un alud de datos fríos, inconexos y aburridos. Por el contrario, con su prosa vertiginosa, su inteligente manera de meter y sacar de escena a personajes principales y secundarios, y su picante forma de describir situaciones oscuras y casi inverosímiles (como las parrilladas humanas seguidas de orgias en monasterios de Iván el Terrible, o las cataplasmas contentivas de estiércol de vaca con las que Catalina de Médici cubría su vagin* para combatir la infertilidad); el libro está plagado de anécdotas jugosas que permiten amenizar la explicación de cada personaje, su familia y entorno social y temporal en el cual viven. Con un escritor avezado como Montefiore, el relato histórico está debidamente tejido sobre las conspiraciones por el poder, los avances tecnológicos y los grandes hitos de la evolución social y económica que dan lugar a una narración simultánea en cuanto en lo cronológico, pero espacialmente tan distantes entre dos lugares como la Hawái de Kamehameha I y la Francia de Luis XVI. Esto nos trae a uno de los aspectos más relevantes del libro, y es que el eurocentrismo se deja de lado (no del todo por supuesto) para dar paso a abundantes descripciones de los procesos dinásticos en el mundo árabe, y especialmente, África. Lo que resulta un alivio debido a la poca atención que se presta al continente africano cuando se habla de historias universales.

Como escribiera el gran Edward Gibbon hace más de 200 años, “La Historia es, en verdad, poco más que un registro de los crímenes, locuras y malaventuras de la humanidad.”. Y al parecer Montefiore entendió a la perfección esta máxima porque su obra es básicamente un “Game of Thrones” real, donde una bacanal de violencia y sexo nos arrastra como un torbellino a través de la caída de ciudades nobles, la desaparición de reinos, el ascenso y caída de las dinastías; una crueldad tras otra, una locura tras otra… masacres, hambrunas, pandemias, decapitaciones regias, veneno a borbotones, incesto, amantes que asesinan a reinas, reinas que sepultan vivas a concubinas, sífilis, guerras de bastardos…. Y a pesar de estar salpicada de sangre por doquier, la historia humana siempre sale avante por su vitalidad, capacidad de gozo, el amor y su devoción a la familia… volviendo siempre al principio como un Uróboro…

“El Mundo: Una historia de familias” no es un libro fácil y tampoco se trata de un texto para leer contra reloj. Entre tantos nombres, fechas y anécdotas, es imposible que el cerebro digiera más de 50 páginas por día. Por eso, más que un texto de “historia universal definitiva”, funciona mejor como una enciclopedia posmoderna que exige paciencia, esfuerzo intelectual y definitivamente, gusto por la lectura y la historia. Un libro que seguramente terminará rayado y lleno de apuntes, separadores y asteriscos (como el mío), pero que invitará no sólo a su relectura, también a su constante consulta. Y aquí es donde Montefiore y su voluminosa obra, se vuelven inmortales…


1,165 reviews387 followers

March 7, 2024

I picked this book up a few days ago at my library with a mix of interest and trepidation.

Interest because I've read "The Red Tsar" and it was good.

Trepidation because I know that a one-volume world history is going to be ... problematic. Even if the book is a doorstop, indeed. (It's 1,200-plus pages.)

Interest because, as indicated by the subheader and more so by the table of contents, it promises to not be a purely chronological history, but thematic in various ways.

And, it turned out to be far, far worse.

Basically, it's like Montefiore had a brain fart during COVID and decided to start stitching together encyclopedia entries without any overarching thesis or plan. That said, the idea had potential. DOUBLE the pages, while splitting into a 3-volume set, edit within that to cut out the weeds and FACT CHECK. This book is RIDDLED with errors.

Like with Sapolsky's smaller doorstop, Determined, I'll do a series of updates now that I've started.

And, first, whatever rating this finally gets, it likely won't be five-star.

We've got two issues and an error in the first 15 pages.

Issue No. 1? Yeah, he's not the only British historian to do it. I think all of them do it. But, ENOUGH with the "BC" (and "AD" presumably to come). It's BCE and CE in the modern American academic world and should be elsewhere.

Issue No. 2? Under those prominent in the acknowledgements is Peter Frankopan, whose own doorstop I recently three-starred . Even worse? Hank the Knife Kissinger is listed and Montefiore says he "read his period." Oh, boy. And, No. 3? Serhii Plokhy, listed as a reader for Ukraine. (China, too big to ignore, gets readers for both earlier and later. Russia does not get even one; I guess Montefiore is counting himself, or listed at the top level, Dominic Lieven.) What, is Montefiore going to give us the US/NATO/Nat-Sec nutsa*cks™ version of recent European history?

Error No. 1? Page 7: "Some bands of these hunter-gatherers crossed the icy land bridge between Asia and Alaska and entered the Americas, where in a glimpse of perilous existence, 13,000 years ago, the footsteps of a woman in New Mexico show her holding a child ..." If he's referring to the White Sands footprints, his dates are off by 10-12,000 years . If he's not referring to them, then he's out of date.

Issue 3, early 20s on pages? The history of the Avesta is more fluid and less fixed than Montefiore seems to portray.

Per a couple of the 2-star reviews, apparently errors will continue to pop up in this book. And, I can pretty much guarantee this won't get more than 3 stars. That said, I already called out the Islamophobic 2-star reviewer.

Error 2, page 38: Wrong on Israelite worship. Many Northwest Semitic tribes of this time had arks for sacred objects, often believed to contain the presence of the deity himself. The tabernacle, OTOH? Mainly if not totally retrojected from the later temple.

Error 3, page 40: Contra Montefiore, the Tel Dan stele ONLY documents the "House of David," not David, just like a Greek stele (I've used this analogy before) documenting the "House of Atreus" would not document Atreus.

Error 4, same vicinity (this is getting bad enough, like Jill Lepore's "These Truths," that I will stop individual page numbers. Actually, I'll lump a cluster of errors here. First, the Hatti are not Hittites. Yes, per link, the Hittites eventually called themselves the Hatti, but modern historians distinguish. Per above, SSM seems to be dipping too much into the Tanakh as history, even with a footnote disclaimer elsewhere. Related? The Canaanites are not Phoenicians. They're all Northwest Semites, but not the same people.

Semi-error 5: The Iron Age in sub-Saharan Africa does indeed appear to be an independent invention, but a date of 1000 BCE (or earlier) is still highly iffy and has unstable radiocarbon date backing.

Issue 4: Khan is not an Indo-European word. Medes did not have khans. And, at this point, we're getting into the territory of Jill Lepore on "These Truths" with how craptacular this is.

Error 6, pg 55: The stirrup's predecessor was likely not invented where, nor as early, as SSM claims.

Meanwhile, by this point, we're hitting the salaciousness, generally highly egregious salaciousness, that several other low-ranking reviewers mention.

Skipping WAY ahead to the last chapter?

On the demise of the USSR, Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians are NOT "Nordic and Germanic peoples." Going by language, Estonian isn't even an Indo-European language. The hot takes on Drunken Boris Yeltsin are kind of funny. And Gorby was totally right about Commissar of Nationalities Uncle Joe Stalin creating the borders of Ukraine in its SSR and beyond. (One of many things he forgot decades later.) He rightly notes the polyglot nature of Ukraine in general, but points this only at Putin, not leaders of an independent Ukraine nor the West. He ignores the coup at the Maidan. Whether or not Putin could have captured all of Ukraine easily in 2004 is above all academic and second ignores how the Minsk agreements were manipulated by NATO in general and Merkel in particular. He also ignores the coup at the Maidan (it was) in 2014. And now we know that Kissinger and Plokhy were surely enthusiastic manuscript readers. And why Montefiore turned to the likes of them.

Given SSM's salaciousness elsewhere throughout the book, I'm surprised he didn't talk about Yeltsin's daughter waving her vulva at Putin in 1999 and telling him to man up. (He uses language just like that in describing a Persian-Lydian battle.)

Moving back: Arete was not a specifically Socratic focus. It was a Greek social concept already for Homer, and it reached its fullest Hellenic flowering with Aristotle. Nor was Socrates ordered to take poison at his trial; he had the option of exiling himself. SSM otherwise seems to buy the Platonic account of why Socrates was tried. (It's wrong.)

Jumping forward to the 20th century? George Marshall in all likelihood made the right decision with Chiang to have him stop short of Manchuria. Stalin would have accepted a divided China, and Chiang couldn't have held the whole thing anyway. Several books have been written on this.

Stupidly wrong about Stalin overreaching by RE-"consuming" (not "consuming," as they'd been Tsarist) the Balkans. He does mention that the Holodomor was directed at Kazakhstan and elsewhere, not just Ukraine; doesn't mention that the death rate was highest in Kazakhstan. And, did Stalin as part of that create modern industry that could outproduce Germany? I don't think so, and don't forget that Hitler didn't put Germany on a total war footing until Stalingrad.

It should be noted a few tidbits are good, like the noting that in Shang Dynasty China, royal women as well as men could and did command armies and that this continued until Tang times. But, in a book that tries to be this all-encompassing, both this, and the tidbit about it ending in Tang times, will remain nothing more than tidbits. Ditto for noting the Spartan 300 weren't alone at Thermopylae.

Also, contra the Greek speaker's review (thanks, Google Translate) calling this "woke"? I liked that women were brought in, and that rulers were named by their native language names. (If you're using "woke" for "salaciousness," I'm with you.) Contra an Islamophobic 2-star reviewer, I like that it had an open take on the Islamic world, to the degree I read that far.

And, with that, I am at "DNF," short of an occasional futher grokking, and it's 1-starred.

    bs-pabluim history-world

Jorge Zuluaga

352 reviews336 followers

March 30, 2024


Al fin encontré la última página de este ladrillo. Creí que nunca iba a terminar. Se me hizo por momentos, insoportable y a "ratos" imposible de abandonar. ¿Cómo pueden haber ocurrido tantos genocidios, haber existido tantos locos de atar en el poder y seguir como si no hubiera pasado nada?. Esta no es una historia de familias, es una historia monumental. ¿Podría escribirse una historia más amplia, inclusiva o emocionante?. Los humanos no hemos cambiado en casi nada a lo largo de milenios. Y un largo etcétera.

Se agolpan en mi cabeza, de forma desordenada, muchas ideas al terminar de leer este increíble libro.

Con 1389 páginas, al menos en la edición que leí (Crítica, pasta dura, 2022), impresas en hojas de papel inusualmente delgadas, con las márgenes mínimas y casi el mínimo tamaño de letra, el contenido de este libro no solo es monumental sino increíblemente denso. Estas características hacen además que se convierta en un proyecto de lectura inusualmente difícil, al menos para alguien, que cómo yo, lee de Historia por placer -o eso creo-.

Aún así, el recorrido por casi 70.000 años de vagabundería humana, es sencillamente asombroso y te deja una sensación de perspectiva que no había experimentado con ningún otro libro de Historia. Claro, también es difícil encontrar uno que se compare a este libro en ambición y enfoque, así que la comparación es injusta. El único libro que puedo pensar medianamente equiparable con "El Mundo" de Sebag Montefiore es "Ideas" de Peter Watson, aunque, de nuevo, el enfoque de ambos sea diferente; y la verdad sea dicha, el de Watson este mejor logrado.

La primera característica que encontré asombrosa en este libro es la amplitud geográfica del ejercicio de Sebag Montefiore.

En lugar de restringirse, como tantos libros que conocemos y ahora criticamos con ahínco, a narrar la Historia de occidente, desde Mesopotamia y Egipto -aunque suene paradójico-, pasando por Grecia, Roma y de allí Europa y sus colonias, "El Mundo" es una verdadera Historia global, que abarca hechos -o familias, como preferiría decir Sebag Montefiore- en todos los continentes de la Tierra y en cada etapa de su dilatada y compleja Historia.

Debo confesar que esta amplitud de mirada es también la que hace al libro, a ratos, tan difícil de leer. Y es que la historiografía centrada en occidente de los últimos dos siglos nos ha acostumbrado tanto a las mismas Historias de faraones, emperadores, reyes y presidentes -así, en masculino genérico- que cuando te enfrentas a decenas de páginas sobre hechos y personajes de lugares ajenos a este paisaje familiar, con nombres, costumbres, instituciones totalmente ajenas, terminas realmente abrumado.

Yo personalmente, solo hasta los últimos capítulos logré acostumbrarme a los hilos argumentales de la Historia -la versión particular de Sebag Montefiore- de los imperios, los reinos o los países de Asia, el Pacífico o África, que en su mayoría conocía solo por referencias escasas en otros textos.

Solo por esto diría que la lectura de "El Mundo" vale la pena; el libro es un verdadero viaje de descubrimiento al mundo más allá de los palacios y las iglesias de occidente.

Otra de las características que me asombraron de "El Mundo" fue la sistemática, y muy obvia, inclusión de las mujeres en el relato general y en las historias particulares que cambiaron el curso de la humanidad.

Para nadie es un secreto hoy que en la mayor parte de las obras historiográficas modernas, las académicas y las divulgativas, las mujeres, a pesar de ser la mitad de nuestra especie, parecen haber jugado un papel secundario en casi todos los grandes eventos de la Historia. No nos digamos mentiras, y esto lo vienen diciendo las filósofas feministas desde hace décadas e incluso siglos, la Historia narrada hasta ahora ha sido una Historia dominantemente masculina. Aunque en la literatura histórica tradicional también se les ha dado el papel a las mujeres de madres y reinas poderosas, pero más comúnmente de musas, dominas, concubinas, brujas, religiosas, etc. Sebag Montefiore rompe con el esquema tradicional -aunque estoy seguro no lo logra perfectamente- y nos cuenta una Historia en la que hombres y mujeres participan casi de forma simétrica en el desarrollo de los hechos. Al hacerlo, pone de relieve el nombre y los actos de grandes personajes femeninos, por supuesto algunas de ellas tan viciosas, asesinas y malévolas como sus contrapartes masculinos bastante bien conocidos, pero lo hace no como un ejercicio al margen, un recuadro que aporta una curiosidad al hilo de la historia, sino en una narración continua, sin saltos "inclusivos" forzados.

Algunas personas podrían encontrar en este estilo un esfuerzo por estar al día con los movimientos de "inclusión forzada". Yo lo entendí, y lo leí, como un ejercicio de la manera en la que se leerá en lo sucesivo la historiografía, la escrita tanto por feministas como por profesionales de la historia como Sebag Montefiore. Un aplauso de mi parte para el autor por utilizar su tribuna privilegiada para hacer este ejercicio de justicia histórica con las mujeres tan necesario.

Antes había dicho que el libro resulta a menudo insoportable. Los detalles de las historias narradas en "El Mundo" son a veces tan intrincados, tan difíciles de seguir para una lectura espontánea, que terminas preguntando "¿qué demonios importa todo esto para el panorama general?" "¿qué hago yo leyendo los detalles de la sucesión de poder en un reino desaparecido del sudeste asiático o del centro mismo de Europa si podría estar leyendo tantas otras cosas?".

Pero Sebag Montefiore logra lo imposible: mantener la atención en el libro con un truco literario simple: cambiar el foco, moverse rápidamente a terrenos más conocidos, a historias más "emocionantes".

Esta es la otra característica admirable de esta monumental Historia del Mundo. A unos pocos párrafos de distancia, el autor te transporta desde las montañas de Japón al desierto del Sinaí, de las vicisitudes de pueblos esclavizados en África a las venenosas conspiraciones de los papas corruptos en Italia y Francia. Lo mejor, hace todo esto con una naturalidad que no se siente forzada y que por el contrario te obliga a leer cada aparte, los que te gustan y los que no, solo por el temor a perder los detalles de una historia que te interesa y que esta insertada en medio de otra de la que no sabes casi nada.

"El Mundo" se vende como "una historia de familias". En efecto así se lee en muchos apartes del libro. Pero definitivamente de todo puedo decir de este libro menos que se trata solo de una Historia de las familias que manejaron los destinos de la humanidad desde que tenemos registro. Es obvio que todas las personas que fueron importantes en la historia pertenecieron a una familia, a una tribu. Pero ese vínculo no lo fue todo y, afortunadamente, Sebag Montefiore no logra transmitir esa idea que estaba en la raíz misma de su proyecto. "El Mundo" es simplemente una versión más de la Historia, pero una versión amplia -todo el planeta- e inclusiva -todas las personas-; una que incluye a grandes familias, pero también a naciones y pueblos enteros, unidas o no por compromisos filiales.

El libro se divide en 23 "actos" (partes). Cada una de ellas esta formada por entre dos y tres capítulos; que a su vez se dividen en una decena de secciones con títulos entre curiosos ("El espartano negro y el tirano de la virtud") e ilegibles ("El cerebro, el tonto de las provincias y Lucky Luciano"). Si pudiera hacer una selección -muy limitada- de los apartes que dejaron una huella más honda en mi memoria, podría decir que todo el Acto Primero, dedicado especialmente a los pueblos más antiguos, Egipto y Mesopotamia, estuvo entre mis favoritos. He leído lo suficiente de Historia del Antiguo Egipto para que la versión de Sebag Montefiore me dejará convencido de que el libro que comenzaba sería lo suficientemente bueno para continuar. La Historia de los imperios asiáticos de la edad media (Acto Octavo), casi completamente nueva para mí, fue también un aparte que recordaré por un buen tiempo. Por supuesto la versión de la Historia del siglo XIX y el siglo XX, con sus increíbles guerras, colonizaciones y genocidios (Actos 15-23) quedaran como lecturas de referencia para el futuro. He incluso pensado que si quisiera releer algo de este libro, para intentar seguir entendiendo la Historia que nos ha dejado en lo que estamos actualmente, sería precisamente la parte que escribe Sebag Montefiore de estos dos infaustos siglos.

Una nota negativa. El libro tiene más errores tipográficos de los que estoy acostumbrado a ver en obras con esta calidad editorial. Especialmente en los últimos capítulos hay frases que son ilegibles o están completamente distorsionadas por los errores. Puedo entender que en un texto que puede contener más de 2 millones de palabras, algunas tengan errores. Pero que estén en algunos de los apartes más emocionantes o actuales del libro (la Historia del Siglo XX y el principio del siglo XXI) fue para mí incomprensible.

Termino esta reseña con una frase de Hegel que cita Sebag Montefiore al final de su libro y que resume el sentimiento general que queda después de leer por cientos de páginas como los humanos nos hemos matado por millones generaciones tras generaciones:

«A menudo se aconseja a los gobernantes y las naciones que aprendan lo que la experiencia histórica les puede enseñar. Pero la lección de la experiencia y la historia es que las naciones y los gobiernos nunca han aprendido nada de la historia» — Hegel


9 reviews

January 8, 2023

An epic read… only thing missing for me were some maps to orientate the narrative.

    2023-books apartheid balkan-history

Nelson Zagalo

Author9 books385 followers


January 13, 2024

Comprei-o assim que descobri que tinha saído, pensei que seria algo completamente diferente. O título falava em família, em história da família na história da humanidade, mas isso não é o que podemos encontrar aqui, até porque isto nem sequer é um livro de história, é antes um dicionário.

Montefiore esteve encerrado durante a pandemia do COVID e escreveu estas quase 1400 páginas em que pretende dar conta da História do mundo. Fiquei reticente quando descobri isto, pois escrever mil páginas e sobre um assunto tão complexo em menos de ano e meio levanta de imediato a suspeita de potencial superficialidade.

E foi isso mesmo que aqui encontrei, não só não há aprofundamento, como nem sequer há uma história, o livro é constituído por cerca de uma centena de apontamentos de 4 a 7 páginas sobre famílias reais e políticas, dos Faraós a Trump.

Pensava eu que seria um livro sobre a ideia de família ao longo da história, com exemplos de pessoas comuns, vidas reais, e o que encontrei foram histórias cheias de políticas, traição, guerra e sangue. Pior, cada família real segue-se a outra, e a outra, sem qualquer relação além da cronologia temporal.

Do ponto de vista positivo, Montefiore tentou dar exemplos de todos os continentes.



457 reviews23 followers

May 2, 2024

Een whopping 1.400 pagina's wereldgeschiedenis. Met duizenden namen. En ja, te veel geschiedenis bestaat.

Familiedynastieën wilden maar 1 ding: de macht in de familie houden en bij voorkeur uitbreiden. Veroveringen waren nodig om kinderen macht te geven. En als het niet met het zwaard lukte, dan was een huwelijk ook een goede optie. Vrouwen waren daarbij machtiger dan wij denken.

Aan het einde van die dunne dikbedrukte 1.400 pagina's overheerste bij mij dankbaarheid. Ik leef in een zeldzaam vreedzaam tijdperk.

Lees mijn hele leeservaring op mijn blog.

    geschiedenis non-fictie

Fatima Ali

31 reviews1 follower

September 24, 2023

Took me three months to finish but what a ride. Breathtaking in scope. Highly recommended for global history enthusiasts!

Dr G

282 reviews5 followers

September 30, 2023

When I see film of someone climbing the outside of a skyscraper (this is “buildering”, apparently), I am amazed at the audacity of their enterprise, and I am confronted with the reality that, whatever my skills are, they would not include this activity. Yet I wonder at their purpose and find no convincing answer to the question of what has been gained by the successful completion of the exercise.
I feel much the same about Simon Sebag Montefiore’s publication of The World: A Family History..
I am not sure what the purpose is of trying to consolidate history of all earth in a single book. Is it a bit like climbing mountains – or buildings – to show he can do it? I felt at many times during the expedition that this was essentially a vanity project.
I read somewhere that Montefiore had seen, as a child, Toynbee’s A Study of History and mused then upon whether he might one day write a similar work. This seems similar to the multitude of people who have proclaimed as children that they would become Prime Minister or President of their country. Are these ambitions anything more valuable than egocentric vanity?
I must agree that SSM is astoundingly clever: his ability to manage and manipulate all that material is staggering. And, of course, his stamina and persistence in completing this project are notable.
But are we any better off for his having completed it? At the most humdrum of levels, a 1267 page tome is very difficult to manage physically, and I frequently found myself wishing Montefiore had, at least, divided the work into four or five separate works. They might not have looked so impressive but there would be fewer readers now nursing their RSI. And probably more would have completed something, rather than surrendering without finishing anything. Beyond that, I would defy any reader to retain any of the book’s information beyond the next few chapters.
At heart, though, my objection to The World: A Family History is more substantial than these points. I would describe SSM’s approach to the work as being, essentially, salacious tabloid. It is a conglomeration of gory violence; sexual activity, particularly favouring slightly eccentric varieties, and rape; excessive alcohol and drug-usage; and general scatology. (It is something of a paradox, then, that he describes Martin Luther as “fixated on faeces and sex”, the “faecal fulminator”.) I should mention that Montefiore also enjoys describing the appearance of misshapen or disfigured individuals. And there are many times when trivial information is included amongst the omission of significant historical events. Thus a whole paragraph is dedicated to details of “Haroun’s wedding to his double first cousin Zubaida (which) was said to have been the greatest party of all time” in 1782.
My idea of history is much more focused on analysis and explanation, and identification of patterns. Montefiore does move into these areas, but only towards the end of the book, when it becomes, I think, a far more interesting work. Until then, his “history” is a rattling through of events: especially of wars, arguments, murders, alliances, sieges, capitulations, mass-deaths. Because it moves through time so quickly, and because it focuses so exclusively on leaders, there is a scrolling effect of people’s names: it is rather like the credit list at the end of a film, run too fast. After a while, the names disappear out the other end of the funnel. Montefiore often uses unusual spellings of ancient names, as well as vernacular translations of the name, making the memory exercise more exacting. And not all the names in the text appear in the name-index (which nevertheless runs to 37 pages) so subsequently following up on someone might be essentially impossible. The difficulty of retaining a feel for who people are is exacerbated by the structure which, in order to follow a temporal unity, swings from Place A to Place B, then Place C, all in one era, then returning to Place A a little later.
A sense of the breakneck speed and the breathless sensationalism can be conveyed with a typical extract: ““Most unusually for a Macedonian king, Amyntas died old and in his bed, leaving the throne to the eldest boy, Alexander II, who was defeated by the city of Thebes, then the leading Greek power, which forced him to surrender fifty hostages./The king sent his youngest brother, the thirteen-year-old Philip. Spending three years in Thebes, Philip was taught a lifestyle of vegetarianism, celibacy and pacifism (all of which he later ignored), but he stayed in the house of the Theban general who was his mentor, probably also his lover, and studied the tactics of the Sacred Band, the elite corps of 300 (supposedly 150 male couples) whose victories had won Thebes its supremacy.”
One of the issues with the whole book is that no information is cited. I can see why this is done: when I complain that the work is 1268 pages long, I omit to mention that around a third of the pages have small-font footnotes which, if integrated into the text at normal font size, would have it running well over 1300 pages. Citing sources of all the information which should be cited would take this well beyond that. However, without those citations, we are left entirely dependent upon Montefiore’s authority and accuracy. And his predilection for sensationalism might make the reader wish to check sources. Balzac he writes, “lived as he thought a Parisian writer should live, enjoying love affairs with duch*esses and courtesans, writing all night, overweight, breathless, gradually poisoning himself on overdoses of coffee”. There are reports in other sources of the coffee claim but they are reckoned to be unreliable. Equally unreliable is the statement about “ruga-ruga militia men who wore shirts of flayed human skin, caps of human scalps, belts of human intestines and teeth necklaces.” This is, again, not footnoted, and a Google search does not substantiate it.
Another aspect of this is his custom of blithely suggesting he is the only historian to have recognised or understood some particular matter. “Western history writing often…” or “This is much neglected by historians” he laments, without naming the errant scholars.
I should mention, though, that Montefiore has provided an extensive reading list online, a resource which is vastly under-utilised by authors of history books; many would greatly benefit from the possibility of providing online many more photographs, illustrations and maps than are practicably available in a bound book.
The World: A Family History contains in its coverage of the period up until, say, 1800, a substantial number of bald assertions which, unfootnoted, can not be checked. The text states, “at Cannae, the Carthaginians surrounded and slaughtered as many as 70,000 legionaries at a rate of a hundred a minute.” ChatGPT, when asked to deliberate on this, offers a cautious, historically sensible assessment: “The claim that the Carthaginians slaughtered Romans at a rate of 100 a minute at the Battle of Cannae is not attributed to any specific reputable writer or historian. As far as I know, this specific claim is not found in the accounts of ancient historians who wrote about the Battle of Cannae, such as Polybius or Livy. Additionally, modern historians who have studied the battle and its historical records have not made such a claim. The notion of killing 100 Romans per minute is likely an exaggeration or hyperbole that has circulated in popular culture or less scholarly sources. It’s crucial to be cautious with such claims and ensure that historical information is sourced from reputable and well-documented academic works and primary sources to avoid spreading misinformation.” Exactly so! Montefiore describes the English Gunpowder Plot as “now regarded as a Jape”, a remarkable assertion which I have never encountered before.
One of the more concerning aspects of Montefiore’s credulity is his readiness to take literally some ancient epigraphic texts which, in the style of the time, mix history (in our modern sense), fable, myth and outright propaganda. Thus, much of the early “history” is, at best, conjectural and reliant on unreliable sources. Montefiore, however, presents it with unequivocal factual certainty. Time after time, one encounters a “fact” which is disputed as conjectural by the specialists. It is, presumably, punchier and tidier to operate with this black and white approach, but it is also bad history and, inasmuch as this work might be seen as a reference authority in future (as it presumably aspires to be), it is irresponsible. (Oddly, on occasion, he makes the same point: “Livia was said to have poisoned Augustus with figs. She was also rumoured to have poisoned all his earlier prospective successors. There is no proof of any of this and much of it was pure chauvinism, as poison was supposedly feminine – secret, insidious, concealed in food consumed trustingly.”)
The book is written in a curious mixture of styles. There is the tabloid argot (“Philadelphos supposedly kept nine paramours, of whom the star was a badass chariot-racing Greek beauty Belistiche.”). And there is a prolific use of genital vocabulary which would never have seen light of day in tabloid publications. But there is also a slightly exhibitionist use of rare words. “Bertie, the twenty-five-year-old pinguid Prince of Wales”, for example. And the Arab world is “fissiparous”. At times, this becomes intrusive and obfuscatory. One chapter contains “frizelate” or various forms of it, in several instances. Neither my collection of dictionaries, nor ChatGPT, recognise this word, although it would seem, from the context, to have some sort of sexual connotation.
There are a number of instances in the book which display a mild bias of perspective. Every early appearance of a female in a position of power is ostentatiously pointed out. One of the dangers of attaching to fashionable causes is that the writer can appear patronising. The line is surely crossed here: “Carl Benz had developed a petrol engine in 1885 and designed the Benz motor car. These inventors were male, but in August 1886 Mrs Bertha Benz stole her husband’s contraption with her two sons on board, and drove sixty-five miles, buying gasoline from pharmacies, to visit her mother. It was the first road trip, but Bertha also made driving safer by using a garter to insulate a wire, wielding a hairpin to unblock a pipe and inventing brake pads.”
References to Jewish history seem to me to be out of proportion (and references to modern Israel are surely anodyne in contrast to the scathing critique applied to other nations.) On occasion, the references to the West display the contemporary predilection for showing the West it is not as smart, creative, powerful, etc as it is presumed to think it is. This is one of those tedious fashionable tropes which intend to show the author as a bit cleverer than hoi polloi. Montefiore also insists, despite all his examples of egregious slavery carried out in many countries at many times, that US slavery was the worst of them all. And he pontificates against incest, I think misrepresenting the likelihood of birth defects in offspring.
Not unexpectedly, there are periodic lapses in the text, some of them the responsibility of editors (imagine being given this to edit!). It is irritating that “palace” is typeset as “palac-es” to justify a line. We are told that Fabias Maximus Verrucosus was elected dictator, but while we are told that “verrucosus” translates as “warty”, there is no explanation, as surely there ought to be, that “dictator” in the 3rd century BCE had a different meaning from ours. The editor perhaps had nodded off when the text states “The fleet is be exaggerated”; or asks “why should not African Kings crave exploration any less than Genoese”. “Disraeli, son of a bookish Jewish immigrant from Morocco, was the first outsider to rule Britain since the Romans” What about William the Conqueror? Instead of Mandela’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we are told of his “peace and conciliation committee”. These are relatively minor and, in 1268 pages, few, but if, as author, you are asking a reader to stay with you for such a marathon, it is wise to keep irritations to a minimum.
One element of this study which I think is very valuable is its concomitant examination of many regions, showing the apposition of events in North and South America, Europe, East and West Asia and, at times, the Pacific. Conventional histories generally tend to be based around a nation or region, and it is useful to remember that, at any one time, life was progressing in many different places on the earth. This work attempts to avoid that oversight, although, of course, some regions are overlooked as we dart about the globe. It would simply not be possible to be completely comprehensive. And at times, one theatre and set of actors is dismissed rather abruptly, to be replaced by another. But it is a valuable development at least to show major concurrent Asian, European and North and South American events. This, however, is a separate issue from doing that for the whole span of history.
Montefiore explains that he has sought to apply a family focus to the enterprise. “In this book I have written of the fall of noble cities, the vanishing of kingdoms, the rise and fall of dynasties, cruelty upon cruelty, folly upon folly, eruptions, massacres, famines, pandemics and pollutions, yet again and again in these pages the high spirits and elevated thoughts, the capacity for joy and kindness, the variety and eccentricity of humanity, the faces of love and the devotion of family run through it all, and remind me why I started to write.”
Unsurprisingly, power has often adhered to families as megalomaniacs who are stunned by their mortality seek to evade it by resort to dynasty. So a family focus is logical in those instances; however, there are as many, or more, instances where power passes outside the family. So it is questionable whether there really is a family-focus. One interesting aspect to the family-focus, however, comes in his extending biographical details to notable individuals’ childhood and their un-notable forebears. This is the sort of thing that one finds in a biography, but not so often in a wide-ranging history. I must say, though, that, having read the whole book, I gained little sense of “the capacity for joy and kindness” or “ the faces of love and the devotion of family.” Somewhat off-putting was the number of times Montefiore’s own family popped unexpectedly into view. As part of this trend, we are told of his own schoolboy interview of Margaret Thatcher, and her apparent reaction to his cheek by determining never again to be subjected to such an interview. There is a little vain self-aggrandisem*nt to this.
Nevertheless, there is some very good stuff in Montefiore’s concluding thoughts, making me wish again that he had limited his scope and written three or four more finely targeted studies.
“even the poorest countries today have higher life expectancies than the richest empires of a century ago. Sierra Leone now has a life expectancy of 50.1 years, which is the same as France in 1910. In 1945, Indians lived until thirty-five; now their life expectancy is seventy.” 1258. “In the next eighty years, the population of Europe and East Asia will plummet, that of Nigeria will quadruple to 800 million, making it larger than the entire EU, the second biggest country after India; Congo will triple to 250 million, Egypt will double, Russia will shrink and its Muslims will form a majority. China will halve, its power and economy possibly challenged by the drawbacks of its own autocracy; the US will remain much the same, its ingenious power, however flawed and fragile, likely to endure longer than doomsayers predict. The African giants, Nigeria, Egypt and Congo, could thrive, but it seems more likely that the rulers will be unable to manage or feed their peoples.”
“‘ The real problem of humanity,’ said Edward O Wilson, ‘is we have Palaeolithic emotions, mediaeval institutions and Godlike technology.’ Just because we are the smartest ape ever created, just because we have solved many problems so far, it does not mean we will solve everything. Human history is like one of those investment warning clauses: is no guarantee of future results.
And I found very interesting his contention that, at the time of Boris Yeltsin’s demise, the US would have been better served in the long term by offering a sort of Marshall Plan to Russia instead of seeking to buy off the satellite Soviet states.
Simon Sebag Montefiore finally scaled the building, but there were several fatalities amongst the spectators, and those who watched him clamber over the top parapet do not seem much wiser for having observed the spectacle.


Craig Martin

80 reviews2 followers

May 27, 2024

"A world historian, wrote al-Masudi in ninth-century Baghdad, is like ‘a man who, having found pearls of all kinds and colours, gathers them together into a necklace and makes them into an ornament that its possessor guards with great care’."

Simon Sebag Montefiore’s "The World" is an ambitious and exhaustive chronicle that spans the vast expanse of human history, from the dawn of modern human civilization to the recent conflict in Ukraine. While Montefiore himself concedes that "there is such a thing as too much history," this hefty tome is packed with fascinating and delightful historical pearls that make the lengthy read worthwhile. Some of the connections are surprising, and some of the chance events have resulted in the Geo-political map we use today.

The book is full of etymology - from how writing developed to how words formed around the objects we manipulate, and the people we become:

‘Around 3100, the people of Uruk.. may have invented writing, initially pictograms, but then took to marking clay with wedge-end of a reed, a process that we call cuneiform, which means wedge-shaped. The first named people in history are an accountant, a slave master and two enslaved persons.’

‘Soon, the wheel was developed in Ukraine/Russia, where the first linguistic references to wheels appear’

‘They prided themselves on manners and control, and were so curt that the word laconic comes from Laconia, the Spartan homeland’

‘In 621, a nobleman Drakon drafted the first laws in his own blood… draconian code’

‘..voters could secretly write a politician’s name on a pottery shard (ostrakon) to sentence him to exile - ostracism - for ten years’

‘..candidate, from candidatus, meaning a man who wore the white toga of election campaigns’

‘the word cabal derives from the ministry led by [the Duke of] Buckingham (an acronym from the names Clifford, Arlington, Buckingham, Ashley and Lauderdale).’

The book's sweeping narrative is underpinned by the recurring themes of families and tribes, reflecting on how the preservation of genes through hereditary lines - particularly in progenitory royal families - shaped our world. Some lights flash only briefly - after all for most of the history, at least eight thousand years, life expectancy was around thirty years. The influence of others however, like the deformed-chin Habsburgs and the Khans, illuminates the world over many centuries. Montefiore also introduces us subtly to the ancestors of his own family, whose history is intertwined with the influential Rothschilds, which adds a personal touch to the grand historical tapestry.

A darker undercurrent runs through the book, exploring man's inhumanity to man, a grim reminder of the savagery that has marred our past. Montefiore meticulously records how hatred and enmity have led to horrific acts of mass violence and atrocities, whether through wars, purges, slavery, or the persecution of religious groups. No-one escapes. Jew, Christian, Moslem are all, at various times, mutilated, cut into pieces and burned. The visceral, relentless brutality that has plagued humanity is a stark, sobering theme that permeates the narrative.

Despite its weight, both in physical heft and subject matter, "The World" is a rewarding read. It is not a book to be rushed; rather, it demands and deserves a patient and thoughtful engagement. Over the course of its pages, I found myself making over 200 notes, a testament to the wealth of knowledge and insight it offers.

Montefiore's work is a remarkable journey through history, one that educates and engages. For those willing to invest the time, it is a profoundly enriching experience that sheds light on the complexities and continuities of human existence.

I gave it five stars.


165 reviews4 followers

April 17, 2024

I really enjoyed this book. Yes, it’s incredibly long but just found it well organized and themed. It’s for the pretentious among us with large vocabularies and that’s not a criticism. I learned a lot but mostly to see the connection and how one action always impacts another. Family will always impact power - either killing blood to inherit or planning a dynasty. I think the author is very funny and I understood the sarcasm or wit in a lot of those foot notes.


812 reviews29 followers

July 4, 2023

This crappy app ate my previous review as I was most of the way through it. Ugh. This was a very long book and I don’t want to spend much more time on it, so I’ll try to keep it brief this time as this review is just for my own notes anyway.

What I liked most was the choice to jump between concurrent stories. While it may be confusing to some, for me it helped put things in chronological context. I think it’s easy to forget when things happened in relation to each other. I also found the book easy to read, despite the conversational tone getting a little too chummy at times for my taste. The author included information about many women, who are often left out of histories written by men. Visibility was also given to sexual minorities, who have of course existed forever (sometimes with more acceptance than experienced today) despite the beliefs of some modern bigots. Some of the ancient history that was new to me sent me down research rabbit holes.

While I do like learning about how those who came before us were just as depraved and sex-obsessed as we are, the author occasionally seemed preoccupied with genitals and genital mutilation. Facts are facts and I have no problem with their inclusion, but when there is almost nothing in this huge book about cultural, scientific, technological, or social development, those items seemed gratuitous. The premise is ostensibly about family, but it’s really an accounting of power, violence, and conquest not dissimilar from other books. The individual stories are so bite-sized that it was hard to get any real sense of character or connection beyond what you would get from looking at a family tree. It’s all fairly Eurocentric, which isn’t too surprising. While there are Asian, American, and African stories mixed in (beyond the obvious ones), they were often written in a tone more resembling encyclopedia entries or lecture notes that made them feel tacked on.

My major issues arose in the 20th century, especially the latter half (and beyond), when the author’s biases became clear. There is no shortage of villainy and avarice in these pages, but clear lines are drawn in the modern era over who is just and who isn’t. And it’s clear that, in the author’s view, neoliberal capitalists are good and communist and socialists are bad. Not that autocrats and murderers should get a pass, but you can’t have it both ways. In general, British and American imperialism go completely unquestioned. This whole section is most notable for what isn’t said than what is. US intervention in Latin America is dismissed in one line as conspiracy theories and none of of those stories are told at all. Meanwhile, rumors about who Putin may have killed on the road to power are openly entertained. As one example.

The author doesn’t hesitate to insert himself into the narrative in these sections. For example, he’s quick to point out when he personally interviewed world leaders, like when Kissinger gave him a generic quote. But he never interrogates or outlines Kissinger’s character or actions. Or even Nixon’s. Reagan and Thatcher escape unimpeached while Carter is mocked. Both Bush wars skate by while Obama and Gordon Brown are only notable for bank bailouts. The term “witch hunt” is used and it’s not about Salem. Elon Musk gets some blind praise. No mention of Brexit whatsoever. One weird moment is when he mentions that (now King) Charles sounded the early alarm on climate change, but doesn’t go on to explain his conservationist bona fides (which are real). Nor does he mention anything further on the climate, any scientists, any stories, Al Gore, Greta, etc. It comes as such a left-field name-drop that I had to Google it and it turns out the author is buds with Charles and Camilla. So f*ck this guy.

Anyway, despite the length, there’s no way this thing could be comprehensive. And while there was a lot that was interesting to me, it all can be found elsewhere in more detail. I don’t think he nailed his “family” concept, but it’s an easy to read book. I think I finished it over the course of five days or so. I can’t really recommend it to the one or two of my friends who may be interested, but if you do get a library copy, I’d say stop around the Carolingian period (which didn’t happen anyway if you believe the phantom time theory 😂), but definitely stop before the early modern era as everything from Columbus on is not handled as well as the earlier parts.

Diego Pignatelli

54 reviews2 followers

January 6, 2023

Too much information in an order which is difficult to follow and in many cases unconnected. Too many references to sexual exploits of all orders, which I wonder how clearly documented they were over 2000 years ago.
Anyway a struggle for 300 pages and then I gave up.



920 reviews74 followers

July 29, 2023

An incredible tour of world history written in a clear but never condescending tone and level by the a master historian.

    ancient-history world-history

Brendan Day

49 reviews

May 30, 2024

Magisterial, swaggering and a bit knackering. Sebag-Montefiore’s world history is knowingly monumental, the scope of its focus matched by the virtuosity of its telling. 1300 pages of war, sex, ingenuity, ambition and civilisation should lull and sag; instead it rollicks by via enjoyably catty pen-portraits of (in)famous figures. This is scholarship suffused with wit, neatly avoiding the pitfalls of dull tomes.

That does not undermine the scale of this undertaking. As Sebag-Montefiore enters the latter half of the 20th Century the number of global players becomes dizzying, and pity the poor editors who can be forgiven infrequent typos. But perhaps the greatest compliment to the author is that after finishing a tale replete with bloodshed and cruelty, you stow this paving-slab away feeling strangely hopeful and unashamedly human.

Simon Clayton

4 reviews

February 8, 2023

Long, long book but totally worth it for anyone who really wants to better understand why the World is how it is. Even an avid reader of history like me will think ‘I know what’s coming now’ only to be surprised by the authors’ illuminating spin on events. Brilliant work by Montefiore but I’m now rather despondent - (a) that I’ve finished it, and (b) that our World is pretty much doomed to disaster in one way or another!

Yaru Lin

119 reviews1 follower

January 13, 2024

DNF. What a silly way to tell world history.

What is this, a blend of encyclopedia pages with the objective tone removed? Throwing in people’s names and how they’re related to one another does not render this a “family history”.

Omar Shahin

13 reviews

January 13, 2023

The book was ok to read, quite a few factual errors which was surprising… such as the Parthians did not use cross bows. So the themes were interesting, the stories a bit exaggerated and more editing needed.

Benedik Bruggen

6 reviews1 follower

March 28, 2023

Simply the best book of the year!


61 reviews2 followers

August 21, 2023

Writing an effective history of the world is a lot like the proverbial quest for the holy grail; condensing all of the relevant information into one book (even a 1300-page volume) is incredibly challenging and means most efforts fail to offer more than surface-level analysis. Happily, Simon Sebag Montefiore has managed to sidestep these potential pitfalls and deliver an engrossing and highly enjoyable work that will quickly become the default book on this wide-ranging subject. This book certainly lives up to its title, but the author uses families as a prism to filter the entirety human existence through, from our emergence around 950'000 years ago right up until the horrific conflict in Ukraine. As well as covering events from all corners of the globe (avoiding the Eurocentic focus which plagues many earlier efforts), he illustrates the crucial role that families and dynasties have played throughout our history, as well as how the various political, social, economic and technological developments have shaped the form and function of families. All of the well-known players from the Medici and Ottomans to the Kims and Zulus are covered, as well as a plethora of lesser-known characters. I found the segments on the Maya and their successors and the Song empire in China particularly interesting and will be sure to conduct further research into them in the future. It's also worth mentioning that in spite of its intimidating size, this book is a delight to read throughout. Sebag Montefiore delivers his narrative with lashings of wit and vim, while the short size of the chapters and segments, combined with their organisation, means that this book functions equally well as a treasure trove to dip in and out of, discovering a new and hitherto-unknown facet of fascinating history every time you delve within its cavernous contents. On the whole, whether you're looking for an enthralling book to really get stuck into on your summer holiday, or a source of endlessly diverting historical trivia and quirky characters to impress your friends and work colleagues (always one of my favourite pastimes), The World is a monumental testament to the enduring power of popular history and a fantastic and informative read.



1,143 reviews13 followers

July 23, 2023

3.75 stars

This book is a chonk! Coming in at 1344 pages, Simon Sebag Montefiore has written one of the most comprehensive histories of the most influential families throughout history. Starting with the first written accounts in history and finishing with current events, the author writes brief accounts of each family and their successors as he moves forward in time.

Because there is was so much information, the brief information we get on each family constantly left me wanting more about each family, some more than others but I was left unsatisfied for the entire book. Yet as I took in these much smaller stories of each family, I started to see a much larger story - the history of humanity. How it all happened, how all the little parts fit together to make a much bigger history. It was pretty incredible. I was able to understand in a much clearer way how things played out over the course of humanity, why things are the way they are now.

The book can read a bit tedious especially when I hit points in history I knew more about, but the earliest times and the more current I found to be the most interesting. The earliest because I didn't know much of those histories and the current, because it was interesting to look at modern times from the lens of history.

This book is like a puzzle. Each family history is a single puzzle piece, with a part of the whole picture on it. You can look briefly at each piece and see what's on it, but its not until you put it all together that you get to see the whole picture.

I wish this had been shorter. I don't think that could have been possible. I feel like I missed a lot, my mind would glaze over if I read it for too long, and since I borrowed it from the library and I had a limited time to read it I had to push myself and read more in one sitting that I would have liked to.

This was a great overall history book. But if you are looking for more detailed histories, this is not the right book. Its like a brief overview and a comprehensive history all in one. It did leave me wanting to check out more books on specific families I would like more detailed histories of.

Its worth the time it will take to read it so if you are interested, I recommend this one.

    2023-books-i-read library-audiobook library-book


153 reviews6 followers

December 6, 2023


So this book is beastly big, but that's because the author had chosen a monumental task - a history of the world from the dawn of civilization to the present day.

It is, without doubt, one of the most engaging histories I have ever read. The author writes with warmth and humor, focused on families and on portraying historical figures as real, three dimensional people. In doing so, he also manages to focus quite strongly on women and LGBTQIA people, who often vanish in other histories. I lost track of how many times I chuckled at an aside or a footnote and of how many entirely new things I learned during the reading.

Of course, he cannot cover everything, and some periods will feel thin to buffs of those time periods. It is a flaw of the task, and it is perhaps most notable as he approaches the present day. His focus on different areas of the world starts off strong but weakens as the book goes on (Latin America, in particular, gets neglected in the last sections), but it is still one of the more balanced histories I've read.

All in all, a hearty recommend for anyone who is interested in history and wants something that won't bore you along the way.

Simone Scardapane

143 reviews5 followers

May 15, 2024

"This is a work of synthesis", starts this mastodontic 1300-pages volume that wants to tell the history of the world while leaving behind no one, be it country or continent. I have a hard time reviewing it because it's like seeing a 15-hours movie accelerated by 20x: the camera moves from one country to another in the span of a paragraph, and characters come on screen only to disappear after one page and reappear after 30 pages. Entire nations have approximately 2 pages to tell their entire story.

I had a very hard time following certain sections even if I knew the underlying facts. Overall it took me months because I had to make constant pauses to stop the almost limitless flow of information. Still, this is a majestic accomplishment and you feel a certain sense of proudness at finally reaching our century and recognizing how in certain parts you are still feeling ripple effects from 500 pages before.

Two objective comments that reduce my rating: a few maps or recaps of the most salient players before some chapters would have been really good. Also, the book has too many footnotes randomly interrupting the main text, in many cases with facts that could have gone in the main discussion and are even referenced later on.

Kristi Richardson

707 reviews33 followers

August 31, 2023

This is one large book that begins with mankinds emergence and ends with Biden's election and the Trump MAGA's attempt to overturn that.
The audiobook was around 70 hours of listening time with several narrators, some were good and some not so good. I am getting old and it's hard to understand some accents.
Even with the length of this book, the history of the world is sometimes a pretty basic overview. I did like that families are a big part of the narrative. Any section that piques your interest should be followed up by finding other books that go in depth.
Mr. Montefiore's conclusions are spot on. Any government, political idea only lasts a limited time. Change is inevitable. Families are the most important thing we as humans can achieve.
I borrowed this book from my local library and was able to finish it before having to return it. I highly recommend this book for lovers of world history.

    audible history library-borrowed
The World: A Family History of Humanity (2024)


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