“Mankind: The Story of Us All” by Pamela D. Toler (Running Press, $30)
Human history is the story of restless people always on the move.
In “Mankind: The Story of Us All,” Pamela D. Toler introduces us to the connections, over time, that led to our domination of the planet. It’s a vast task that she does well.
A companion book to the History Channel’s television series “Mankind,” this book stands on its own. It provides enough depth to give readers enough information to understand what is being said but not to be bored.
Too many history books are dominated by Western culture. “Mankind” covers world culture.
And, from the start, Toler admits that even scientists are still in conflict about some basic facts.
“There may have been up to one hundred hominid species that coexisted in Africa between Lucy’s time (3.5 million years) and the arrival of modern humans around 150,000 BCE. We don’t know how they relate to each other, or which species we can call our direct ancestors, but after much controversy, anthropologists are in generational agreement about two groups of proto-humans with whom they think we have more direct familial connections.”
The first chapter, “Seeds of Change,” covers early man, the creation of tools and the development of hunting. The Neanderthals disappear from Europe while Homo sapiens take over. The Ice Age arrives and humanity retreats into caves to survive — and to record its existence.
Toler writes, “Paintings and carvings created by Ice Age human give us our only clues about how these ancestors of ours thought. They are also the first examples we have of humans thinking symbolically. Symbolism is the basis of language and every other form of culture.”
In many cases, humanity’s movement is bound up with nature. The weather changes, the ice recedes. People move on, pushing up against other groups who also survived. Kingdoms rise, conflicts ensue, slaughter happens.
“The life of Genghis Khan, born Temujin, is an example of survival of the fittest in human form — one exceptional person triumphing against hostile nature and human forces to move mankind into a new age. The earth has become hotter. Khan responds by taking his people and livestock into greener pastures to the east. Soon his realm — the Mongol Empire — includes every acre and person from China to the Mediterranean Sea. It is the largest empire ever conquered by a single man.”
However, there’s more to “Mankind” than just chapters on war and power struggles.
Innovations, such as the printing press, change the balance of power in countries as now books can be read by all.
Christopher Columbus lands on the Caribbean island, Hispaniola, in the search for a passage to China and inadvertently leaves behind a deadly disease, smallpox, which will kill more than a third of the native population.
Science flourished in the 9th century where “scholars in Baghdad could measure the earth using astronomical readings with a degree of accuracy unsurpassed until the 20th century.”
Trade allows the plague to come from China along the trade routes and kill millions in Europe, changing the power structure of the medieval period.
Everything is connected.