Books & Literature

Book Review: Chronologica, by The Whitaker’s Team

A children’s historical compendium beginning with the mythical foundation of Rome by the twins Romulus and Remus in 753BC to world-shaping events of 1989.

Being an English publication, it’s not surprising the selection of this children’s historical compendium is Euro-centric but, in 2017, such an approach to history is nonetheless disappointing.

Beginning with the mythical foundation of Rome by the twins Romulus and Remus in 753BC also seems somewhat arbitrary. For instance, they could have gone back to the Great Pyramid of Giza, which is still largely intact, and was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, completed much earlier around 2560 BC. However, I suspect the founding of Rome was a better fit for this Euro-centric collection.

The authors use the BC/AD (Before Christ/Anno Domini) dating system rather than the more usual convention these days of BCE/CE (Before Common Era/Common Era), and so a strange omission in this book is the birth of the person named in Anno Domini – the Year of our Lord. Their selection of years that defined history is eclectic – running from Romulus and Remus in 753 BC through to events in 1989, including the Tiananmen Square Protests, the Fall of the Berlin Wall, and Tim Berners-Lee and the Internet.

We can read about the myth of the Greek runner who ran from Marathon to Athens in 490BC, only to die of exhaustion after announcing the victory over the Persians, and how that run was immortalised as an Olympic event when Pierre de Coubertin revived the ancient Olympic Games in 1896; or discover that the Guinness brewery was established by Arthur Guinness at St James’s Gate Dublin in 1759 and their famous black Guinness was being exported to far away New Zealand just 100 years later.

The emphasis is on people rather than events and how their triumphs, discoveries, journeys and more contributed to our store of knowledge, our understanding of the world around us and opened up new horizons in often totally unexpected directions. The wide range includes Captain Cook, who was the first European to cross the Antarctic Circle; Levi Strauss, who patented jeans; the (re)discovery of Machu Picchu by Hiram Bingham; and the formation of the BBC.

Chronologica is a large format book, running to almost 300 pages. Each topic covers a page, or a little more, with frequent simple illustrations. The text is well written and would be a useful reference for middle and upper primary; my nine year old great nephew had no problems reading about his name sake Alexander the Great, except for the name of his horse Bucephalus.

Reviewed by Jan Kershaw

Rating out of 10: 8

Released by: Bloomsbury through Allen & Unwin
Release Date: December 2016
RRP: $34.99 hardcover

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