100 objects

My personal favourite of the 100 objects - 11,000 year old Swimming reindeer.
Picture credit - British Museum
BBC Radio 4 ran an enchanting series in conjunction with the British Museum A history of the world in 100 objects, a few years ago. Running throughout 2010, and narrated and curated by Neil MacGregor, the Director of the British Museum, the series basically did what it said on the tin. Objects were selected from across the globe, the earliest dating back to the dawn of man, the newest a solar powered lamp from 2010.

Most of the objects were everyday items - jewellery, cookware, weapons, currency. Many of them were intimate items, many unusual, but all had some indication of what makes us human, and what links us all to each other wherever we may be in the world, and whatever our social background.

Some items were huge - the earliest depiction of Christ in the UK, for example, is a mosaic floor from Dorset, which I was lucky enough to see when I visited the British Museum last Wednesday - a visit at least partly inspired by the stunning book based on the series. Unfortunately my very favourite item wasn't on display - I assume that it was with the British Museum's dedicated band of conservators - a tiny sculpture of swimming reindeer carved on a mammoth tusk and dating to at least 11,000 BC.

It's a tale of ordinary people, and their battle to live a normal life set against climate change, illness, and war. A story, that tells you, that there is nothing new under the sun. The struggles that people face today have always been with them. What this book does show, however, is that there is always room for optimism, as people can be great at adapting, and sustaining life through the most difficult times.

Whether you're an art or social history nut, there's something for everyone in this volume. 100 little vignettes - no chapter is more than 5 pages (about 10-15 minutes) long. It would be a great read for anyone getting over a book drought, or who just can't concentrate for too long, but would love some bite-sized brain fodder. Endlessly fascinating, I absolutely loved it.

The only minor criticism I have is that I wish there had been more colour illustrations. Each chapter is illustrated, but most are in black and white, and quite tiny, so not that easy to look at the detail. That's a minor quibble though, set against great writing, and enchanting objects. From cave dwellers to the court of Kubla Khan, a smiling llama in Peru, and a revolutionary plate in Russia, this book provides endless pleasure. Whether you're into history, travel, art or all three, this is a book to love. Read the book, listen to the broadcasts (clicking on the link at the start of this blog will take you there), then go to the British Museum and gaze in wonder.


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