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History of the World Narrated for the Sceptics

Though biased, the book is skilfully structured and richly entertaining

One of the most interesting world history books I’ve read so far is by Spanish author Juan Eslava Galán called History of the World Narrated for Sceptics. The book is divided into 125 short chapters that doesn’t exceed ten pages and is organised chronologically from Jurassic times till globalisation.

Galán cover ancient civilisations that were on different parts of the world, their rise and fall and how they contributed to humanity in general. As many Western writers, his focus is on the Roman empire that many believe is the civilisation that founded modern-day Europe.

The rise of Rome and the reasons behind its fall, the division of the empire into two parts and the emperors that ruled throughout the Roman reign are discussed in detail. One of the most interesting parts of the book is the history of European colonialism and imperialism.

Galán shares his own views of the matter: the most ambitious invaders with the most numbers of colonies and the longest rule were the Portuguese, the worst invaders were the English and the French as their rule always included enslaving and executing their subjects besides exploiting natural resources of the land. As for the Italians they had the worst luck as they left the country before discovering its riches (i.e: Libya). Galán’s explanation of different invasions throughout history is simple: all wars fought were for the sake of riches and land extension.

However, he focuses on the history of the conquests (colonisation of the Americas) and like many Spanish authors, he defends the motives and outcomes of it. According to him, Spanish conquistadores were adventurers who were driven by commerce and always mixed with the locals. They didn’t kill or destroy civilisations intentionally; it was the fault of the viruses that they carried such as small pox, measles and influenza that killed around 50 million indigenous people (90 per cent of the population).

Unlike British writers that are very objective, I found this Spanish author to be very biased, especially when it comes to religions in general and Islam in particular. Galán views all monotheistic religions as either politically driven (Judaism), the reason behind the fall of great empires (Christianity) or with followers that never advanced from Ottoman empire days (Muslims).

His hatred of Islam is obvious and he doesn’t sugar-coat it the way he does when slamming Spanish politics in his footnotes, ending it with the phrase: “a mere observation, not criticism”. He doesn’t even elaborate much on the 800 years of Arab rule of Andalusia and instead focuses more on what happened after 1492 when the Catholic Kings expelled the Arabs and Jews from Spain (and no mention of the Inquisitions either, surprise surprise!). He’s also critical of the Ottoman empire and the negative effect it had on European culture.

Even the jokes he cracks regarding the matter are humourless and occasionally offensive. Apart from that, chapters that cover the World Wars, its aftermath and how it changed the European continent are exceptional. The last few chapters are dedicated to challenges that Europe faces including Muslim immigrants who he views as a threat to European culture and its existing liberties. The book was published in 2012 and was the second in the ‘History for Sceptics’ series that comprise eight other books.

Galán’s works include essays, historical novels and biographies, legends and enigmas, travels and sociology. He won many prestigious awards in his homeland. All in all, History of the World Narrated for the Sceptics is skilfully structured and richly entertaining.

Rasha al Raisi is a certified skills trainer and the author of: The World According to Bahja.

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