World History For Dummies®, 2nd Edition

Table of Contents


About This Book

Conventions Used in This Book

What do I mean by “history”?

Positively post-historic

Making sense of AD, BC, CE, and BCE

Pardon my French, I mean Latin

Perceiving and avoiding biases

What You’re Not to Read

Foolish Assumptions

How This Book Is Organized

Part I: Getting into History

Part II: Finding Strength in Numbers

Part III: Seeking Answers

Part IV: Fighting, Fighting, Fighting

Part V: Meeting the Movers and Shakers

Part VI: The Part of Tens

Icons Used in this Book

Where to Go from Here

Part I: Getting into History

Chapter 1: Tracing a Path to the Present

Firing Up the WABAC Machine

From Footpath to Freeway: Humanity Built on Humble Beginnings

War! What Is It Good For? Material for History Books, That’s What

Appreciating History’s Tapestry

Threading backward

Crossing threads

Weaving home

Making the Connections

Tracking the Centuries

Chapter 2: Digging Up Reality

Homing In on Homer

The Troy story

Inspired archaeological finds

Raising Atlantis

Reading the Body Language of the Dead

Frozen in the Alps

Salted away in Asia

Bogged down in northern Europe

Dried and well preserved in the Andes

Preserved pharaohs in Egypt

Tracking the Centuries

Chapter 3: Putting History into Perspective

Being Human Beings

Nearing the Neanderthal

Talking point

Dividing Time into Eras . . . and Giving Them Names

Sorting ancient from modern

Classical schmassical

Bowing to the queens

The Noteworthy and the Notorious Are Often the Same

A study in contradictions

It depends on the way you look at them

Verifying virtue

Tracking the Centuries

Part II: Finding Strength in Numbers

Chapter 4: Getting Civilized

Building Jericho’s Walls for Mutual Defense

Planting Cities along Rivers

Settling between the Tigris and Euphrates

Getting agricultural in Africa

Assembling Egypt

Going up the river into Kush

Giving way as new civilizations rise

Heading east to the Indus and Yellow Rivers

Coming of Age in the Americas

Keeping Records on the Way to Writing and Reading

Planning pyramids

Laying down laws and love songs

Shaping the World Ever After

Building the Persian Empire

Growing toward Greekness

Making Alexander great

Rounding Out the World

Tracking the Centuries

Chapter 5: The Rise and Fall of Many Empires

Rome’s Rise and Demise

Forming the Roman Republic

Earning citizenship

Expanding the empire

Crossing the Rubicon

Empowering the emperor

Roaming eastward

Western empire fades into history

Rome and the Roman Catholic Church

Building Empires around the World

Ruling Persia and Parthia

India’s empires

Uniting China: Seven into Qin

Flourishing civilizations in the Americas

Rounding Out the Rest of the World

Tracking the Centuries

Chapter 6: History’s Mid-Life Crisis: The Middle Ages

Building (And Maintaining) the Byzantine Empire

Sharing and Imposing Culture

Bearing with barbarians

Traversing Africa with the Bantu

Sailing and settling with the Vikings

Traveling the Silk Road

Planting the Seeds of European Nations

Repelling the raiders

Uniting Western Europe: Charlemagne pulls it together

Keeping fledgling nations together

Emerging Islamic Fervor

Rebounding Guptas in India

Rounding Out the World

Tracking the Centuries

Chapter 7: The Struggle for World Domination

Extending the Arab Empire and Spreading Islam

Taking education and literacy to new heights

Making advances in science and technology

Mastering the Indian Ocean

Assembling and disassembling an empire

Excelling in East Asia

Innovating the Chinese way

Traveling the Silk Road for trade and cultural exchange

Sailing away for a spell

Europe Develops a Taste for Eastern Goods

Orienting Venice

Ottomans control trade routes between Europe and the East

Mounting the Crusades

Meeting the main players

Looking at the misguided zeal of specific Crusades

Setting a precedent for conquest

Growing Trade between East and West

Surviving the Black Death

Killing relentlessly

Doing the math: Fewer folks, more wealth

Seeking a Way East and Finding Things to the West

Meeting the Americans who met Columbus

Some celebrate discovery, others rue it

Training and experience shaped Columbus

Stumbling upon the West Indies

Tracking the Centuries

Chapter 8: Grabbing the Globe

Sailing South to Get East

Getting a foothold in Indian trade

Demanding respect

“Discovering” America

How the Aztecs rose and fell

Incas grasp greatness and then fall to the Spanish

Circling the Planet

Ottomans ascend among Eastern empires

Founding East India companies

Closing the door to Japan

Playing by British East India Company rules

China goes from Ming to Qing

Using force and opium to open Chinese ports

Spreading the Slave Trade

Perpetuating an evil

Developing a new market

Succeeding in the slave trade

Starting Revolutions

Bringing in the new

Playing with dangerous ideas

Rebelling Americans

Erupting France

Writing L’Ouverture to freedom

Tracking the Centuries

Chapter 9: Clashing All Around the World

Managing Unprecedented Empires

Britain battles on multiple fronts

Reinventing post-revolutionary France

Dividing up Africa

Challenges Test European Dominance

Turning against Spanish rule in Latin America

Reclaiming Africa for Africans

Rising Asians

Japan unleashes pent-up power

Ricocheting unrest comes home to Europe

Revolting in Russia

Standing apart up north

Rushin’ toward rebellion

Taking power: The Soviet Union

Accelerating toward the Present: Transportation and Communication

Getting somewhere in a hurry

Sending word

Fighting World Wars

Redefining war: World War I

Returning to conflict: World War II

Hot and Cold Running Conflicts

Daring each other to blink in the Cold War

Seeing no end to violent conflicts

Let’s Get Together: The United Nations

Tracking the Centuries

Part III: Seeking Answers

Chapter 10: Religion through the Ages

Defining Religion

Divining the role of god(s)

Projecting will on the physical world

Analyzing the religious impulse

Distinguishing philosophy from religion


Awaiting a Messiah

Maintaining Jewish nationalism




The Roman Catholic Church

The Eastern Orthodox Church

The Protestant churches


The Five Pillars

Going beyond Mecca and Medina

Clashing cultures


Tracking the Centuries

Chapter 11: Loving Wisdom: The Rise and Reach of Philosophy

Asking the Big Questions

Founding science in philosophy

Mixing philosophy and religion

Tracing Philosophy’s Roots

Living on the edges of Greek society

Drawing inspiration from other cultures

Traveling broadens the mind

Examining Eastern Philosophies

Leading to (and from) Socrates

Building a tradition of seeking answers

Thinking for himself: Socrates’ legacy

Building on Socrates: Plato and Aristotle

Tracing Plato’s influence

Philosophy in the Age of Alexander and After

Spreading Hellenistic philosophies

Putting philosophy to practical use

Tracking the Centuries

Chapter 12: Being Christian, Thinking Greek

The Great Chain of Being

Interpreting Christian Theology

Stacking scripture upon scripture

Replacing Homer with the Bible

Establishing Jesus’s Divinity

Augustine’s Influence on Early Christian Thought

Divining the mind of God

Condoning righteous killing

Tracing two paths to salvation

The Philosophy of Aquinas

Keeping scholarship alive

Coming back to Aristotle

Supporting faith with logic

Embracing Humanism and More

Nothing secular about it

Tracing humanism’s impact

Tracking the Centuries

Chapter 13: Awakening to the Renaissance

Realizing the Reach of the Renaissance

Redefining the Human Role

Florence in flower

Spreading the word

Promoting human potential

Reclaiming the ancients

Presenting the printing press

Uniting Flesh and Soul

Inspiring Michelangelo

Living in the material world

Returning to Science

Shifting the center of the universe

Studying human anatomy

Being All That You Could Be

Striving for perfection

Stocking up on self-help books

Writing for the Masses

Creating new classics

Staging dramas with Classical roots

Packing something to read onboard a ship

Fighting for Power in Europe

Battling for control of Italian city-states

Spilling outside of Italy’s borders

Tracking the Centuries

Chapter 14: Making a Break: The Reformation

Cracks in the Catholic Monopoly

Losing authority

Satirizing the Church

Luther Challenges the System

Selling salvation

Peddling to pay the pope

Insisting on faith

A Precarious Holy Roman Empire

Searching for sources of cash

Fighting crime and inflation

Setting the stage for dissent

Standing Up to the Emperor

Luther Gains a Following

Losing control of the Lutheran movement

Choosing sides

The Empire Strikes Back

Savoring a bitter victory

Achieving compromise

Spreading Reform to England

Creating the Church of England

Realizing Henry’s legacy

Along Comes Calvin

Reforming the Swiss church

Establishing Puritanism

Causing turmoil in France

Sparking rebellion in Holland

Weakening the Holy Roman Empire

Puritanism in England and Scotland

Emigrating to America

Tracking the Centuries

Chapter 15: Opening Up to Science and Enlightenment

Mingling Science and Philosophy

Starting a Scientific Revolution

Gazing at the heavens: Astronomy

Advancing scientific method

Waking Up to the Enlightenment

Experiencing empiricism

Living a “nasty, brutish, short” life

Reasoning to rationalism

Expanding to the Encyclopedists

Engineering the Industrial Revolution

Dealing with the social fallout

Raging against the machines: Luddite uprising

Marketing Economics

Playing the money game with Adam Smith

Developing capitalism and Marxism

Tracking the Centuries

Part IV: Fighting, Fighting, Fighting

Chapter 16: Sticks and Stones: Waging War the Old-Fashioned Way

Fighting as an Ancient Way of Life

Raising Armies

Keeping out attackers

Escalating weapons technology: Using metal

Riding into battle: Hooves and wheels

Awesome Assyrian Arsenals

Assembling the units

Wreaking havoc

Farming and Fighting Together in Greece

Soldiering shoulder to shoulder

Standing up to the Persians

Facing Macedonian ferocity

Making War the Roman Way

Marching in three ranks

Recruiting a standing force

Diversifying the legion

Returning to riders

Tracking the Centuries

Chapter 17: The War Machine Gets Some Upgrades

Reinventing the Cavalry

Standing tall and staying astride with stirrups

Raiding as a way of life on horseback

Guarding Byzantine borders

Moors challenge


Putting on the Full Metal Jacket

Interlocking metal rings: Chain mail

Putting more power into the archer’s bow

Charging behind the lance

The longbow marries precision to power

Adding Firepower with Gunpowder

Lighting the fire of discovery

Spreading explosive news

Bringing in the big guns

Battering down Constantinople’s walls

Refining the new weaponry

Adapting old strategies for new weapons

Floating fortresses on the sea

Fortifications adapt to the artillery era

Tracking the Centuries

Chapter 18: Modernized Mayhem

Following Three Paths to Modern War

Promoting devastation in Prussia

Putting technology to deadly uses: The Crimean War

Redefining armed conflict: The U.S. Civil War

Tying Tactics to Technology in the Twentieth Century

Trapping valor in a trench: World War I

Retooling the World War II arsenal

Warring On Despite the Nuclear Threat

Drawing strength from stealth: Guerilla tactics

Wielding the weapon of fear: Terrorism

Tracking the Centuries

Part V: Meeting the Movers and Shakers

Chapter 19: Starting Something Legendary

Spinning Legends

Uniting for Strength

Playing for Power

Building Bridges

Writing Laws

Tracking the Centuries

Chapter 20: Battling Toward Immortality

Towering Over Their Times

Building Empires

Launching Attacks

Mounting a Defense

Devising Tactics

Instigating Inspiration

Tracking the Centuries

Chapter 21: Explorers and Discoverers: Places to Go, People to See

Famous Pioneers: Arriving before Their Time

Notable Travelers: Carrying Messages

Trailblazing Explorers: Seeking New Routes

Notorious Conquerors: Bad Company

Famous Firsts

Renowned Guides

Famous Mavericks: Taking Advantage of Opportunity

Tracking the Centuries

Chapter 22: Turning Tables: Rebels and Revolutionaries

Revolutionaries Who Became Rulers

Charismatic Rebels

Two Idea Guys

Standing against Authority

Rule Changers

Living and Dying by the Sword

Fallen Rebels

Tracking the Centuries

Part VI: The Part of Tens

Chapter 23: Ten Unforgettable Dates in History

460 BC: Athens Goes Democratic

323 BC: Alexander the Great Dies

476 AD: The Roman Empire Falls

1066: Normans Conquer England

1095: The First Crusade Commences

1492: Columbus Sails the Ocean Blue

1776: Americans Break Away

1807: Britain Bans the Slave Trade

1893: Women Start Getting the Vote around the World

1945: The United States Drops the A-Bomb

Chapter 24: Ten Essential Historical Documents

The Rosetta Stone

Confucian Analects

The Bible

The Koran

The Magna Carta

The Travels of Marco Polo

The Declaration of Independence

The Bill of Rights

The Communist Manifesto

On the Origin of Species

World History For Dummies®, 2nd Edition

by Peter Haugen


About the Author

Peter Haugen is the author of Was Napoleon Poisoned? And Other Unsolved Mysteries of Royal History (Wiley). A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, he has been a frequent contributor to History magazine and is among the co-writers of The Armchair Reader Amazing Book of History, mental_floss Presents Condensed Knowledge, and mental_floss Presents Forbidden Knowledge. A veteran journalist and critic, he was a staff member at several U.S. newspapers, including The St. Petersburg Times and The Sacramento Bee, and has written about topics ranging from the fine arts to molecular genetics. Haugen was an adjunct instructor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and California State University-Fresno and is a proud veteran of the U.S. Army. He lives in Wisconsin.

Author’s Acknowledgments

Thanks to my editors at Wiley — Project Editor Tim Gallan, Acquisitions Editor Lindsay Lefevere, and Copy Editor Elizabeth Rea — all of whom helped make the process of writing this second edition remarkably painless. Thanks, too, to all my family, especially my wife, Deborah Blum, for her constant support. I’d like to thank historian David McDonald, again, for his invaluable help with the first edition of this book, and all the wonderful history writers whose works I have combed through, pored through, and compared one against the other while once again skimming over the surface of the wonderful body of scholarship that is world history.

Publisher’s Acknowledgments

We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our online registration form located at For other comments, please contact our Customer Care Department within the U.S. at 877-762-2974, outside the U.S. at 317-572-3993, or fax 317-572-4002.

Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:

Acquisitions, Editorial, and Media Development

Senior Project Editor: Tim Gallan

(Previous Edition: Kathleen A. Dobie)

Acquisitions Editor: Lindsay Lefevere

Senior Copy Editor: Elizabeth Rea

(Previous Edition: Esmeralda St. Clair)

Technical Reviewer: Amy Bielot

Editorial Program Coordinator: Joe Niesen

Editorial Manager: Michelle Hacker

Editorial Assistants: Jennette ElNaggar, David Lutton

Art Coordinator: Alicia B. South

Cover Photos: © liquidlibrary

Cartoons: Rich Tennant (

Composition Services

Project Coordinator: Katie Crocker

Layout and Graphics: Carl Byers, Reuben W. Davis, Christin Swinford, Christine Williams

Proofreaders: ConText Editorial Services, Inc., Nancy L. Reinhardt

Indexer: Potomac Indexing, LLC

Publishing and Editorial for Consumer Dummies

Diane Graves Steele, Vice President and Publisher, Consumer Dummies

Kristin Ferguson-Wagstaffe, Product Development Director, Consumer Dummies

Ensley Eikenburg, Associate Publisher, Travel

Kelly Regan, Editorial Director, Travel

Publishing for Technology Dummies

Andy Cummings, Vice President and Publisher, Dummies Technology/General User

Composition Services

Gerry Fahey, Vice President of Production Services

Debbie Stailey, Director of Composition Services


The complete history of the world boiled down to 400-some pages and crammed between paperback covers? The idea is preposterous. It’s outrageous. I’d be crazy to attempt it. So here goes.

No, wait. This book doesn’t claim to be complete. It can’t. Hundreds of other volumes are devoted to a measly decade or two — the World War II era comes to mind. To plumb thousands of years in one little book would be impossible. To skim across the surface, however, is another matter. If, while reading the following chapters, you hit upon an era, a personality, or a civilization that you’d like to know more about, there’s no lack of places to find out more. You can turn to many far more complete accounts of the history of specific countries, such as the United States; continents, such as Europe; and events, such as the U.S. Civil War. You can find books about all these topics and more in this excellent For Dummies series. But if you want a simplified overview consisting of a collection of easy-to-read glimpses into major players and events that have made the world what it is today, then I’m your guide and World History For Dummies, 2nd Edition is your first-stop reference.

About This Book

The history of the world is like a soap opera that has been running ever since the invention of writing. The show is lurid, full of dirty tricks and murder, romances and sexual deceptions, adventures, and wars and revolutions. (And, yes, treaties and dates.) Or maybe a better analogy is that history is like hundreds of soap operas with thousands of crossover characters jumping out of one story and into another — too many for even the most devoted fan to keep straight. All the more reason for an easy-to-use overview.

The most important thing to remember when paging through this book is that history is fun — or should be. It’s not as if this is life-and-death stuff. . . . no, wait. It is life-and-death — on a ginormous scale. It’s just that so many of the lives and deaths happened long ago. And that’s good, because I can pry into private affairs without getting sued. History is full of vintage gossip and antique scandal, peppered heavily with high adventure (swords and spears and canons and stuff). The more you get into it, the better you’ll do when the neighbors drag out the home version of Jeopardy. Renaissance Italy for $500, please.

Conventions Used in This Book

Every field from brain surgery to refuse collection has a special vocabulary. History is no exception, but I tried to steer clear of historians-only words in this book. When such a word is unavoidable, I explain it in reader-friendly terms. As for other technical terms, I italicize them and then follow up with definitions and explanations. If you still think you may get lost amid the dates, facts, quotes, and other details, this section guides you through the conventions I use in order to help you better understand the book and access the information you want or need.

What do I mean by “history”?

This isn’t a stupid question. People apply the term history to fields other than, well, history. For example, scientists talk about geological history, and physicians talk about your medical history. There’s also archeological history, in which experts use physical evidence to piece together the story of humankind before anybody wrote anything down. Even though historians often disagree about the details, history must be true or at least reasonably close to what really happened. Historians use educated guesses, too. I get into some of that in this book, but for the most part, I stick to documented human events.

History is also a written account (or at least on film or video). It often starts as oral history, but until the tale is set down in some permanent form, it’s too easy for facts to get lost or changed. Things written down aren’t immune to exaggeration, but there’s something about the spoken word that invites outlandish embellishment. (Think about fishing stories or campaign speeches.) That’s how history gets mangled and myths get made (that and cable news shows).

Some of the first stories ever written down were passed on by word of mouth for centuries before they ever were etched in mud or stone or on papyrus. They got pretty wild over the years; for example, Homer, a blind Greek poet, passed down a tale of the Trojan War based on a real military campaign, but many of his details are obviously myth. That stuff about Achilles’ mom being a water nymph, for example, and the way she supposedly dipped him in the River Styx to make him invulnerable — forgive me if I don’t buy that as exactly the way things went down. (Now, if Homer had told us Achilles was an alien from the planet Krypton. . . .)

Positively post-historic

Because history needs to be set down in some kind of permanent record, it dates back only about as far as the written word, which some scholars say the Sumerians invented, at least in pictograph (or picture-writing) form, around 3500 BC. Among the best early record keepers were the Egyptians, who invented their own form of writing (called hieroglyphics) around 3000 BC. Before written history, it was prehistoric times.

Making sense of AD, BC, CE, and BCE

The years 1492, when Columbus sailed, and 1620, when the Mayflower Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts, are AD, just like this year. AD stands for Anno Domini. That’s Latin for “Year of Our Lord,” referring to the Christian era, or the time since Jesus was born. Before that, I designate years as BC, or Before Christ. Historians now prefer CE, for “Common Era,” instead of AD; and BCE, for “Before the Common Era,” instead of BC. The new initials aren’t tied into just one religion. AD and BC, however, are what most people are used to. They’re widely understood and deeply ingrained, so I stick with them throughout this book.

Remember.eps The years BC are figured by counting backwards. That’s why the year that Alexander the Great died, 323 BC, is a smaller number than the year that he was born, 356 BC.

Yet Alexander didn’t think of himself as living in backward-counting years three centuries before Christ any more than Augustus Caesar of Rome wrote the date 1 AD on his checks. This system of dating years came about a lot later when scholars superimposed their calendar on earlier times. Given that Jesus actually may have been born a little earlier than 1 AD — perhaps in about 6 BC — the system isn’t even particularly accurate. As the twentiethcentury came to a close, some self-proclaimed prophets thought the world would come to an end when the calendar turned over to year 2000. Obviously, it didn’t happen then or in any of the years since. As for next year or the year after that, I make no guarantees.

In this book, you can safely assume that a four-digit year without two capital letters following it is AD. For example, William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066. For the years 1–999 AD, I use the AD; for example, Norsemen invaded Ireland and began building the city of Dublin around 831 AD. I also include the initials for all the BC years. For examples, Saul was anointed the first king of the Israelites in about 1050 BC, and the Roman general Marc Antony died in 30 BC.

The reason I say “around” and “about” when giving the dates of Dublin’s founding and King Saul’s coronation is that nobody knows the dates for sure.

Another thing that confuses some people when reading history is the way centuries are named and numbered. When you see a reference to the 1900s, it doesn’t mean the same thing as the nineteenth century. The 1900s are the twentieth century. The twentieth century was the one in which four-digit year numbers started with 19. The nineteenth century was the one in which years started with 18, and so on. Why isn’t this century, the one with the 20 starting every year, the twentieth? Because the first century began in the year 1. When the numbers got up to 100 (or technically, 101), it became the second century, and so on. Figuring the centuries BC works the same way (in reverse, of course): The twenty-first century BC is the one with years starting with 20, just like the twenty-first century AD.

Pardon my French, I mean Latin

For Dummies books are intended to make complex topics easier to understand, and a large part of achieving that goal is avoiding hard-to-understand, experts-only language, especially if it’s not in English. But like so many things in life, there are exceptions.

You’ll find a very small number of Latin and other foreign words and phrases sprinkled throughout this book. I have to include them because I tell you about cultures and countries where English was unknown. With Latin, in particular,it’s not just that this book’s subjects include the important, influential Roman Empire, where everybody spoke Latin. I also cover Europe in the Middle Ages, when Latin was the international language. Finally, I can’t write about world history without covering the enormous influence of the Roman Catholic Church, an institution that for many centuries clung to Latin as its official means of expression. But don’t worry. I promise not to use many such terms, and when I do, I’ll explain what they mean.

Perceiving and avoiding biases

Some intellectuals question the very concept of history. “Whose history are we talking about?” they ask. If the victors write history, why do we accept those big bullies’ tainted point of view as true? What about the victims? What about the indigenous peoples, such as American Indians and Australian Aborigines? What about the women? Doesn’t it stink that so much of history is so overwhelmingly about white men?

Yes, it does. And it’s true that history is slanted. It’s people writing about people, so prejudice is built-in. You have to factor in the biases of the time in which events happened, the biases of the time when they were written down, and the prejudices of the scholars who turn them over and over again decades and often centuries later. I can’t change the fact that so many conquerors, monarchs, politicians, soldiers, explorers and yes, historians, have been men. It’s just as true that conventionally taught world history still spends a fair amount of time on Europe — how it was shaped and how it shaped other parts of the world, including the Americas.

Are there other stories worth telling, other points of view, other truths? You bet. You find some of them in this book, lightly touched upon, just like everything else here. But to be honest, the tilt is toward a male-centered history of what has been called western civilization. Why? Because that view is built on well-documented, widely disseminated tales of how the world became what it is.

You may want to change the world, and that’s often a noble ambition. You may just want to change the history books. Either way, it helps to know what you’re up against.

Where I can, I nod toward the realities of the twenty-first century, as non-Western countries — notably China and India — have grown into major forces in both the global economy and global politics, and where developing nations such as resource-rich Brazil seem poised to play ever larger roles in shaping the world’s history.

What You’re Not to Read

Although this book focuses on what you need to know about world history, I also deal with topics that, though useful, are less essential, at least during your first read-through. This skippable material includes:

Text in sidebars. Sidebars are shaded boxes that pop up here and there in the chapters. They deal with interesting subjects related to the chapter, but they aren’t necessary reading in order for you to understand major topics.

Anything with a Technical Stuff icon. You may find this information interesting, but you won’t miss out on anything critical if you pass over it.

Foolish Assumptions

As I wrote this book, I made some assumptions about you. They may be foolish, but here they are:

You’ve studied at least some history in school. You may even know quite a lot about certain historical topics, but you’d like to find out more about how it all fits together.

You’ve seen movies or read novels set in various historical eras, and you suspect they’d be more enjoyable if you were better informed about the time periods and the historical peoples featured.

At least once in your life you’ve encountered an obnoxious history know-it-all, one of those people who spews random facts about ancient Rome or the French Revolution. In the event that it happens again, you want the satisfaction of telling Ms. Smartypants she’s wrong.

How This Book Is Organized

I haven’t laid out history in chronological order in World History For Dummies, 2nd Edition. Not quite. I try to tell stories in the order that they happened, but as I explain in Chapter 1, many different threads run through history, and they crisscross and influence each other. But if you sort out the some of the many approaches you can take to history and some of the many topics within it, the threads are easier to understand and follow. With this in mind, I’ve divided the book as follows:

Each part is based on a broad topic such as civilizations throughout history, warfare throughout history, or the impact of religions and philosophies upon history.

Each chapter looks at a particular aspect or time period within the broad subject of the part.

Headings and subheadings isolate specific points within each chapter so that you can more easily get in and out of chapters and access just the information you need or want.

What follows is a breakdown of each part.

Part I: Getting into History

This part includes perspective to help you connect with the past. Your ancestors of decades, centuries, and millennia past were essentially the same as you. True, they dressed differently and didn’t have iPhones and cars and such. They may not have showered as often as you do, either, but they can still reveal things about you and how your world came to be as it is.

Part II: Finding Strength in Numbers

How did human society get to be a worldwide, interconnected network of cultures? What makes a civilization, and how does one succeed or fail? How does a civilization influence those that follow? This part of the book traces the growth from the earliest civilizations to today’s global community.

Part III: Seeking Answers

People act upon what they think and what they believe. In this part you can glimpse the ways that thoughts, ideas, and feelings — and the way people express and explore them in religion and philosophy — have always been a fundamental part of history.

Part IV: Fighting, Fighting, Fighting

History isn’t all conflict between nations — or between governments and the governed — but violent clashes and upheavals have immediate, often widespread, and sometimes long-lasting global consequences. This part examines historical battles of all scales as well as developments in warfare throughout the centuries of human conflict.

Part V: Meeting the Movers and Shakers

This part includes an extremely incomplete collection of capsule biographies of people who changed history, along with a few who were changed by it.

Part VI: The Part of Tens

In the grand tradition of For Dummies books, this part contains easy-to-digest lists of history’s unforgettable dates, indelible documents, and indispensible discoveries.

Icons Used in this Book

The margins of this book contain picture road signs that clue you into what’s going on in that particular portion of text. Some warn you of what you can skip, while others may help you find just what you’re interested in. I use the following icons:

milestone.eps This icon clues you in to an event, decision, or discovery that changed the world — whether at the time it happened or at a later date.

movie.eps Screenwriters, perpetually hungry for plots, are always mining history for story ideas. This icon alerts you to film (and some TV) versions of real stories. Movies rarely get the facts right, but they can get you thinking about history.

intheirownwords.epsThis icon marks memorable sayings that you may have heard before but didn’t know who said them or in what context. When you know the stories behind these famous words, you’re qualified to toss them out over coffee or cocktails.

Remember.eps This icon marks major historical concepts to keep in mind as you read. They’re also points that you may want or need to refer back to as you work your way through the book.

TechnicalStuff.eps This icon clues you in to more technical information — usually when, where, and/or how things were made and how things got done. For example, this icon marks paragraphs that tell you what society invented paper and who came up with a more accurate compass.

Where to Go from Here

A great thing about this book is that you can start with Chapter 1 and read to the end, but that’s not required. The parts are organized so that you can jump in any place you want. As you page through and browse, note that you can look at the same era from different perspectives. Part III, for example, tells you how philosophy and religion shaped history, and there you can find the religious wars that followed the Protestant Reformation. But if you’re more interested in the weaponry and strategies of war, jump to Part IV. And if you just want to browse through some historical all-stars, check out Part V. Not sure what you’re looking for? Part I is a good place to get a general feel for history. The table of contents and index, along with the part summaries in the earlier section “How This Book Is Organized,” should get you to the page you need.

Part I

Getting into History


In this part . . .

Browsing through history can be like looking at the stars. Even if you don’t know a planet from a supernova or the name of a single constellation, the first thing you’re likely to get from gazing at the night sky is a sense of how small you are. That’s a good place to begin in astronomy, and it’s not a bad place to find yourself when peering into world history.

It’s easy to think of 100 years as a long time and 1,000 years as a long, long time. The modern habit is to chop up history and social trends into little decade-sized chunks — the 1980s, the 1990s, and so on. But if you step back a bit and consider how long human beings have been doing a lot of the same things people do today — buying, selling, cooking, falling in love, traveling, and fighting wars — you can gain a broader perspective. That’s both humbling and enriching.

Whether you define now as a day, a year, or a decade, it’s both a minuscule sliver of history and part of the larger thing. One of the best parts of being human is that you have more than your own experience to rely on. Language, lore, reading, writing, and, more recently, microchips, DVDs, and a few other technological tricks help people build on what their ancestors discovered generations, centuries, and millennia ago. History is a big part of what defines humanity; some may say it’s the biggest part. It led to the present. It led to you. You might as well get comfortable with it.