The Roots of Progress

The 4-Hour Historian: An Anti-Textbook

Volume 1: The World We Live In 1.0

Scott Powell

A followup to The History of Now, aiming to be the antithesis of—and the antidote to—the modern textbook, which it calls “the death of learning”. It summarizes the major civilizations or cultural blocs of the world today and gives their history, and the history of their interaction. It is aimed at a high school reading level.

Like Powell’s other work, the chief aim, and virtue, of this book is extreme condensation: giving the entire history of the world in the briefest possible space. The hallpark of his work is what he calls “present-centrism”: the entire history is told with the goal of explaining the present, the world around us, and the narrative often begins in the present to survey the landscape before delving back into the past to show how we got here. In order to achieve this level of summarization and integration, Powell has to make choices about what is important, and present summary conclusions without proving each point to the level a scholar would demand. This is true of any history to some degree, but it is particularly accentuated in Powell’s style. Those who sympathize with his worldview will find this helpful; those who don’t will be unusually put off.

For my part, the biggest thing I got out of it was a reinforced sense of one major high-level pattern to world history: how the major civilizations of the world evolved relatively independently for most of history, how Europe rapidly came to dominate world affairs in the age of globalization, and then how America essentially took over this role after the world wars.

Like The History of Now, I think this book will be best appreciated by those who are already sympathetic to the author’s worldview and evaluation of history.

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