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Historica: 1000 Years of Our Lives and Times    Chief Consultant G. Bruce Strang order for
by G. Bruce Strang
Order:  USA  Can
Raincoast, 2006 (2006)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Given that it covers a millennium of history, it's not too surprising that this coffee table sized volume, Historica, is quite a tome. The photographs inside it are simply magnificent. An introductory section, About This Book, calls it 'both a narration and an interpretation of history from the year 1000 ... a kaleidoscopic view of the major events of the last one thousand years, events that have shaped our history.' It emphasizes 'how dramatically the world has changed' in that interval.

First comes a chapter on Canada's Heritage (written by the Chief Consultant on the book, Dr. G. Bruce Strang), covering both Native Americans and European immigrants, uneasy relations between French and English communities and with the United States, and the long road to independence. Next is a summary From Prehistory to the Year 999, taking us from the migration of Homo sapiens out of Africa through the birth of agriculture, the development of enduring religions, progress through inventions, and humanity's ongoing propensity for violence.

Following these relatively brief summaries, From the Year 1000 to Today is presented - in an engaging journalistic style that gives a sense of immediacy and omniscience - century by century, each period covering major milestones (including exploration and wars), developments in science and technology, what happened in the arts, and the lifestyle of the era. Maps and Key Events Timelines are included, while quotes and quirky Time Out tidbits of information are interspersed throughout. At the back of the book are many pages of Key Milestone Events from 1000 to 2005.

Here's a sampling of lesser known headlines that caught my attention through time (the well known ones are in here too, like the death of Joan of Arc, or Sculpture Wows Crowd for the unveiling of Michelangelo's David). Did you know that the Venetians banned imports of foreign glass in 1271? That Tamerlane built the largest mosque in the world in 1398 in Samarkand? That Anne of Brittany started the fashion for a white bridal gown in 1499? That the English lifted their ban on the dissection of corpses in 1565? All that and much, much more is captured in these pages.

It's great fun to go back to dates within your own lifetime, find out what happened in your birth year, indulge in nostalgia about the 60s, the moon landing, the Bond movies, Beatlemania, etc., and be saddened yet again by the darker happenings. Historica is a remarkable, very accessible resource - either to dip into from time to time in exploration of an era, or to look up a specific historical event. Owning it is like having a full-color newspaper archive (from long before newspapers were invented) at your fingertips.

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