Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

A History of Just About Everything: 180 Events, People and Inventions That Chang

A History of Just About Everything: 180 Events, People and Inventions That Chang

Elizabeth MacLeod, Frieda Wishinsky
Illustrator:  Qin Leng 
For ages 9 to 12
Kids Can Press, 2013   ISBN: 978-1554537754

There are many people who think that there is no point in learning about history. What is the value of learning about things that happened long ago, they say. The interesting thing about history is that events, people, and inventions have a habit of influencing the future, sometimes in profound ways. What would our world be like today if the airplane had never been invented? Would the world be different if the American Civil War or Word War I had never happened? By offering readers the stories of one hundred and eighty important events, people, and inventions (in chronological order), the authors of this book hope that readers will see how “we are all part of, and linked to, the past, the present, and the future.” For every entry in the book the authors include a box of text, “Ripples” that “show how each event rippled forward to change the world.”

The first entry is for about six million years ago when our earliest human ancestors left the trees and started walking upright. This ‘new’ stance allowed humans to carry things in their hands and to use tools, which gave them a huge advantage over the other animals living in their African environment. It is easy to appreciate that the rise of humans had an enormous ripple effect. Life on Earth would be very different if humans had not evolved to become the dominant species on the planet.

Many millions of years later, in 105 - after humans had built societies, established some religions, and done many extraordinary things - a man in China invented paper. Before that time people wrote on materials that were heavy (like clay tablets) or fragile (like sheets of papyrus or velum). Being able to record information on a durable material that could be transported easily was a huge innovation that allowed people to share ideas. It also led to the invention of the printing press, which truly changed the world.

Hundreds of years into the future, in 1776, James Watt invented the first steam engine, which initially was used to pump water out of coal mines but was quickly adopted by other industries. The invention paved the way for the Industrial Revolution to take place. Factories were built to produce needed products quickly, and steam powered ships and trains were now able to transport people and good across great distances in a timely fashion. The world became a faster, busier and forever changed place thanks to the steam engine.

Not many people today think or talk about the First World War, but the conflict had a profound effect on millions of people. Not only did many people die in the war, but this conflict created the environment that led to the outbreak of World War II, which changed the world even more in ways that are still being felt today.

This marvelous book shows to great effect how we have all been shaped by the past and how history has made today’s world what it is. Some of the people, events, and inventions mentioned in the book will be familiar to readers, but many will not. The entries offer readers the opportunity to see history in a fresh and engaging way.