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Audio Book Review


A History of the World in 100 Objects


Presenter: Neil MacGregor

RRP: £34.99
ISBN: 978 1 4084 6988 0
Available 02 June 2011

One of the things which the BBC excels at is making culture accessible to a wider audience, often taking an innovative approach which open up subject matters to their audience and so it is with A History of the World in 100 Objects (2010). For its part in the creation and presentation of the show the British Museum won the 2011 Art Fund Prize.

The radio programmes were a collaboration between the BBC and the British Museum; this has an immediate contentious problem. Using only objects from the British Museum means that many famous and important objects have been left out. Still, the museum has such a large collection that, for the most part, you don’t really notice.

The first episode is a case in point, when the first object is the Mummy of Hornejitef, which whilst an important mummy cannot compare to the collection in the Cairo Museum. That is not to say that there are not important treasures to be had here and for the most part the objects are used as a jumping off point to talk about wider issues of human history.

This limitation is agreed at the start of the series, but rather than try and do a pit stop version of history, where everything is presented in isolation, the museum and its objects are used to show the interconnectedness between cultures and so the program tries to take a much wider view of history, a true history of humanity. One of the real gems of the show is that if you are a fan, you can actually go to the museum and look at the objects themselves.

The Radio 4 series is written and presented by Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum. Each of the hundred programs lasts around fifteen minutes and tries to use objects to provide a linked idea which illuminates the notion of common global themes in history. Many famous people and staff at the museum join in to give their viewpoint, not only on the objects, but on the wider view of human history.

The complete series is presented across twenty CDs, totalling a staggering twenty-five hours, not bad for two million years. The show took four years to plan and originally ran from 18 January 2010, spawning a book to go along with the series. You don’t get the book with the CDs, but you do get a booklet with small pictures of each object.

It’s an impressive, landmark, piece of radio, well worth adding to your collection.


Charles Packer

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