A Concise History of the Modern World 1500 to the Present
PREFACE TO THE FIFTH EDITION, 2005
This overview of world history since AD 1500, with its underlying theme of shifting global power, tells in short compass how the modern world has come to be what it is.
In emphasizing the study of humanity as a whole, I share the thoughts of the English poet John Donne, "No man is an island entire of itself, every man is part of the main." In seeking to understand the totality, complexity and diversity of the past, I shifted my focus from the parts to the whole; from the nation to the world. While not denying the uniqueness of national or regional history, or the sub-specialisms that have proliferated these past fifty years, I felt that the growing communality and interdependence of nations justified my taking the wider, more pluralistic view.
To provide insights into five hundred years of world history and put them into compact form has not been easy. No matter how much one tries to avoid it, some items will invariably be given more, some less attention than they deserve; the tendency will be to present history as much more unidirectional and continuous than events in the real world confirm. In sifting the wheat from the chaff, I have followed the maxim of Voltaire: "Les détails qui ne mènent à rien sont dans l'histoire ce que sont les bagages dans une armée, impedimenta; il faut voir les choses en grand." (Meaningless details in history are like the baggage of an army: impedimenta; one must take the wider view.) Details are not ends in themselves.
Ultimately, it is the wider view that must gain our attention. We are threatened by worldwide terrorism. The United States has undertaken to liberate the world, whatever that may entail. China is undergoing rapid change that must eventually affect both East and West. As a result of a troubled Western conscience, Africa is being rediscovered. AIDS has grown to crisis proportions in parts of that continent. States that until recently were part of the old Soviet Union have transferred their loyalties to the expanded European Union. With the return of transcendentalism, the Middle East and the rest of the Islamic world are playing greater roles in geopolitics. Nothing is of greater concern to the Muslim world than the Israeli–Palestinian dispute. Because of the ongoing quest for oil, the Muslim countries of Central Asia have gained new importance. There is a new rivalry between the powers to control the oil resources of the Caspian region. Meanwhile, our planet tilts in the direction of an Asian-dominated world. Thinking globally has become a necessity.
Only by using the past to cast light on the present can we hope to know how the world has come to be what it is and where it might be headed. We are the only species who can learn from the past; we are threatened with extinction if we fail to do so.