Bernard Grun - The Timetables of History: A Horizontal Linkage of People and Events

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The Timetables of History: A Horizontal Linkage of People & Events || TooMuchTimeOnMyHands W/O

Jul 24, 2003
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Unique presentation and correlation of human history. Comprehensive index.

Cons:Better suited for random browsing than serious study. Western history-centric.

The Bottom Line: If you play trivia games, plan on playing Jeopardy on TV, or just like to browse historical facts, this book is for you.

"The Timetables of History is a stimulus and an eye-opener for everyman's exploration of the past. This book should be the starting point, and not the conclusion, of some new questions for us to ask about the past."

Foreword, Daniel Boorstin, The Timetables of History: A Horizontal Linkage of
                                           People & Events

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The famed English historian Edward Gibbon once said "History is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind." The Timetables of History, henceforth known as TToH, is just such a 'register'. But rather than simply documenting "crimes, follies, and misfortunes", TToH correlates, tabulates, and invigorates the good, the bad, and the ugly of human history.

Noted historian, writer, and Librarian of Congress Emeritus Daniel Boorstin reminds the reader in the Foreword that thinking of history as "certain 'key' dates", as "landmarks" to be memorized, eventually blinds the student of history to the landscape that surrounds the landmarks. TToH works to dispel this flawed viewpoint.

Viewing history as 'landmarks' also leads to the false notion that events, times, ideas start and stop at precise times: e.g., the Dark Ages ended on a sunny Monday afternoon, September, 1360 in Florence, Italy with the arrival of the Renaissance. When in reality, many diverse ideas, technologies, and beliefs accreted over a period of many decades to form, in hindsight, the period we call the Renaissance.

Boorstin also reminds the reader of the importance of communication in the 'creation' and study of history. Only in the 20th century has the ordinary citizen (indeed, even kings and presidents) began to acquire the means to learn of current events quickly. He reminds us, as we view the content of this book, that we are viewing "contemporary" events as only a 'God' might have for most of the period of history recorded in this book.


The size of an ordinary sheet of printer paper, approximately 8&1/2 X 10 inches, TToH is arranged with seven columns running across the top of the left- and right-hand pages while the years of interest run down the left and right sides of the pages.

The seven areas covered are:
..on the left-hand page:
 A.   History, Politics
 B.   Literature, Theater
 C.   Religion, Philosophy, Learning

..and on the right-hand page
 D.   Visual Arts
 E.   Music
 F.   Science, Technology, Growth
 G.   Daily Life

Early in the book, the years are bitten off in big chunks. The first years segment noted is
-5000 to -4001. Column A notes "First exactly dated year in history is -4241". Column F notes "the Egyptian calendar, regulated by sun and moon. . ." Column G notes "Earliest cities in Mesopotamia (carbon-test dated)". The remaining columns are empty.

The years segments continue in 500 year chunks, then 100 year chunks, and finally fifty year chunks until the year 501 is reached. Thereafter each single year occupies a single segment. For any given year, any or all columns may be left empty if no 'events' were found worthy of inclusion. How large each year segment is depends on the amount of information displayed. More stuff that happened, bigger year segments, fewer year segments displayed per page. Early in the book there is a lot of 'white space' as only one or two columns per year(s) segment might have some limited info, the others left blank.

The emphasis throughout the book seems to be on 'History, Politics' and 'Science, Technology, Growth'. Although randomly flipping through the book does not seem to show a great predominance of either.

An index of 90(!) pages features leads back to all entries for a given word. Instead of a page number, the year(s) and a particular column letter are used to point the reader back to the target word. For instance "Puzo, Mario 1969 B, 1978 B" is followed by "Pydna, Battle of -200 to -151 A" which is followed by "Pygmalion 1913 B" and on and on. This format is naturally intuitive and quickly grasped by the reader.

Births, deaths, battles, wars, plays, concertos, books, assassinations, inventions, riots, royal visits, paintings, Pulitzer Prizes, Rose Bowls, movies, . . .all these and much more are included in this book.

   — How to Use this Book —

One can go to this book looking for a particular fact and easily find it. 'When was Mona Lisa painted?' you might wonder. The index yields four entries:

1503 D which leads to the entry "Da Vinci: 'Mona Lisa' " in the year 1503.
1911 D lead to an entry under 'Visual Arts' noting the theft of the painting from Louvre. (and that it was recovered in 1913.)
1915 E leads to the entry "Max von Schillings: 'Mona Lisa,' opera, Stuttgart"
1963 D leads to an entry noting the exhibition of the painting in New York and Wash., D.C.

One can also simply pick a year and browse the events and facts for that year. For instance what else was happening in 1503 while Da Vinci was finishing his painting Mona Lisa?

In 'History, Politics' we see Henry, Prince of Wales was betrothed to Catherine of Aragon. In 'Literature, Poetry' we see Thomas Wyatt, English poet, was born. Other items noted are the death of Pope Alexander VI, the birth of Nostradamus, and the introduction of the pocket handkerchief into use.

   — What's Good About This Book? —

It is fun to simply browse through the text. It is almost like a hyper-linked web page where you might easily jump from one topic to another as each catches your eye. The Index serves well to point you to other entries for a given subject, to give you more information about that topic.

It is also fun to just pick a year and immerse yourself in what was happening that year. To see how much you know or recognize of that year's events and people.

   — What's Bad About This Book? —

There is absolutely no depth to any entry. If, for example, the reader has no idea 'who' Mona Lisa is, the book will not help them learn who 'she' is. There are no pictures or illustrations! It is very helpful to have your web browser idling on while you are reading.

The book is very European/North American centered. The African/Asian/South American/etc. entry is very rare.

   — The Bottom Line—

If you play trivia games, plan on playing Jeopardy on TV, or just like to browse historical facts, this book is for you.

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This review is a belated entry for the Too Much Time On My Hands WriteOff hosted by skbreese/Sheila. Users were asked to select a product featuring 'some measure of time' in the title of the product. I thought the entire span of recorded history might be 'time enough'!

My thanks for the invitation and my apologies for my interminable delay in fulfilling my obligation!

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"Just the facts, ma'am"

Title:The Timetables of History: A Horizontal Linkage of People & Events
Author: Bernard Grun
Publisher: Touchstone Books
Copyright: 1991
Pages: 736
ISBN #: 067174271X
Ages recommended: Early teen to adult

Reference websites:
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All the index pages (and more) are available for viewing.

Recommend this product? Yes

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