Review by Choice Review
The first title in a seven-volume series, this work suffers the advantages and disadvantages of being a weighty tome in all senses of the phrase. Planning for the series began in the late 1970s, and international teams of editors were formed for each volume. The foreword and general introduction (by the president and former president of the International Commission created to produce this work) outline the philosophy and history of the project, including its attempt to be more inclusive, less Eurocentric, and more interdisciplinary and to create a world history that is not a universal or single-perspective history. The results are mixed. This volume consists of 60 chapters by 49 contributors, all prominent archaeologists and physical anthropologists, the majority European, and nearly all male. It covers world prehistory from the emergence of the genus Homo approximately 2.5 million years ago, leaving off just before the rise of the first city-states and recorded history, 5,000 years ago. The chapters are organized into two parts of equal length, the second beginning with the origins of food production. Each major shift of topic is preceded by an overview, and editor De Laet provides an introduction and afterword to tie the various pieces together and create a context. As one might expect from a work of this magnitude, the coverage and quality of contributions are somewhat uneven. Many of the chapters are well-written, accessible summaries of research, but others are dry as dust. Not all authors define their terms, and some chapters do not have conclusions. Some topics one would expect to find--e.g., Venus figurines--are given little coverage. There is no discussion beyond the introduction of many of the theoretical issues that have engaged the discipline for more than two decades. The index is not comprehensive, and the 140 black-and-white plates are at the end of the volume rather than integrated with the text. The most severe problem, however, is with the timeliness of the work. Manuscripts were completed in 1988, leaving a six-year lag; the most recent references are to research done in the mid-1980s. This certainly limits the work's utility in a field that is changing rapidly. This litany of complaints is not to say that this volume is worthless, but that it could have been substantially improved by greater editorial control and more timely production. In summary, this work is recommended with reservations for university collections, upper-level undergraduate and above. The current schedule calls for the set to be completed in 1997. J. C. Wanser; Hiram College
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