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Book Review


Woodruff, William. A Concise History of the Modern World: 1500 to the Present, A Guide to World Affairs, fourth edition (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002). 430 pp., $30.95.


     The Machiavellian modern world is clearly the struggle for power. As William Woodruff (University of Florida, Gainsville) points out, "power dictates the course taken by any political institution. It is what politics is all about." Along with the story of the struggle for justice, power remains the master key to the course of world affairs. With this theme as its foundation, Woodruff introduces his Concise History of the Modern World.

     Woodruff structures his book in such a way that will delight the new and seasoned instructor alike. The book encompasses all regions of the world beginning with the Asian-dominated world (including the Middle East) and in very concise terms explains the history of Europe 1500-1914 (in one chapter) and Africa 1500-1914 (in one chapter). Generally, the term "concise" would lead one to assume the big concepts are mentioned minus the examples; however, Woodruff does an excellent job pointing to the continuities in the achievement of power across time periods. The next few chapters go back in time chronologically to discuss Imperialism, especially the expansion of the Russian Empire and the expansion of the American Empires, the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions, the Great War, and the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. This is not a book of dry facts, but an analysis of world events. The author's commentary throughout continuously ties world events with the quest for power on all continents, which yields a work that is strong in world politics as well as historical chronology. Another strength is the country-by-country format in which Woodruff discusses fairly recent current issues concerning the de-colonization of Africa, the collapse of communism in the USSR and eastern Europe, the establishment of the European Union, and the resurgence of Asia.

     The book ends with a chapter titled "The Threat of World Anarchy" in which the author points out that globalization is not the simple answer to world hegemony as was once believed. In fact, Woodruff explains that "the global economy not only takes advantage of lower labour costs, and absence of regulation in underdeveloped countries, it also avoids much of the social costs (welfare, education, unemployment, environmental protection and defence), which the national economy must bear. Hence the growing resistance to globalization" (336). Woodruff discusses specific threats to world peace—globalization being first—due to the wide gap between wealthy and developing nations. The second threat to the world community "has been the growth in recent decades of religious fundamentalism, particularly in the Middle East" (339). Third, Woodruff argues that revolutionary nationalism has been, and will continue to be, a destructive force in the world. To counter such forces, Woodruff warns that humans will have to tolerate different concepts of God, nature, morality, economics, government and society if they are to avoid anarchy. Nevertheless, he concludes with the optimistic prognosis that the human spirit will prevail.

     This work is an excellent source of reference for any instructor of world history. For newer teachers in particular it would be helpful to read specific chapters before a unit of study as it continuously points to "the big picture" of the human quest for power. It is also a useful guide for obtaining critical information when planning specific classroom discussions. For students, it would be an excellent parallel for any world history text once students have reached the modern era of study. Alternatively, it would be an ideal source for a classroom activity in which each student could be assigned a different chapter from the book. Students could then be responsible for discussing (or presenting in a Power Point presentation) the key ideas from their assigned chapter. It is important to note, however, that students will need some background knowledge of world history first to truly grasp the author's analysis and evaluations of historical events. In other words, students could not read Woodruff's book in lieu of their assigned text.

     This reviewer was able to "test" one chapter on an AP World History student. The student happened to be particularly fond of Karl Marx. Instead of "teaching" him the positive and negative aspects of Marxism, the student was asked to pre-write everything he knew and felt about it. Next he was asked to read the chapter on the Bolshevik revolution entitled "1917: Communism—A New World Religion." After he was finished, he was asked to turn in the chapter and write everything new (positive or negative) he had read about Marxism and Communism. After comparing the "before" and "after" lists, he realized his evaluation of Marx had changed somewhat. He especially liked the quote "Lenin did for Marx what St. Paul did for Christ" (180). The student acknowledged that this particular chapter was dynamic and that he had never considered many of the points made. He decided to remove Karl Marx from the pedestal on which he had placed him previously. This reviewer was simply playing the role of facilitator taking into account the area of interest of the student. Woodruff provided the avenue in which to do this.

     The Concise History of the Modern World lives up to its name by being quite concise. However, it differs from other "concise" works in that it ties the facts together with the author's point of view as well as analysis rarely found in typical reference-style readings. Included throughout are twenty-five maps to add to the understanding of political/historical events. The "Notes" section contains extensive (thirty-one pages) explanations of references cited as well as helpful tables for classroom use such as 'First World War Deaths (by country),' 'Second World War Deaths (by country),' and 'Estimates of African Refugees in 1999,' to name a few. In its fourth edition, Woodruff's book would certainly be very beneficial and enjoyable for instructors and students alike. It would be an on-hand asset for any AP World History course.


Angela Lay
Allen County-Scottsville High School


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