Book Review: Atlas Of Human Migration

Atlas Of Human Migration, edited by Russell King

This book was disappointing for a rather straightforward reason, and that is because the book contains far too much text where the author(s) seek to demonstrate their knowledge about the history of human migration and not enough interesting maps about that migration that provide the details that one would want to see and not read.  Unfortunately, the authors of this book forgot the importance of showing instead of telling, with the result that this particular book does not have quite the level of geographical excellence that one would hope for.  The maps here are often good ones, but one wants more along those lines, more details, and less writing where the authors try to flex and show off their academic knowledge.  Unfortunately, maps are often expensive and time-consuming and it is far easier for people to want to show off their academic credentials through writing even though the expectation of an atlas is that it will have more maps than this book does.  The failure of the authors of this book to understand and meet expectations does lead to a bit of disappointment, and that is is something that comes with the territory when one reads a lot of books.

This book takes a chronological look, generally, of the history of human migration, dividing human migratory history into various periods.  The book starts with the dawn of humanity, showing the expansion first of Homo Erectus through Eurasia and then that of Homo sapiens to the entire world.  The author discusses the migrations of the ancient world, including that of Moses and the Israelites from slavery, and the spread of the Indo-European language, as well as that of the Polynesians.  The Medieval world provides a look at the migrations of the Mongols, Arabs, and Vikings, among other peoples.   After that the author looks at the expanding world of the early modern period with the explorations of early Western Europeans and the Transatlantic slave trade.  The author examines the increasing population of Europe while looking at the industrial age, and predictably the migrations of the new world include a look at the movement of large populations from Eastern and Southern Europe to Western Europe and the United States, as well as the Irish migration due to the potato famine there.  After that comes a discussion of the migrations of the modern world, after which there is a chronology as well as an index and acknowledgements that bring the book to a bit under 200 pages in length.

One thing this book does well, though, is provide a sense of the importance of migration to the course of human history.  Humanity has been migrating since time immemorial, and this book conveys the prehistorical as well as the historical migrations which have dramatically shaped the populations of the world.  After all, as I write this I am a European-American living on the west coast of North America.  Many levels of population movements shaped my own personal history going back a long way.  And this is true for many others and not just myself, and the book does a good job at expressing some of those population transfers, although as is usually the case there is a certain degree of choice in what populations and their movements are emphasized, meaning that one gets the Transatlantic slave trade but the Islamic one is minimized as is all too commonly the case.  Again, a certain degree of convenience is at the base of this book and its scarcity of maps, but the authors try in the text to demonstrate their knowledge of the nuance that the maps fail to include because there are so few of them.  Whether or not it is successful depends on the reader, of course.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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