This book starts, by giving lawful information about the beginning of history, and how it started. It also, compares several cultures and civilizations to the powers that each of them has.
The insights into how and why certain developments took place in history that are presented in this book make it fascinating. It spans the early civilizations of the Middle East to modern times and the rise of Communism and totalitarianism, dealing with topics like art, literature, political systems, and religion, and how all these things tied together to shape history. One of the best aspects of the book is the way it provides insights into how developments in one civilization affected others. The way it shifts views from one major civilization to another and spans thousands of years gives the reader a sense of perspective and a realization of the depth and complexity of history. Besides the high scholarly value of the book, the writing style is excellent and easy to read. I luckily ran into it and read it purely by chance, only to learn later that it is considered a history classic.
This is an excellent Eurocentric history. McNeill acknowledges his Eurocentrism in his retrospective introduction and provides an excellent critique of his own book: he underplays the significance of Chinese and other civilizations east of the Oxus.
Regardless, McNeill expounds a sound theory that civilizations didn’t evolve in isolation, but that the interplay of different cultures enabled their progress. McNeill weaves migrations, conquests, international trade, and technological innovations into a riveting story on how modern civilization rose from the fields of the fertile crescent. The book reads like an epic novel — albeit with lots of footnotes — in that it weaves over 5,000 years of history into a single story.