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Reviewed in the United States on December 31, 2017
The story of Western Civilization centers in Europe but begins over 8000 years ago in Mesopotamia and Egypt and seems like a daunting task to cover in less than 300 pages even if one only goes to the end of the Middle Ages. Western Civilization to 1500 by Walther Kirchner is a survey of the rise of society from ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt through the Greeks and Romans, the Middle Ages, and the beginning of the European Renaissance.
Kirchner spends less than 30 pages covering the Fertile Crescent and Egypt through 3500 years of historical development before beginning over 110 pages on Greco-Roman history and the last 130 pages are focused on the Middle Ages and early Renaissance. This division clearly denotes Kirchner’s focus on Europe in this Western Civilization survey, though one cannot fault him for this as even now knowledge of the first three and half millennia of the historical record is nothing compared to the Greco-Roman sources, yet Kirchner never even mentioned the Bronze Age collapse and possible reasons for its occurrence. The highlight of the survey is a detailed historical events of Greece and Roman, especially the decline of the Republic which was only given broad strokes in my own Western Civ and World History classes in high school and college. Yet, Kirchner’s wording seems to hint that he leaned towards the Marxist theory of history, but other wording seemed to contradict it. Because this was a study aid for college students in the early 1960s, this competing terminology is a bit jarring though understandable. While the overall survey is fantastic, Kirchner errors in some basic facts (calling Harold Godwinson a Dane instead of an Anglo-Saxon, using the term British during the Hundred Year’s War, etc.) in well-known eras for general history readers making one question some of the details in eras the reader doesn’t know much about. And Kirchner’s disparaging of “Oriental” culture through not only the word Oriental but also the use of “effeminate” gives a rather dated view of the book.
This small volume is meant to be a study aid for students and a quick reference for general readers, to which it succeeds. Even while Kirchner’s terminology in historical theory and deriding of non-European cultures shows the age of the book, the overall information makes this a good reference read for any well-read general history reader.