A Review of the Anchor Atlas of World History Volume I: From the Stone Age to the Eve of the French Revolution

Historical atlases these days, when produced new, are often a disappointment. People may have a difficult time finding a good historical atlas to use. Today I’m going to review one of my favorite history resources ever, the Anchor Atlas of World History. Now please keep in mind of a few things. First, I have very good eyesight, so I don’t have an issue with pocket-sized maps. Secondly, this book spans from the (theorized) Precambrian period until the late 1700s, before the French Revolution. Thirdly, this book Anchor Atlas Picuses the short chronology for the Ancient Near East and a strange Egyptian chronology that I cannot find anywhere and one that I do not recommend to be used by anyone. And lastly, the authors use many abbreviations in their notes throughout the book. Now if you’re knowledgeable about history like me, then guessing what the abbreviations mean shouldn’t be an issue. But if you aren’t or you simply don’t know what the abbreviation stands for, then you can always check the front of the book, where a list of abbreviations is kept.

The Anchor Atlas of World History is a 300 page pocket-sized atlas that is about half notes and half maps (the greater half belonging to the notes). These notes describe the main political events at the time, such as the reign of Hammurabi or the conquests of Clovis’ sons, with the aforementioned abbreviations. The notes themselves actually look like notes, lacking what some would call “beautiful sentences” in exchange for a basic and clear-cut description of events with highlighted dates. I actually think this system is a nice change of pace from having to read other history books to find answers to questions or research material. These notes are a key cornerstone in the authors’ goal to create a superb atlas and guide to world history.

So how did the authors, Hermann Kinder and Werner Hilgemann (the work was translated by Ernest A. Menze from German), do? They did a good job, actually. For one the notes, as mentioned before, are a nice change of pace from the standard book format for most other works. In addition, the book’s size is nice because it isn’t another big, bulky book that has to be logged around wherever someone goes. The maps themselves are (mostly) good quality and actually not that hard to read. One rather controversial feature of the book is its Eurocentrism, and for a historical atlas, its’ the most Eurocentric one I’ve read. Take that your way, but I actually think it is helpful since it can balance some other less Eurocentric atlases out. Also, I’m always hungry for more maps and information about Europe anyways, and am so disappointed when atlases don’t give Europe what I’d call a “fair share”.

There are three groups of people who I think can use this atlas. The first is students. Students who need to write a paper or create a presentation can easily extract information (and hopefully credit the source) and place it into their assignments. Another group is videomappers, who may want to use the extra information provided in the atlas. The third and last group is the history enthusiasts. I recommend it to history enthusiasts who would like a good database for dates of various events (dates are important) in world history, as well as the basic political history of the world. Another bonus to the atlas is that it’s cheap; Anchor Press versions cost as little as $4 (when counting $3.99 for shipping), and Penguin versions cost only a dollar or so more.

So how does this rank up against other atlases? Well the closest atlas in English to the Anchor Atlas of World History is probably William Shepherd’s Historical Atlas. Both cover around the same timeframe and are Eurocentric. Since there are no notes in that atlas, and just maps, I will only be able to compare maps. The maps in both the Anchor Atlas and the Historical Atlas are of the same quality, and both atlases have some bad maps. However we can make the distinction that the Historical Atlas has better quality maps of ancient history and that the Anchor Atlas has better quality maps of medieval and modern history, particularly that of the rise of states, such as Francia and the Ottoman Empire. Overall though, both atlases maps are excellent resources.

Overall, I give the Anchor Atlas of World History Volume I a 4.5/5. The atlas is a very good source; however I had a few minor problems such as the few bad maps, the weird Egyptian chronology, and the lack of page numbers in the table of contents. However the atlas’s benefits greatly outweigh those flaws, and now, with the advent of the World Wide Web, we can easily find out the correct (or more popular) information. I would recommend this atlas to teachers, students with papers or presentations to complete history enthusiasts, and videomappers as a good tool both for political history and maps.