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Beyond Chat Labels--An Intriguing Guide to 100 Fascinating Objects in the British Museum
am 13. Dezember 2011
"Eli was ninety-eight years old, and his eyes were so dim that he could not see." -- 1 Samuel 4:15 (NKJV)
Let me address right away the objections that some will have to this outstanding resource:
1. The photographs are often dim and unclear. Yup. That's true. But the point of the book is to tell the story of the objects, not to highlight them as things of beauty as might be the case for a painting or a sculpture.
2. The electronic version costs a lot more than $9.99 and is almost as much as the hardcover. Yup. I thought that hardcover was inexpensive for what it is. Buy that one if you don't want to spend a lot for your Kindle.
If you get past those problems, I think you'll love this book. It's like having several of the world's top authorities on each of 100 objects tell you deep meanings that you wouldn't grasp by visiting the British Museum on your own and staring at the objects.
I was very impressed by the selection process, finding objects that convey interesting information at several levels. For instance, an object might tell you something about who made it and how it was used. These objects also have significance in terms of where the elements of the object came from (frequently indicating long-distance trade that you probably wouldn't have expected). Further, aspects of the objects may also reveal something about common human instincts that show up in many different cultures at about the same time. In addition, you get a sense of chronology that you probably didn't know in terms of what each civilization was doing at the same time.
While it would be nice if 100 objects would tell all of human history, that's frankly impossible. A more accurate title for the book would probably be something like "Multicultural Dimensions of Human Experience Represented in 100 Objects from the British Museum." So don't let the title lead you to make unrealistic assumptions about the book.
To me, a handful of the objects were so fascinating that I would have felt rewarded simply by having those few pages.
Here are my favorites:
--Ain Sakhri Lovers Figurine
--Rhind Mathematical Papyrus
--Mold Gold Cape
--Chinese Bronze Bell
--Ceremonial Ballgame Belt
--Sutton Hoo Helmet
--Maya Relief of Royal Blood-letting
--Vale of York Hoard
--Kilwa Pot Sherds
--Taino Ritual Seat
--Tughra of Suleiman the Magnificent
--Jade Dragon Cup
--Hawaiian Feather Helmet
--North American Buckskin Map
--Australian Bark Shield
--Hokusai's The Great Wave
--Russian Revolutionary Plate
--Throne of Weapons
When you get the book, see what you think.
I particularly liked the way that commenting scholars were selected who should have a superior cultural and historical perspective on the objects.
One of my sons and his wife work in a well-known museum. I've recommended the book to them as a way to gain perspective on how to tell a collection's story in more complete and compelling ways.
Bravo, Director MacGregor!