The Nations of to-Day, a New History of the World

Edited by John Buchan. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1923. With maps. 8vo. 9 vols., others in preparation. $5.00 each.
IT is a sign of the times that a new universal, cooperative history of the nations of the world, of which the above listed volumes are the first installment, should begin to appear. It is, perhaps, still more a sign of the times that it should take the form it does. It has been undertaken, in the words of the general editor, ‘to provide for the ordinary citizen a popular account of the history of his own and other nations, a chronicle of those movements of the past of which the effect is not yet exhausted, and which are still potent for the peace and comfort of the present,’ And it is interesting, if not indeed instructive, to observe what, in his opinion and that of his numerous collaborators, the ‘ordinary citizen’ wants to know, and what he should be told about the history of the world in which he lives.
The first and most striking thing is that the history of the more remote past has been condensed in these volumes to the last limit of compression. France from Charlemagne to the Third Republic in eighty pages; India from the beginning to 1861 in about a hundred and twenty-five; Great Britain from Roman invasion to 1914 in just over a hundred — these are ‘outlines’ indeed. And it is apparent from them — though they are perhaps the most extreme examples — that these handsome and useful volumes are primarily designed to furnish, upon a skeleton of history, a body of material relating to the more immediate past, which only in the sense that it is past can be reckoned history in any proper sense.
What, then, is comprised in the rest of the pages? First, in every case a useful, succinct account of the geography of the nations in question. Then, after the outline of older history, a much fuller account of the events of the past fifty years, especially during and since the War. Then, in most cases, ‘economic’ chapters, which with their statistics and practical information provide the reader with a picture of the material aspect, strength, resources, products, commerce, and wealth of these nations. This is, in some cases, enlarged or supplemented by chapters, for instance, on French civilization and character, or the Italian social movement, or — in the case of England — chapters on the constitution, the present problems, defense, economic development and conditions, finance, labor, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man. In some cases these later chapters, like those on Japan and the Baltic and Caucasian States, are headed merely ‘ Miscellaneous,’ which describes them with tolerable accuracy. There are, besides, maps of all sorts, illustrating the text; bibliographies of greater or less extent; brief indexes, together with chronological tables; in some cases army and navy statistics in appendixes, with similar material.
With regard to the authors of the several volumes and their component parts, they are too numerous even to mention in a brief notice. In the main their names command respect as those of men — and women — who are peculiarly fitted by special knowledge to write with some authority of the subjects assigned to them. It is obvious that in such a collection of studies there must be some divergence of style, proportion, even of ability; but in the main the volumes are more uniform than one might expect or than one usually finds in such a cooperative work. And there is one thing which stands out very prominently. It is the emphasis on those events which have not ceased to be politics, and may be called history only by courtesy.
In brief, then, we have here a manual of the modern world, which provides the information which the average busy man may be expected to want — what these nations are, and where; how they came to be what and where they are; their present situation, politically and economically. But beside or in connection with that, they provide accounts of nations difficult of access even to those far more deeply interested in world politics than the average man. And, in the sum of them, they will furnish a conspectus of the world which will be a godsend to the tired librarian who is asked for something on whatever particular and often out-of-the-way ‘nation,’ concerning which the public curiosity is as insatiable as it is surprising. For this is, above all, a practical series, practically carried out. And one reader is ready to admit that never, until he opened these interesting volumes, did he ever hear of that historic character who rejoiced in the name of Avak Mkhargrdzelidze.