Each volume of the textbook like series begins with the same foreword, expounding bombastically on varying views of history, from the Puritans' "city upon a hill" to nihilism, before stating its intent that students understand the present by examining the past. This is followed by a pithy time line of pivotal events for the title's topic before an introduction that lays out the basic facts or defining characteristics. The first four chapters chronicle the event or era in fairly dense text using primary and secondary sources and quotes (cited in endnotes), while chapter five examines the modern-day impact and legacy. Captioned photos and paintings appear occasionally, while sidebars providing further detail on certain ideas occur more frequently. Maps and diagrams are large and colorful but many are lacking clarifying information; in Pearl Harbor, a map titled "Japanese Expansion 1895-1938" only shows which areas of East Asia were controlled by the Japanese, French, U.S., and British, but there is no illustration of how the expansion grew over the time frame. A list of important people, suggestions for further reading, and a research-worthy index are included. While this series does not cover new ground, Digital Age is worth purchasing, as it is very current; the other volumes could be considered to fill holes in middle and high school collections.
—Rebecca Dash Donsky, New York Public Library
Proving that Wikipedia is never a good substitute for real research, these titles in the Understanding World History series offer more thorough introductions to their topics. With an opening time line and guided questions, the books immediately encourage students to ponder each era's place in history. The Digital Age starts with Charles Babbage's designs for the world's first automatic computing engines and continues with the influence of WWII and the Cold War on computer development, advances in mainframe and personal computers, and lasting global connections through the World Wide Web. Elizabethan England relates Queen Elizabeth I's advance to power and considers the hardships of life in London, the rise of the arts during the Renaissance, and Elizabeth's role as "pirate queen," endorsing privateering, slave trading, and the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Using quotes from primary sources, Pearl Harbor addresses the long buildup of events leading up to Japan's infamous surprise assault, preparations and details of the attack itself, and the aftermath as the U.S. entered the war. Complemented with archival photos and reproductions, the books conclude with a look at each era’s legacy, from workhouses for the poor to the atomic bomb to digital media as a tool for social activism. Extensive back matter provides avenues for further research.