30,000 Years of Art by the editors of Phaidon Press

Phaidon |1065 pages | $49.95
By GREG COOK  |  December 3, 2007

30,000 Years of Art is so big and heavy (13 pounds) that one could easily confuse it for a survey of all art ever made, reproduced at actual size. It’s actually 1000 art greatest hits laid out chronologically, one per page, each with its own dry encyclopedia-style description.

The book’s strength is its portrayal of the vast sweep of global history. We watch civilizations and faiths rise and fall as we page past palm-size prehistoric fetishes, cave paintings, ancient Egypt, classical Greece and Rome, Aztecs, Easter Island, Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Hokusai, Monet, Picasso, and Warhol. Check out the giant giraffes etched some 6000 years ago into rock in what is now Niger. See a 600-year-old gold sculpture of a raft with figures that depict a royal ceremony from what is now Colombia which, the book says, inspired the legend of El Dorado.

The book is built for sampling rather than reading straight through, but a recurring theme is how little we know about much of this stuff. We stretch to imagine the minds and lives of our ancestors, simultaneously amazed by how familiar much of the art feels and intrigued by its abiding mysteries.

Related: Art in the air conditioning, Review: Picasso and Braque Go to the Movies, Photos: RISD’s 2010 Annual Graduate Thesis Exhibition, More more >
  Topics: Books , Culture and Lifestyle, History, World History,  More more >
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