Darker themes of the past
Book: Savage Stone Age (Horrible Histories)
Author: Terry Deary
Illustrator: Martin Brown
Reviewed by: SA
Brutality is often exorcised from the history books that are intended for young readers, especially the volumes that students come across in their school curriculum. These sanitized, censored works don’t necessarily convey the dark aspects of the past or paint a complete picture of how things really were. The Horrible Histories books are on a mission to change that. A view of history “with the nasty bits left in”, the series aims to present not just a black and white version of accounts but detail the many interesting greys that shaded the picture.
Savage Stone Age, one of the many volumes in the Horrible Histories series, is an exploration of the earliest known period of human culture that sheds light on how people used to live ... and die.
The book chronicles the timeline of the development of early hominids and shares interesting tidbits from the life of our ancient ancestors. Amusing illustrations accompany the words, making the book more attractive for younger readers, while the text details lots of peculiar facts that even grownups can enjoy.
The contents of the book include chapters that talk about the foul foods, groovy games, batty beliefs, and rotten rituals of ancient times among other, equally offbeat, topics. You can read about the first ever horrible human history event (a family of nine hominids killed in a sudden disaster), see evidence of early sexism (men were buried with meat and tools, women with nothing), and find out about everything from the first houses to the world’s oldest barbecue.
The book doesn’t shy away from presenting the less flattering aspects of the human condition. The pages talk about how ancient humans hunted some animals to the point of extinction, pinched corpses from killer animals, ate all sorts of nasty things, and even committed mass murder.
The volume is very likely to help readers, who aren’t interested in history, develop a fascination with the subject by giving them an alternative view of the past. But as is obvious from the title of both the book and the series it is part of, Savage Stone Age is probably not best suited for sensitive readers. And some of its darker content - like the disturbing tale of an archaeologist who committed suicide because new methods of archaeology proved his research wrong and made his books outdated - is likely to be upsetting for those who are experiencing some sadness or loss.
Also, the book makes you wish that the author had cited the sources of the information he is including in the book for those of us who’d like to read more about certain topics that the text touches upon.
The past isn’t as attractive as it may seem, and if darker themes upset you then this definitely isn’t the book for you. But if you are either curious about bygone eras or simply think that history is boring, then you might want to give Savage Stone Age - or some other volume in the Horrible Histories series for that matter - a try. Its friendly, humorous tone along with its focus on information you are unlikely to find in conventional history tomes make this an interesting book that readers, both young and old, are likely to learn from.