Kathryn and Ross Petras
World Access: The Handbook
for Citizens of the Earth
Simon and Shuster
SIX THOUSAND YEARS ago, the Kurgan people began using what is known as the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) language--the basis of English, Hindi, Russian, and the Romance languages. In other words, if you think global interconnectivity began with the Internet, think again. You might also want to check out the World Access handbook, which addresses the failure of Americans, Net-surfers or not, to recognize our connections to the art, politics, and culture of the rest of the world.
Whether you're traveling via the Net, or novels, or even CNN, World Access is there to give you a little background on the history and culture of the world beyond U.S. borders. It's best to think of this book as a compass (rather than an encyclopedia) in that it provides guide-points for travels around the Global Village. For instance, European art movements from the Renaissance to surrealism get one paragraph each, enough to help you follow a conversation at a party, but not to make you an expert.
The book is as comprehensive as one could reasonably expect, covering 10 topics including art, literature, politics, religion, language, and history; it's fairly solid on Ancient Greece, China, India, and the Middle East, though (not surprisingly) weaker on Africa and Latin America. But the main strength of World Access is how it shows the connections between Western and non-Western worlds, between different periods of history, and among art, politics, and religion. For example, the section on medieval Arab philosopher Ibn Rushd, in addition to explaining his influence on contemporary Islamic practice, also mentions his connections to Aristotle and Buddhism.
The authors' take on politics and history is multicultural but far from critical. Like high school textbooks of old, they soft peddle imperialism and blame the Cold War solely on Stalin. Moreover, the book gives no space to those who question the telos of our modern multinational culture: Environmentally, economically, and religiously, the world is simply, if slowly, getting better.
This isn't a book to be read for what it says, but it is an excellent resource for getting a grip on the information that floods our media-saturated lives. Rather than contributing to info-overload, World Access helps the reader get a handle on the Global Village, past and present. (Harry Williams)