British writer/journalist James Maloney delved into the world’s newspaper archives to present a fascinating yet condensed view of world history, from 1840 to 2011, in 100 Headlines that Changed the World.
In this day of digital and broadcast information, when the public learns of events literally moments after they happen, it was an unusual choice for a book. But it is an enlightening one. The stories told – especially those before the advent of the Internet or phone apps – reflect how news used to be delivered — by print, with bold headlines hinting at the story to follow.
Maloney says his biggest problem as he combed the archives was what events to leave out, since naturally many more monumental events have occurred in the past 150 years or so . He admits that his choices will cause disagreement among some readers, but he offers the headlines from an unapologetic viewpoint. It’s clear he’s a lover of early journalism, stating in his intro “There is nothing like seeing and holding an old newspaper in your hands, knowing that the very paper itself was there when the event actually happened…It feels like living history.” Definitely food for thought!
The book reads like an enjoyable history lesson, bringing to life events the reader may not have known about, as well as re-visiting stories from the past whose details may have become hazy in memory.
The book unfolds in chronological order, beginning with a headline from the Liverpool Standard in 1840. It proclaims “Penny Postage Pictures”, featuring details of the “Penny Black”, the world’s first postage stamp, issued in England.
We proceed into the 1849 headline from the Californian, “Gold Mine Found”, and on to the New York Herald‘s unusual headline “Important Assassination of President Lincoln” in 1865 (could there have been an unimportant assassination of a president?).
The headlines tell one aspect of the stories and in fact misled me about the book at first, though they shouldn’t have. Had I taken the title literally, I’d have realised that the book presents actual headlines from newspapers, but the stories themselves are put into words by author Maloney. The stories, then, are not ripped verbatim from the papers.
I was disappointed at first but soon, the facts of the stories were what mattered and the author did a fine job putting into capsule form major events that shaped history.
There is a heavy emphasis on events in the United Kingdom. He is, after all, a British journalist. But there is enough of a balance to the book to reflect all of history.
There is Edison’s electric light, the Indian War (Custer’s Last Stand), the killing of Jesse James, “The Whitechapel Horrors” (Jack the Ripper), World War I, Prohibition, the Wall Street crash, the abdication of King Edward VIII, the discovery of DNA, the approval of the birth control pill, the climbing of Mt. Everest, space travel, the arrival of the Beatles, “Diana Dead 6 am Shock Issue”, the killing of Osama bin Laden, and ending with the death of Steve Jobs.
Each event garners 2-4 pages. In some cases, the readers will be familiar with the story but may still learn one or two additional facts. And the reliving of the event is relevant.
100 Headlines… can be scanned and read only for the stories of interest, but it may prove more intriguing to read straight through, as a brief history of the world.
Did each story change the world? Arguably, in some way it did – either by social or cultural standards, economically, or by actually re-shaping the next level of life as we would come to know it. Could other events have been included? Yes. But certainly this is one of the most concise, easy-to-read history lessons ever encountered.