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The Discovery of New Worlds Review by Stacy Kalisz

M.B. Synge
Yesterday's Classics
PO Box 3418
Chapel Hill, NC 27515

The Discovery of New Worlds is part of The Story of the World series by M. B. Synge. It is a five-volume set that covers the major historical events of Western Civilization, from the beginning of recorded history until the end of the 19th century. The Discovery of New Worlds is book two in this series. Originally published in 1903, the book was re-published by Yesterday's Classics in an unabridged version.

Beginning with the rise and fall of the Roman Empire and closing with the discoveries of Christopher Columbus and the Spanish settlements in the New World, this volume relates many of the important events from around A.D. 4 to the 16th century. The Middle Ages in Europe, the rise of Islam, the Crusades, the age of exploration, and the establishment of trade with the Far East are all included. Historical figures such as Nero, Marcus Aurelius, King Arthur, William the Conqueror, Frederick Barbarossa, and Marco Polo are discussed.

Consisting of 50 short chapters, this book is written at a middle-school reading level and is recommended for children age ten and up. Children of this age could probably read it to themselves. However, it would also be an excellent read-aloud for children as young as seven. The book lends itself to shorter readings. One chapter at a time seems best. In my opinion, this would allow for greater retention and understanding.

The author, M. B. Synge, writes in narrative form and truly brings the stories to life through her words. In this book, the retelling of historical events is much more than dates and facts; the readers are engaged through lively dialog and exciting renditions of battles, discoveries, failures, and triumphs.

History does not unfold in a neat timeline. Many important events often occur in different parts of the world at the same time. Synge does an excellent job of linking these events together in a very natural way. I enjoyed how previous characters were referred to in later chapters as a way to connect events. For example, as Copernicus is being introduced (in chapter 40), the author states that he was born in 1473, "just about the time when Prince Henry was busy sending out his Portuguese ships into the Sea of Darkness." This sending out of ships by Prince Henry was discussed way back in chapter 28.

I also like that the author uses phrases such as "might have been" or "most likely." This is more preferable to me than stating something as fact that is only an assumption or possibility. It is important that history be presented in an honest fashion, and I feel the best efforts were made to do so here.

Occasionally, I found an odd statement. For example, on page 39, Bishop Cyprian is called, "the most important Christian in the whole of North Africa." He was obviously well respected and very influential, but as for "most important," that is something only God would know.

All things considered, I am pleased with The Discovery of New Worlds. It was an interesting read and a great way to survey history without missing the wonderful stories behind the facts. I believe many children and adults will find it intriguing and enjoyable.

Product review by Stacy Kalisz, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, May 2009