History Meets Engineering: 15 Series on World History and Culture

Ancient and modern civilizations are well represented in this latest crop of nonfiction series.

A number of this season’s history series revolve around the construction of buildings, routes, and monuments that facilitated the growth of nations. Some sets describe the intricacies of building complex structures and systems or the details and consequences of their catastrophic failures. Others describe the social and political frameworks that either supported or failed civilizations or the military might that contributed to the rise and decline of empires. The best of the selections below will help readers understand how routes, buildings, and other physical creations shape history.


Blake, Kevin. Deadly Mine: Libby, Montana. ISBN 9781684022229.

––––. Rising Seas: Miami, Florida. ISBN 9781684022281.

––––. Sick Soil: The Dust Bowl. ISBN 9781684022236.

Goldish, Meish. Nuclear Accident: Chernobyl Power Plant, Ukraine. ISBN 9781684022274.

––––. Oil Spill: Deepwater Horizon. ISBN 9781684022267.

––––. Poisoned Air: Bhopal, India. ISBN 9781684022212.

––––. Toxic Water: Minamata, Japan. ISBN 9781684022243.

Markovics, Joyce. Killer Smog: London, England. ISBN 9781684022250.

ea vol: 32p. (Eco-Disasters). bibliog. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Bearport. Aug. 2017. lib. ed. $28.50.

Gr 4-6 –A dramatic introduction sets the scene of each event, followed by short chapters that describe it from start to finish or to its current status, with an emphasis on its immediate and continuing human costs. Each book clearly states who or what was responsible for the disaster, and discusses restitution or lack thereof to victims, as well as the ongoing or long-term detrimental effects. “Fixing the Future” sections detail continuing cleanup efforts or measures to prevent future calamities. The texts are average and supplemented by numerous photos, most contemporaneous to the events; others are stock images that are poorly matched to the text, such as a description of a 1934 dust storm that coated the Statue of Liberty paired with a recent photo of a clean statue in Sick Soil. VERDICT This set will help readers understand the myriad large-scale ecological disasters that can happen and their lasting human and societal costs. A solid purchase.

Kenney, Karen Latchana. Mysteries of the Egyptian Pyramids. ISBN 9781512440140.

––––. Mysteries of the Great Wall of China. ISBN 9781512440133.

Waxman, Laura Hamilton. Mysteries of Easter Island. ISBN 9781512440157.

––––. Mysteries of Pompeii. ISBN 9781512440171.

Weitzman, Elizabeth. Mysteries of Machu Picchu. ISBN 9781512440188.

––––. Mysteries of Stonehenge. ISBN 9781512440164.

ea vol: 32p. (Ancient Mysteries). chron. further reading. glossary. illus. index. photos. websites. Lerner. Oct. 2017. lib. ed. $27.99.

Gr 4-6 –These attractive titles focus on archaeological efforts to answer enduring questions about some of the ancient world’s most famous sites. Books have four- to six-page chapters that introduce the places and their modern “discovery,” describe early and recent archaeological studies, and discuss new and evolving theories that may explain why and how they were built and their use and significance. The information and background presented are sufficiently explained. “Myth Alert!” and “Dig Deep!” sidebars debunk pop culture myths about the sites and add information about related subjects. A “Science Spotlight” conclusion looks at a new technology that is changing archaeology and providing clues about the past. Images are a mixture of good color photos and artist renderings. Though the series is well written and will be helpful for reports, most of its content has already received wide coverage. VERDICT An additional purchase for large collections.

Leaf, Christina. Machu Picchu: The Lost Civilization. ISBN 9781626176966.

Owings, Lisa. Battleship Island: The Deserted Island. ISBN 9781626176935.

––––. Craco: The Medieval Ghost Town. ISBN 9781626176959.

––––. Pripyat: The Chernobyl Ghost Town. ISBN 9781626176973.

Schuetz, Kari. Bodie: The Gold-Mining Ghost Town. ISBN 9781626176942.

––––. Roanoke: The Lost Colony. ISBN 9781626176980.

ea vol: 24p. (Abandoned Places). chron. further reading. glossary. illus. index. maps. photos. websites. Bellwether. Aug. 2017. lib. ed. $25.99.

Gr 3-6 –Photographs are the standout element in this set, which takes readers to the ghostly remains of deserted places. The images include both panoramic shots and detailed close-ups. Each chapter is about five pages in length, and introduces the topic location, how and why it was settled, an account of its heyday, reasons for its eventual abandonment, and contemporary efforts to understand and/or preserve it. Some locations are well-known, but most will be new to readers, which is a plus. This set taps into people’s ongoing fascination with the remains of the past and shows readers the often fleeting nature of settled locations. VERDICT For all elementary and middle schools.

Loh-Hagan, Virginia. Epic Fails. ISBN 9781534100718; ISBN 9781634728935.

––––. Odd Inventions. ISBN 9781534100695; ISBN 9781634728911.

––––. Strange Medicine. ISBN 9781534100688; ISBN 9781634728904.

––––. Stupid Criminals. ISBN 9781534100701; ISBN 9781634728928.

––––. Wacky Sports. ISBN 9781534100671; ISBN 9781634728898.

––––. Weird Food. ISBN 9781534100657; ISBN 9781634728874.

––––. Weird Nature. ISBN 9781534100725; ISBN 9781634728942.

––––. Wild Animals. ISBN 9781534100664; ISBN 9781634728881.

ea vol: 32p. (Stranger Than Fiction). index. photos. websites. Cherry Lake/45th Parallel. Aug. 2017. lib. ed. $29.93. pap. $14.21.

Gr 4-6 –Quirky topics and large color photos add to the appeal of this hi-lo set, which has disclaimers warning readers not to try any of the featured dangerous ideas at home. Throughout the volumes, the content is eclectic, with examples of the weird and strange from around the world, most either contemporary or within the recent past, except for Odd Inventions and Strange Medicine, which include tales from ancient history. There is plenty of gross-out material, including bodily functions and excrement, mutant animals, and foolish stunts. Vocabulary is simple and most new words are defined in the text. VERDICT Food, Sports, Medicine, and Inventions are good ­purchases; the other titles are supplementary.

O’Donnell, Liam. Crack the Pirate Code. ISBN 9781410987068; ISBN 9781410987105.

––––. Get into Pirate Gear. ISBN 9781410987051; ISBN 9781410987099.

––––. Hop on the Pirate History Boat. ISBN 9781410987037; ISBN 9781410987075.

––––. Sink or Swim with Pirate Ships. ISBN 9781410987044; ISBN 9781410987082.

ea vol: 32p. (Pirates!). further reading. glossary. illus. index. photos. websites. Capstone. Aug. 2017. lib. ed. $29.99. pap. $7.99.

Gr 1-3 –Focused on the dangers and rewards of the business of piracy, this series describes the rules that governed the ships, the gear and equipment needed for life at sea, the many types of boats, and state-sponsored and criminal types of piracy. The books are closely focused on their topics, and text runs to about two short paragraphs per spread, supplemented by a short sidebar. The uncaptioned illustrations are the set’s weakness, a combination of either garish or cartoonish drawings or contemporary photos of ships, gear, and locations, some of which have little connection to the text. Pirates are a perennially popular topic, and while the information is solid, the visuals are lacking. VERDICT Consider only where there are fervent fans of pirates.

Oxlade, Chris. The History of Computers. ISBN 9781484640371; ISBN 9781484640418.

––––. The History of Robots. ISBN 9781484640364; ISBN 9781484640401.

––––. The History of Telecommunications. ISBN 9781484640357; ISBN 9781484640395.

––––. The History of Transportation. ISBN 9781484640388; ISBN 9781484640425.

ea vol: 32p. (The History of Technology). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Capstone. Aug. 2017. lib. ed. $27.32. pap. $8.29.

Gr 2-5 –“Pedestrian” best describes most of the books in this introductory group, which offers slightly more information than similar series. Texts summarize advancements in technologies from their earliest forms to the present and close with spreads that speculate on future developments. Coverage is superficial, mostly limited to examples of technological firsts or significant innovations. Most pages have three to four sentences, paired with a well-matched captioned photo or illustration. Robots is the most interesting of the group, discussing their depictions in early science fiction and contemporary popular culture, and exploring why people both love and fear them. VERDICT Robots is a good choice; select others as needed.

Middle to High School

Allen, John. Ancient China. ISBN 9781682821480.

Currie, Stephen. The Ancient Mayans. ISBN 9781682821565.

Nardo, Don. The Ancient Aztecs. ISBN 9781682821466.

––––. Ancient Egypt. ISBN 9781682821503.

––––. Ancient Greece. ISBN 9781682821527.

––––. Ancient India. ISBN 9781682821541.

––––. Ancient Mesopotamia. ISBN 9781682821589.

––––. Ancient Rome. ISBN 9781682821602.

ea vol: 80p. (Cause & Effect: Ancient Civilizations). chron. further reading. index. maps. notes. photos. websites. ReferencePoint. Aug. 2017. lib. ed. $39.93.

Gr 9 Up –Well-written examinations of the factors that created, sustained, and eventually destroyed ancient civilizations distinguish this set. The books open with a look at surviving aspects and a brief history of each society, followed by four chapters that ask and answer key questions. Almost all the titles include information about the civilization’s roots, evolution, religious beliefs, military, and its eventual decline or destruction, but the other topics vary, from the transformative impacts of cuneiform writing and Athenian theater to the Silk Road and Aztec human sacrifice. The authors draw on contemporary scholarship and provide background, definitions, and clear analysis. This set provides high school readers and report writers with readable content that will help them to form a deeper understanding of cause and effect. VERDICT A must for high school students.

Allen, John. The Cold War. ISBN 9781 682821626.

Blohm, Craig. The Korean War. ISBN 9781 682821640.

––––. The Vietnam War. ISBN 9781 682821688.

Marcovitz, Hal. World War II. ISBN 9781 682821749.

Nardo, Don. The War on Terror. ISBN 9781 682821701.

––––. World War I. ISBN 9781682821725.

Streissguth, Tom. The Persian Gulf War. ISBN 9781682821664.

ea vol: 80p. (Cause & Effect: Modern Wars). chron. further reading. index. maps. notes. photos. websites. ReferencePoint. Aug. 2017. lib. ed. $39.93.

Gr 9 Up –Each title begins with an introduction to some fundamental aspect or cause of the war, such as oil in Persian Gulf War and the rise of post–World War II tensions in Cold War. A brief history of each conflict is followed by questions about its origins or outbreak, key battles, important political decisions or military strategies, and its impact and lasting effects. Throughout the series the writing is clear, the information presented is well documented, and the content and objective analyses are within mainstream historical scholarship. Series and individual titles about modern wars abound, but this set will assist readers and report writers in understanding the impact and continuing effects. VERDICT A strong consideration for teen readers.

Antal, Lara. The Women’s Suffrage Movement. ISBN 9781502627117.

Byers, Ann. The Weimar Republic and the Rise of Fascism. ISBN 9781502627186.

Coddington, Andrew. The Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations. ISBN 9781502627094.

Griffiths, Katie. The Spanish Civil War. ISBN 9781502627193.

Hurt, Avery Elizabeth. Arab Nationalism and Zionism. ISBN 9781502627209.

––––. The Great Depression. ISBN 9781502627131.

ea vol: 128p. (The Interwar Years). bibliog. chron. further reading. glossary. index. maps. photos. websites. Cavendish Square. Aug. 2017. lib. ed. $45.64.

Gr 9 Up –The unresolved problems of the “war to end all wars” are the topics of this set, which examines how each was affected by or influenced the short-lived peace before the First and Second World Wars. The books provide a wealth of detail, objectively describing the roots of each conflict or problem, its resolution or lack thereof, its impact on the interwar period and contribution to the instability that led to the Second World War, and its long-term consequences. Great Depression and Women’s Suffrage are focused on the United States and aren’t as strong as the others, which show more direct linkage to the outbreak of war in Europe. The reading levels are high, and the language and phrasing are formal and somewhat stilted, which will limit the audience to the most advanced readers. The visuals throughout the series are of average quality, and there aren’t many maps included. VERDICT Additional choice for research reports.

Conley, Kate. Engineering Mount Rushmore. ISBN 9781532111624.

––––. Engineering the Golden Gate Bridge. ISBN 9781532111662.

LaPierre, Yvette. Engineering the Colosseum. ISBN 9781532111648.

––––. Engineering the Great Wall of China. ISBN 9781532111679.

Lowell, Barbara. Engineering AT&T Stadium. ISBN 9781532111617.

McCarthy, Cecilia Pinto. Engineering One World Trade Center. ISBN 9781532111631.

––––. Engineering the NYC Subway System. ISBN 9781532111686.

Slingerland, Janet. Engineering the Eiffel Tower. ISBN 9781532111655.

ea vol: 48p. (Building by Design). diag. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. ABDO. Aug. 2017. lib. ed. $32.79.

Gr 4-7 –A common format unites this set about the creation of these very different structures. Each book contains four chapters of varying lengths that introduce the structure and describe its inspiration, design and construction, and current efforts to preserve, protect, or maintain the functionality of the aging structures and systems. Texts are supplemented by photos of each structure, its builders and their designs, stages of construction, and cutaways and diagrams that illustrate definitions of engineering and construction processes, physical forces, and structural basics. This series is comprehensive, and the definitions and explanations of complex scientific and engineering topics are suitable for middle school readers. It will facilitate students’ understanding of why each of these structures is unique and its importance in fulfilling the needs and goals of the society that built it. VERDICT A good choice for tweens interested in a mix of history, engineering, and geography.

Croy, Anita. How Did Rome Rise and Fall? ISBN 9781502628060.

––––. What Became of the Aztec Cities? ISBN 9781502628008.

––––. What Was Stonehenge For? ISBN 9781502627940.

––––. Who Built Machu Picchu? ISBN 9781502627964.

Samuels, Charlie. What Happened to Pompeii? ISBN 9781502628022.

––––. What Were the Pyramids? ISBN 9781502627988.

ea vol: 48p. (Mysteries in History: Solving the Mysteries of the Past). further reading. glossary. illus. index. maps. photos. websites. Cavendish Square. Aug. 2017. lib. ed. $31.36.

Gr 5-8 –A general history series that is supplemented with some discussion of the work of archaeologists and scientists. Each title contains adequate background information and good images, including high-quality photos of locations and artifacts, maps, and drawings, though their content differs little from that found in the vast number of existing offerings on the ancient world. However, Stonehenge and Pompeii do offer new perspectives, connecting each to other societies within their geographical areas: Neolithic monument builders in England and the town of Herculaneum near Pompeii, ­respectively. It is that focus that makes those two books stand out both within this set and among similar titles. VERDICT Pompeii and Stonehenge are primary purchases; the ­remaining titles are additional report choices.

Dell, Pamela. The Soviet Night Witches: Brave Women Bomber Pilots of World War II. ISBN 9781515779384; ISBN 9781515779452.

––––. The Women Behind Rosie the Riveter: Working for the U.S. War Effort. ISBN 9781515779353; ISBN 9781515779438.

Simons, Lisa M. Bolt. The U.S. WASP: Trailblazing Women Pilots of World War II. ISBN 9781515779377; ISBN 9781515779445.

––––. Women in Combat: Bringing the Fight to the Front Lines. ISBN 9781515779346; ISBN 9781515779421.

ea vol: 32p. (Women and War). chron. further reading. glossary. index. maps. photos. websites. Capstone. Aug. 2017. lib. ed. $27.99. pap. $8.19.

Gr 4-7 –Clear prose and coherent and thoughtful story lines written from a feminist perspective describe women’s contribution to war efforts and explain how military service became one of the foundations of the modern women’s movement. Women in Combat is a general history of U.S. women at war from the Revolution to the present; the remaining titles are focused on the Second World War. All describe how women sought to be part of war efforts; the dangers, discrimination, and lack of recognition that service pioneers faced; and their brave and resolute determination to overcome all obstacles they encountered. Well-chosen period photos of the women who served are a plus, as are the sidebars and maps. These topics are often overlooked for this audience, especially those of Soviet Night Witches. VERDICT A first purchase for middle school libraries.

George, Enzo. Newgrange Burial Chamber. ISBN 9781538206539; ISBN 9781538206591.

––––. The Pyramids of Giza. ISBN 9781538206546; ISBN 9781538206607.

––––. The Roman Catacombs. ISBN 9781538206553; ISBN 9781538206614.

––––. Russia’s City of the Dead. ISBN 9781538206560; ISBN 9781538206621.

––––. The Tomb of China’s First Emperor. ISBN 9781538206577; ISBN 9781538206638.

––––. Westminster Abbey. ISBN 9781538206584; ISBN 9781538206645.

ea vol: 48p. (Crypts, Tombs, and Secret Rooms). chron. further reading. glossary. illus. index. photos. websites. Gareth Stevens. Aug. 2017. lib. ed. $31.95. pap. $14.05.

Gr 4-7 –Ancient and more recent mass burials are the subject of this set. Overall the books are well crafted, featuring solid background information and large color photos of the interiors and exteriors of sites and artifacts as well as cutaway illustrations. Each title describes how each structure was built and used, its current status, and the solved and remaining mysteries associated with it. The series’ only major weakness is the almost total absence of maps. This set, with its fresh content and interesting perspective, will assist readers in their understanding of the continuing importance of funerary practices and some of the many ways societies have honored and protected their dead across time. ­VERDICT A fascinating addition to nonfiction collections serving tweens.

Heing, Bridey. Phoenician Trade Routes. ISBN 9781502628619.

Lang, Matt. Trans-Saharan Trade Routes. ISBN 9781502628596.

Miller, Caitlyn & Bridey Heing. Trade Routes to India. ISBN 9781502626943.

Miller, Caitlyn & Rachel Keranen. The Northwest Passage. ISBN 9781502626950.

Miller, Caitlyn & John Micklos Jr. Mediterranean Trade Routes. ISBN 9781502626936.

Miller, Caitlyn & Derek L. Miller. The Silk Road. ISBN 9781502626912.

Miller, Caitlyn & Tatiana Ryckman. The Panama Canal. ISBN 9781502626929.

Miller, Caitlyn & Pamela Toler. Transatlantic Slave Networks. ISBN 9781502626967.

ea vol: 96p. (Routes of Cross-Cultural Exchange). bibliog. further reading. glossary. index. maps. photos. websites. Cavendish Square. Aug. 2017. lib. ed. $42.79.

Gr 9 Up –This series explains the many ways that trade routes were primary conduits of culture and trade. Some variations in topics exist, but all the books describe the origins, evolution, and eventual decline or contemporary status of each path and the major players, including people, groups, and nations involved. The authors discuss who and what was transported and the positive and negative impacts, including deadly outbreaks of disease, military conquest, and human exploitation. Transatlantic Slave Networks tends to handle its material clumsily, using slaves rather than enslaved people and providing little geographic information in relation to Africa other than “Africa” or the “coast of Africa.” Furthermore, in a discussion about the legacies of chattel slavery, the author states,“No one argues over who the biggest losers were.” The images throughout the series are decidedly average, and the maps are generally inadequate in quantity and quality. VERDICT Avoid Transatlantic Slave Networks, and select others as needed.

Ziff, John. Arts and Literature of Cuba. ISBN 9781422238097.

––––. Cuba: Facts and Figures. ISBN 9781422238103.

––––. Cuba Under the Castros. ISBN 9781422238110.

––––. Cuban Music, Dance, and Celebrations. ISBN 9781422238127.

––––. The Culture and People of Cuba. ISBN 9781422238134.

––––. The Opening of Cuba, 2008–Present. ISBN 9781422238141.

ea vol: 80p. (Exploring Cuba). further reading. glossary. illus. index. maps. photos. websites. Mason Crest. Aug. 2017. lib. ed. $33.27.

Gr 7 Up –A comprehensive look at Cuba’s complex and culturally rich history. This set paints a portrait of past and contemporary Cuba, one sympathetic to the Cuban people, who have endured Spanish colonial rule, slavery, corrupt dictatorships, and the Castro brothers. Books discuss how those factors influenced Cuban culture, especially music and dance. All of the titles include summaries of Cuban history, and there is plenty of background about Cuba, its relationships with its allies and enemies, and its gains and losses in the Castro era. Clear if uninspiring maps, photos, and artist renderings illustrate the books. Cuba and its relationship with the United States remains a highly polarized topic and this well-written set will provide students with an in-depth look at the culture, politics, and history of the island nation. ­VERDICT A good choice for reports.

Place features prominently in this season’s world history series. ReferencePoint’s “Cause & Effect” sets, “Ancient Civilizations” and “Modern Wars,” show the importance of causality in history and are top picks for high schools. All middle school libraries should purchase Capstone’s “Women and War” and Gareth Stevens’s “Crypts, Tombs, and Secret Rooms.” Bellwether’s outstanding “Abandoned Places” explores why people are so fascinated with the remains of the past and should be available to all upper ­elementary and early middle school readers.

Mary Mueller, Rolla Public Schools, MO

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