What on Earth? History Timelines Reviewed!

Reading Time: 5 minutes


This week’s word is “Timeline.”

For our final Word Wednesday video of the year, I have a great boxed set of “books” from UK publisher “What on Earth?“. The What on Earth? wallbooks have been popular in our house for a number of years, but they have now been fully updated and repackaged. I’ve been lucky enough to take a look at the latest versions.

What on Earth? sent me their bumper “The Wallbook Timeline Collection,” a slipcase of three of their most popular titles. All three are available separately too.

The volumes available in this slipcased edition are The Big History Wallbook, The Science Wallbook, and The Nature Wallbook.  All three share the same basic format. Starting at the beginning of time, (or 4.5 billion years ago, in the case of The Nature Wallbook) each book folds out over, 8 or so pages to make a two meter (6′ 6″) continuous timeline. These new updated versions go right up to 2017. The books are 36cm (15″) tall.  As suggested by the name, the timelines are detachable and can be placed on a wall.

In addition to the wallchart, each wallbook has a newspaper style section that gives more information about major events pertaining to the subject matter. These are not detachable and will remain in the hardcover after you have removed the wallchart. They’re written in a jokey fashion, with tabloid-style headlines. e.g. “Greek Scientist Takes Giant Leap!” Despite their tongue in cheek presentation, there’s lots of great information in these tabloid sections (unlike most tabloids). They reminded me of the Horrible Histories; engaging children in learning without them noticing that’s what’s happening.

Fine as the newspaper sections are, it’s how good the wallcharts are that is going to count.

What on Earth? History Timelines
The science timeline

How good are those wall charts?

In short: Very!

It’s a measure of the attention to detail of the What on Earth? wallcharts, that the publisher has included a magnifier with each one. What on Earth? recognize that they’ve crammed so much detail into their 6ft of historical wonder, that not everybody will be able to easily read it. The magnifiers fit neatly in a little slip wallet at the front of each book. I have to say I found no difficulties reading the text, so most people will be OK, but it’s great that What on Earth? have stopped to consider those who may struggle to read small writing.

Each chart begins at the inception of its subject. For Nature, this is 4.5 billion years, the birth of the first living organisms. For Science and History, it’s the Big Bang. The charts sweep from left to right with various tracks coming in, so History, for example, after the formation of the planet and the evolution of life on Land, Air and Sea, has new tracks such as Europe, Africa, and Australasia. Tracks also die out, such as the Stone Age.

The What on Earth? timelines are filled with great pictures and succinct text that describes important events and concepts in history. They are extremely informative, but by necessity, not exhaustive. They’re a great jumping off point for further investigation. Possibly their best feature, as an adult looking at them, is the context they provide. All too often, history is taught in silos. A series of facts and bits information internal to say, The French Revolution, but rarely are we taught what was going on elsewhere at the same time. This is particularly true for the history of science. It’s great to have context of what was going on across the whole scientific world, at any given time.

The Big History Timeline

The Big History Timeline Wallbook

Where it all begins. Starting with the big bang and a “Space” line, the chart then adds an Earth timeline, then sky, sea, and land, before moving into the Stone Age. After that, the timelines are divided by continent and in some cases further divided by country. Across the bottom (x-axis) there is a measure of years with the scale becoming narrower as the chart progresses (e.g. gradations of 5 years in the 20th century but 1 billion years on the first leaf). Across the top of the timeline, there is another scale, this one representing the existence of the Solar System as a 24hr clock.

Highlights include: The formation of the Solar System, the age of the dinosaurs, Alexander the Great, the building of Machu Pichu, Gandhi’s non-violent protest, and Neil Armstrong landing on the Moon.

The Nature Timeline Wallbook

This book starts at 4.5 billion years BCE and again, the x-axis measures the passage of time with a sliding scale. It charts the evolution of life, and across the top of the chart, the history of life in 24hrs. This puts into perspective the brevity of human existence. Sitting above all that is another line that charts the geological formation of Earth and the shifting of continental plates. There are also two tiny scales, one plotting the average global temperature relative to the present, the other listing the epoch of the time. e.g. Hadean, Jurassic, and Anthropocene. Again, the timelines are subdivided. This time, Air, Land, Soil, and Water.

Highlights include: The Great Oxygenation Event, Methane eruptions 260 million years ago, the rise and fall of the dinosaur, the Messinian Salinity Crisis and the domestication of animals.

The Science Timeline Wallbook

Probably my favorite of the three, this book is laid out a little differently. It has horizontal bands that are themed. These are, Sky and Space, Transport and Comms, Building and Invention, Earth and Land, Medicine and Biology, Physics and Chemisry, and Maths and Measurement. For the first half of the timeline, there is a rough timescale through the center. From 1780 this drops to the bottom like the other books. The Science Wallbook starts roughly 10,000 years BCE. The book charts a host of important scientific discoveries and places them in context with one another. It demonstrates the ingenuity of man in glorious pictorial detail.

Highlights include: Fired clay pots, Archimedes’ lever, Galen and Gladiators, Al-Kinidi demonstrating that light travels in a straight line, the invention of the astrolabe, William of Ockham, Galileo, Newton, Herschel’s spectral experiments, the invention of tarmacadam, Mendelev and the periodic table (my all time favorite piece of science), the invention of the train and airplane, the first computers, the discovery of genetic fingerprinting, the large hadron collider and much, much more.

Why buy the What on Earth? History Timelines?

In Short: Because they’re awesome!

Whatever subject you wish to learn about these timelines are an extremely accessible way to do so. They’re filled with engaging text, great pictures, and a wealth of interesting facts and figures about the history of man and the planet. Perfect for inquisitive children and hanging in any education space, these timelines are well worth investigating. Now I just need a literature one, please…

To purchase the What on Earth? Timelines in the US, click here and in the UK, click here.

For my other Word Wednesday posts, click here.

Disclaimer: I was sent a copy of the Timeline collection for review. 

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