The imagination is the subject of Felipe Fernández-Armesto’s latest grand sweep of a book. Not a historian to dwell on individual kings, queens or battles, he has identified the creation of ideas as the driver of history, the imagination as their source and the pool of evidence the past 800,000 years. Even this, he admits, narrows the study because it leaves out non-human thinkers — we know that animals dream. But to compensate, he allows his dog Beau a couple of walk-on appearances.
It’s a compelling thesis, and one that the author takes on with gusto: behind the whole monumental enterprise of human endeavor lies ‘the power of seeing what is not there’. We imagine things, then we strive to create them in the real world:
‘A human can hear a note and compose a symphony, survey a landscape and envision a city, endure frustration and conceive perfection, look at his chains and fancy himself free.’