The book of the year has long been a favoured genre in popular history, and is a commonplace today. While a book of hours endlessly recycles, the point of the book of the year is change, the more the better. There is an implied contest between years — you say 1917 is the most important; I trump you with 1940, or 1968 or 1979…. It is at once a rather silly genre, potentially nothing more than a dreary compendium of novelties, and one with distinct possibilities, as illustrated by both these books taking on 1956, one globally, one for Britain.
Simon Hall’s approach is to write the story of a year in global history, by moving through the Americas, Africa and Europe, taking up the story of particular events as they happen at the rate of over one a month.