Level 300 - 20th Century World History

Great for ages 15-18

Overview of the History

Today's world was shaped – in national boundaries, in economic policy, in technological advances – by the 20th Century. Sonlight 300 takes a year to look at this transformative century.

In earlier programs, we don't study this century in depth. These years brought incredible suffering. There are the familiar tragedies: trench warfare in WWI, the Holocaust, the atom bomb. And there are the less-familiar tragedies: genocides in Europe, Asia and Africa; mass starvation in China and the USSR; drug wars, child labor, and human trafficking.

So it isn't as enjoyable to study this century. But it is important. And in 300, I tried to balance the horrors that occurred, with the hope of the Gospel. We include four missionary biographies (compared to the more typical one or two), because in the midst of darkness, it's good to remember that God is still at work.

Yes, the Nazi concentration camps were horrible. But God was at work even there, caring for his children in miraculous ways.

The history spine is a book that wouldn't have been possible in 1900. The Visual History of the Modern World is an affordable book, filled with photos. In an age of phones and tablets that take photos, it's easy to forget that color photography was not the dominant form until the 1970s (if Wikipedia can be trusted). That's likely around the time you were born, not that long ago.

So the book itself is a marvel, even apart from the history included, which takes you year-by-year from 1900 through the 2000s. Timelines, concise articles, and photos chronicle the individuals and events that made history.

In 1900, it took days to travel from Europe to America. In 2000, it took hours. In 1900, only a wealthy few owned a car. In 2000, cars were common, if not quite universal. In 1900, even the radio had barely been invented and broadcasts were still several years away. By 2000, the radio had come and gone as primary entertainment, replaced by the television at first, and then an increasing array of electronics: cable, video games, computers, and the internet. In 1900, the airplane had not yet been invented. By 2000, men had gone to the moon, and satellites in orbit allowed many advances in communication.

It was an astonishing century.

Sonlight's 300 History includes 18 additional books. Among them are several biographies: suffragette Lizzie Stanton; scientist Albert Einstein; and statesman Winston Churchill.

There are two classic works of fiction: All Quiet on the Western Front, set in the trenches of World War I; and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, set in a Stalin prison camp in Siberia.

One book covers the establishment of Israel after World War II. One covers the unsettled experience of being a refugee.

One is about the 6000-mile trek that Mao made before he came to power. Imagine: the equivalent of fleeing across the United States and back. To write this book, the author traveled to China and interviewed survivors, 50 years later. The author's trip was 30 years ago now. An eyewitness account would no longer be possible. What a gift to be given.

This is a powerful course. I like what one customer said:

Why is 300 so important and different? Because it covers in-depth a century of human atrocities, genocide, horrible wars, achievements, accomplishments – a century that was supposed to be civilized. The other programs do not even come close to the in-depth study of the 20th Century. At all. And yes – there are dark and depressing books, books that make you sad and furious at the same time, and yet books that leave you with hope for the human race. I can't imagine skipping Sonlight 300. It was my daughter's absolute, 100% favorite program because she learned SO much about the truth of the century, and got a glimpse of where we're headed or could be headed.

Estimated daily time for 20th Century World History: Student: 1 hr.

Our high school programs are separated by subject to allow customers maximum flexibility. Feel free to buy either the History or the Literature, or both, or to mix-and-match with the History and Literature of other Sonlight programs.

Overview of the Literature

My daughter once described 300 Literature as "an embarrassment of riches." She helped revise it some years back, and came away astonished by the power and beauty in this program. With 300, I'm challenged, I'm grieved, I'm amused, I'm enthralled – all by turns. That happens in the other Sonlight programs, too, but I think the emotion is more, and deeper, here.

The books follow a rough chronological progression. The school year begins with The Great Brain, a children's book set in the late 1800s. One of the chapters describes how the family got a flush toilet, the first in the town. The big struggle in this book is with an older brother who is selfish and greedy. By the end of the book, he reforms.

Contrast that with one of the last books assigned, Alas, Babylon. Although it was written in 1959, when the threat of nuclear annihilation loomed large, it reads like a modern dystopian survival thriller. Where does one go for water, when all the surrounding communities have been destroyed?

In less than 100 years, the world went from the wonder of flush toilets to the horror of nuclear annihilation.

So that's the big-picture progression.

Sonlight's 300 Lit has a range of genres: dystopian, sci fi, the Great American Novel (Gatsby), novella, lyric poetry, travel narrative (or, maybe, anthropology, or adventure), absurdism, murder mystery, thriller, memoir, Shakespearean comedy (okay, that isn't 20th Century, but it connects with another book, and … it's Shakespeare!), historical fiction, and novel. Because "literary" works can be dark or difficult, the schedule tries to break up the more intense works with enjoyable, thoughtful books.

Among the more challenging works, 300 includes Brave New World, the remarkably prescient book that foresaw a culture dedicated to entertainment and pleasure.

The Great Gatsby is a compulsively readable story set in the Roaring Twenties. (One teacher challenged her students to find a single sentence they could improve on in the book, and none could. Whatever you think of the lifestyle of characters, the prose itself is stunning.)

Heart of Darkness, set in the Belgian Congo, has one of the most robust vocabularies I've ever read, and a few famous lines: "the fascination of the abomination" and, for the dissolute man facing death: "The horror! The horror!" This is an incredible book even without knowing that this is an eyewitness account of actual atrocities that took place during the reign of King Leopold.

Kafka's Metamorphosis, about a man who wakes to find himself transformed into a giant cockroach, portrays the isolation many people felt in the modern age.

Among the less-challenging works, 300 includes one of my favorite Agatha Christie novels. The world's best-selling author, she sold over a billion copies of her mysteries, known for their surprise endings. (By contrast, the Harry Potter series has sold about 450 million.) Meet the Belgium detective Hercule Poirot as he finds out whodunit.

Kon-Tiki is the story of a man who wondered if perhaps the Polynesian Islands were settled by people sailing west from South America, rather than east from Asia. He constructed a balsa raft, recruited some men to go with him, and set afloat. This is the story of their astonishing journey.

One of the most beautiful books ever written, Cry, the Beloved Country, takes place in South Africa. A minister goes to seek his son, who has fallen into trouble in the city. Somehow the language holds the rhythms of Africa, and the words are unimaginably beautiful. In one of my favorite scenes, the grieving minister has gone to seek consolation, and sits as a preacher reads Scripture to him and the congregation: "It was not only a voice of gold, but it was the voice of a man whose heart was golden, reading from a book of golden words. And the people were silent, and Kumalo was silent, for when are three such things found in one place together?"

Whether or not your children have a voice of gold, may they have hearts of gold, and may they love the Book of golden words.

Fully integrated with the Literature, this year's Language Arts builds on past years and continues to develop literary analysis, creative writing, research, and essay skills, with weekly writing assignments in a range of lengths and topics.

Estimated daily time for 20th Century World Literature: Student: 1 hr.

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