His canvas is language and history, in two facets: the history of language, and the effect of language on history. Early chapters cover prehistory; the grouping of languages into families; the invention of writing; the growth and influence of Greek and Latin; the development of the Romance languages (such as French, Occitan and Italian) from Latin after the end of the Roman Empire; the creation of English through cultural mixing and political changes; the reasons why the European national languages grew in importance in medieval and post-medieval times compared with Latin.
That quick summary shows that the earlier and larger part is not a short history of languages in general, but of European languages. It's true that accidents of history, such as colonisation and trade, have given these languages - in particular English - an importance well above their geographical or cultural weight (the reasons why are explored in a later chapter). But in this respect, Tore Janson's book is narrower in focus than John McWhorter's.
Two later chapters move into other areas. The first focuses on one way that new languages appear: through pidgins and creoles. The second looks at the cultural and political factors that cause them to vanish. The last two chapters show how it is that English has become so dominant, especially as a lingua franca, and what the language landscape might look like at various points in the future (though a writer has to be especially brave to feel able to say anything useful about a time two million years hence!).
Within its comparatively limited geographical scope, this is a useful overview of the development and transformation of languages through cultural and political upheavals over time.
This bibliography was compiled from responses on HEL-L, an electronic discussion group on the history of English. Most of the entries come from: Clinton Atchley
Amsler, Mark. "From Standard Latin to Standard English." Language Variation in North American English: Research and Teaching. Ed. Wayne A. Glowka and Donald M. Lance. New Yourk: MLA, 1993.
Cable, Thomas. "Rise of Written Standard English." The Emergence of National Languages*. Ed. Aldo Scaglione. Ravenna: Longo, 1984.
Christianson, C. Paul. "Chancery Standard and the Records of Old London Bridge." Tennnessee Studies in Literature 31 (1989): 82-112.
Crowley, Tony. Standard English and the Politics of Language. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1988.
Dobson, E.J. "Early Modern Standard English." Approaches to English Historical Linguistics: An Anthology*. Ed. Roger Lass. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969.
Dykema, Karl W. "How Fast Is Standard English Changing?" American Speech 31.2 (1956): 89-95.
Fisher, John H. "Chancery and the Emergence of Standard Written English in the Fifteenth Century." Speculum* 52.4 (1977): 870-99.
---. "Chancery Standard and Modern Written English." Journal of the Society of Archivists 6 (1979): 136-44.
---. *The Emergence of Standard English*. Lexington: Kentucky UP, 1996.
Fisher, John H., Malcolm Richardson, and Jane L. Fisher. *AN Anthology of Chancery English*. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 1984.
Gorlach, Manfred. *New Studies in the History of English*. Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1995.
---. *Studies in the History of the English Language*. Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1990.
Leonard, Sterling Andrus. *The Doctrine of Correctness in English Usage, 1700-1800*. New York: Russell and Russelll, 1962.
Lucas, Peter J. "Towards a Standard Written English? Continuity and Change in the Orthographic Usage of John Capgrave, O.S.A. (1393-1464)." English Historical Linguistics 1992. Ed. Francisco Fernandez, Miguel Furster, and Juan Jose Calvo. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 1994. (1-104.
Poussa, Patricia. "The Evolution of Early Standard English: The Creolization Hypothesis." *Studie Anglica Posnaniensia* 14 (1982): 69-85.
richardson, Malcolm. "Henry V, the English Chancery, and Chancery English." Speculum* 55 (1980): 726-50.
Sandved, Arthur O. "The Rise of Standard English." *Papers from the First Nordic Conference for English Studies*. Ed. Stig Johannson. Oslo: n.p., 1981. 398-404.