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A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters Paperback – November 27, 1990

87 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Noah's Ark, Gericault's The Raft of the Medusa and "an offbeat vision of the Hereafter" are some of the ingredients of this pyrotechnical work. "Admirers of Barnes are accustomed to thoroughly unorthodox approaches to the novel, and his latest, while brilliantly entertaining, certainly strains the limits of the genre," PW remarked.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

A revisionist view of Noah's Ark, told by the stowaway woodworm. A chilling account of terrorists hijacking a cruise ship. A court case in 16th-century France in which the woodworm stand accused. A desperate woman's attempt to escape radioactive fallout on a raft. An acute analysis of Gericault's "Scene of Shipwreck." The search of a 19th-century Englishwoman and of a contemporary American astronaut for Noah's Ark. An actor's increasingly desperate letters to his silent lover. A thoughtful meditation on the novelist's responsibility regarding love. These and other stories make up Barnes's witty and sometimes acerbic retelling of the history of the world. The stories are connected, if only tangentially, which is precisely Barnes's point: historians may tell us that "there was a pattern," but history is "just voices echoing in the dark; . . . strange links, impertinent connections." Fascinating reading from the author of Flaubert's Parrot , but not for those wanting conventional plot.
- Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (November 27, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679731377
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679731375
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #258,677 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Julian Barnes is the author of nine novels, including Metroland, Flaubert's Parrot, A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters, England, England and Arthur and George, and two collections of short stories, Cross Channel and The Lemon Table.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Matthew A. Goodin on July 6, 2000
Format: Paperback
"History is simply the propaganda of the victors."
"History repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second
time as farce." Barnes indirectly explores these and other maxims
about history in this wonderful "novel."
in quotes because this book is not truly a novel in the way some
readers might expect, it is perhaps better characterized as a
collection of prose pieces with interlocking themes and motifs,
similar in a way to John Barth's "Lost in the
Barnes writes: "We make up a story to cover the
facts we don't know or can't accept, we keep a few true facts and spin
a new story round them. Our panic and our pain are only eased by
soothing fabulation; we call it history." Barnes clearly
understands that history, or what we perceive as history, is really
only an interpretation, frought with as much difficulties and
inaccuracies as the interpretion of any text. To illustrate and
explore this idea, Barnes uses an oblique approach: 10 1/2 chapters of
loosely interconnecting stories running from "Genesis" to
Barnes' "Genesis" is the first
chapter, and is basically a comic, revisionist telling of Noah and his
Ark narrated by a woodworm stowed away on the Ark. In Barnes' world,
Noah is a drunken lout who lost and/or ate some of the animals he was
supposed to save (the griffon, the unicorn, etc.). Barnes'
"Revelations" chapter is about a dream of Heaven where all
wishes are fulfilled, and Hell is simply "necessary
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By taking a rest HALL OF FAME on December 5, 2000
Format: Paperback
A stowaway that narrates the trip of Noah's Ark, simple animals tried for blasphemy in the 16th Century, an incredible stream of thought on language's three very famous words, all this, and more from an extremely original and perspective bending Author. This book is easily one of the more original works I have read in quite some time.
These collections of stories, and in one case a story within another, are all wonderful when confined within their own borders. They certainly were intended to be elements of a much more transcendent work, and when the reader finishes the parts, and becomes a ruminator of the whole, the effect is brilliant. Mr. Julian Barnes is a new Author for me, fortunately this book is not his debut so much remains to be read, and on his side, I hope, to be written.
A short time ago I read "Ghostwritten", a book that was divided into 9 tales that all had an element of commonality. I thought it was very well done. This work takes the joining of elements that could at times be superficially viewed as disparate, but are all of a singular piece when the entire book is read. The bridges that bring the reader and the elements of the books through the tale can seemingly be obvious. They are also incredibly well disguised. A cursory read through what may seem to be just a satirical romp will no doubt please, but attention paid with more vigor will yield a much more richly crafted work. And the added gift is that even when you think you have taken what the Author has offered, this work lingers, and the more and longer it is thought of, the better it continues to grow. This is a work that can easily be started again immediately after the final page is read.
Some would argue that for a work to be excellent it must be entirely original.
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58 of 67 people found the following review helpful By tina campanella on June 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
I studied this book as an A level text, and at first I hated it - I found it to be a confusing disjointed book about woodworm and arks with an extremely unsatisfactory ending :"I dreamt I woke up - it's the oldest dream of all and I've just had it." But upon reading it a second time out of necessity, I realised just what a gem of a book it was. Julian Barnes is an extremely intelligent and sensitive writer, with a brilliant sense of humour. All the books are linked, with themes and motifs, which are cleverly hidden throughout the book. The book is a satire of traditional history books, under a comically incongrous title - it is impossible to say every part of the world's history in 10 1/2 chapters! He deals with weighty subjects - love, survival, history, and tries to teach us our previous misdemeaners in a manner such as to prevent us from doing them time and time again.(ref. the holocaust.) I loved this book, and I read it time and time again. With every chapter comes a new idea, a new slant on an old idea and I hope others will see what I saw in it. Persevere in reading this book right to the end and it will reward you.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By J. Renye on February 9, 2000
Format: Paperback
When thinking about this story by Julian Barnes, I have found the issue of whether or not these ten and a half chapters constitute a novel impossible to avoid. My understanding of the narrative tool known as the novel is that it provides a writer with space--space to show life as it is, as it was, as it is hoped to be, and as it is imagined. The novel also presents the writer with a unique opportunity to show a situation from a number of perspectives. In The History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters, Barnes has decided to present the human condition in relation to history as revolving around the repitition of certain ideas and images: woodworm, the raft of the Medusa and its representation by Gericault, Noah and his Ark, bitumen, love, and the cyclical nature of history are just some of these recurrences.
If this novel were about a topic other than history--or rather dominated by a topic other than history--I would paste upon it the label of ten and a half short stories (sometimes essays) loosely connected at times by a similar phrase (such as "the clean and the unclean"), or creatures (such as woodworm). But this is a story about the history of the world and its relationship to humanity. The topic dictates the form.
The half chapter, Parenthesis--thought I don't know why it is placed where it is between Chapters 8 and 9--explains the rhyme and reason of Barnes's endeavor. Parenthesis provides some of the most powerful insights and moments in the entire work, while giving (after eight chapters of doubt) an explanation for the choice of form: "History isn't what happened. History is just what historians tell us.
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