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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History Repeating
"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."
"Novel"
in quotes because this book is not truly a novel in the way some
readers...
Published on July 6, 2000 by Matthew A. Goodin

versus
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Maybe my brain has been ravaged by wood worm...
Imagine how Noah would have felt if after spending years building his ark in anticipation of the great rain that was to come, but instead got only two hours of a good soaking. I imagine he had kind of a disappointed "meh" feeling. That's how I felt after reading Barnes' A History of the World in 10-1/2 Chapters.

To be honest, I may have come into the book...
Published on February 4, 2010 by Book Knurd


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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History Repeating, July 6, 2000
By 
Matthew A. Goodin ""my too sense"" (San Francisco, CA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters (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."
"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
Funhouse."
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
"Revelations."
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
propaganda." Part of the delight in this book is the way Barnes
attacks and deconstructs stories from the Bible, pointing out the
fundamental (pun intended) error in relying on the Bible as an
historically accurate text.
In between these are chapters about
woodworms placed on trial for eating a bishop's throne; a hostage
crisis aboard a cruiseliner (a thinly veiled retelling of the Achille
Louro incident); a trek to Mount Ararat to locate the Ark's remains;
an analysis of the sinking of the Medusa and Gericault's painting
depicting the impending rescue of the survivors, and others.
References to Noah's Ark or ships' voyages figure in practically every
story, as Barnes "spins new stories" around "a few true
facts."
Many of the chapters explore the ways in which history
is recorded as subjective experience. For example, Barnes uses
historical records to illustrate that Gericault's painting likely left
out and changed certain historical details to heighten the emotional
and allegorical nature of the painting. These few pages are one of
the best fictional meditations on the connections between life and art
I have read anywhere.
The structure of the novel serves a specific
thematic purpose here. The various chapters are often narrated by
different characters, and Barnes also shifts back and forth between
first- and third-person narrative. This is done to draw the readers'
attention back to one of Barnes' central themes: history is narrative,
and like all narrative, it all depends on where you're standing. The
idea of reaching true understanding based on memory/narrative/history
is a theme Barnes has explored in many of his books, from
"Flaubert's Parrot", to "Talking it Over," but
never has he more perfectly molded form to function as he does
here.
It is also beatifully written, clever, and funny. Barnes
shifts effortlessy back and forth between extremely diverse authorial
voices, and while certain chapters are more enjoyable, there really
isn't a dud in the bunch. The chapters on the shipwreck in 1816 of the
Medusa, and Gericault's painting on that subject are fascinating and
engaging, and the chapter on the woodworm trial is hilarious.

Barnes explicitly addresses some of his themes in the half-chapter,
"Parenthesis" (more than two-thirds of the way through), yet
lets the reader connect the dots between the chapters, which, for me,
was half the fun of the book. This is a truly original, rewarding and
thought-provoking work, and one that is even more rewarding upon
rereading.
À˙
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Sardonic, Original, And Mischievous Mind On A Tear, December 5, 2000
This review is from: A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters (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. I think that would be nice, and it does happen occasionally. Much more frequently what is offered has all the originality of a clone. Taking the familiar apart, changing the perspective, adding stylistically original and provocative thought, is as original as one can get. Generally accepted ideas or truths are not necessarily either. The ability to step back and present stand alone pieces that are fresh, that then become a symbiotic whole is a remarkable talent, and Mr. Barnes is incredibly inventive.
Show this man a Rubik's Cube with all of its colored sides intact. Then scramble the object and present him with the multi-colored curiosity. Not only will he place all the colors back so that each side is uniform, he will have changed all the colors as well.
Read this man's work, it's a wonderful trip.
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54 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read it more than once to do it justice...., June 13, 2000
This review is from: A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters (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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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Novel, or just a Novel Idea?, February 9, 2000
By 
J. Renye (Pennsylvania, USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters (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. There was a pattern, a plan, a movement, expansion, the march of democracy; it is a tapestry, a flow of events, a complex narrative, connected, explicable....images that burn for a few centuries and then fade; stories, old stories that sometimes overlap; strange links, impertinent connections."(240). This is exactly what Barnes does in his work. He takes seemingly disparate tales and weaves and constructs them around a few central facts, fabulations, conjectures, and images. Parenthesis ends with an eloquent statment of how humanity can be more than mere slaves to history: "And so it is with love. We must believe in it, or we're lost. We may not obtain it, or we may obtain it and find it renders us unhappy; we must still believe in it. If we don't, then we merely surrender to the history of the world and to someone else's truth" (244). Love is the answer--the one thing that can empower humanity over history.
The half chapter, for all of its excellent insights into love, suffers from serious drag at a number of points; however, this drag is somewhat alleviated by the accomplishment of the section's language and thought. The story is an enlightening experience due to the high skill Barnes possesses in creating characters and their worlds, and then going about that difficult task of writing a unique story from different perspectives revolving around the same facts, fabulations, and truths.
Barnes's work is also a feast of technical proficiency. The young writer, who may very well be put off by Barnes's style of writing, will no doubt find a great benefit in reviewing the devices employed throughout the work. The chapters abound with the use of fist and third person, sometimes even occuring in the same chapter (The Survivor). And yes, even that rare beast known as point of view in the second person makes an appearance, thought it is brief (no Bright Lights, Big City here, just high competence in moving from one perspective to another).
Of course, a reader must deal with Barnes's caustic attitude towards religion, where he often downplays or ignores its importance to community and sprituality; however, there is validity in his arguments, especially when it comes to the crippling effects of fundamentalism and how charity often overshadows spirtuality.
This is a novel well worth the effort.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More than the sum of its parts..., October 31, 2001
By 
S. Glicken "steveboston" (sharon, massachusetts USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters (Paperback)
I respectfully and totally disagree with the misinformed reader who gave this book only 2 stars. I'd list it as one of the great books of the twentieth century for many reasons. It appears at first glance to be made up of disconnected stories, histories, journal entries, and fables. But what is so masterful in the writing style is the way that, with a little work from the reader, these disparate elements reorganize themselves into an organic whole. I find many qualities of Barnes' work "musical', perhaps none more so than his singular use of leitmotifs. Words, phrases and themes echo from one chapter to the next, linking ideas, characters and symbols to the very end of the book. What leitmotifs? Some examples: Noah, the Ark and the Flood; historiography; shipwrecks; pilgrimage; G-d as destroyer; the eventual and inevitable corruption/destruction of all art and history.
Barnes IS in love with his own prose and loves to play with the reader to prove his own erudition, but never entirely without a point. I have several favorites among the chapters, particularly the first and last. In both, the identity of the narrator is crucial to the overall structure of the book. Both address "the oldest story in the world." Both are mildly to wildly comic in degree and both address head-on why we go on, why we remain dedicated to the struggles of this life (and, perhaps, the next.) From proto-Biblical narrative, to art criticism, to pseudo-history, to parable we're led on to the secret of it all. I thought it was just a jim-dandy read.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Separating the clean from the unclean, November 16, 2000
This review is from: A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters (Paperback)
Barnes' brilliant History of the World offers little comfort to the reader even though it is bitingly satirical in tone. Barnes' ten and a half chapters are really a series of stories that reflect various places, peoples, and time periods. There is no chronology to these events: indeed, Barnes' look at history need not be chronological as history constantly repeats itself. Each story is connected by recurring themes: separating the clean from the unclean, the presence of woodworm, the importance of Noah's ark, and,in most cases, the maritime setting. Barnes shows the human race doing itself in on countless occasions. Humanity is a perplexing idea: human beings, demonstrates Barnes, have both the ability to love and the ability to annihilate each other. There is a richness in the interpretation of history (as demonstrated in the chapter "Shipwreck") but there is also danger. Man too often rewrites history, bodlerizes it, cleans it up. This may lend to the repetition of man's folly.
Religion and reverence are also placed on the table in "History." Barnes shows how religious belief often becomes a tool to separate oneself from the rest. The humorousness of Barnes' "History" is one of its most enduring features. Its ruthlessness separates itself from traditional history books. Its strong prose and unique style separate it from the common rut of fiction.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars and I don't even like fiction, May 5, 2005
By 
Wyote (a planet rich in iron and water) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters (Paperback)
I rarely enjoy fiction very much. For instance, last year I read "Life of Pi," which for some reason everyone seems to rave about, and I thought it was just ok. I thought "The Alchemist" was terrible, but many intelligent people endorse it. Now I'm reading "Lonesome Dove" and finding it slow going. But I'm not totally biased against the genre; I read Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" recently, and loved it. I can't get enough of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky or Orwell. But they're all dead, aren't they? So there's some background on my tastes, and an explanation for why, despite a strong recommendation from an intelligent friend of good taste, I didn't expect to like this book very much.

Sure enough, I thought the first chapter was moderately entertaining, but predictable. That changed as the book went on: Barnes is a very nice writer; the first chapter was probably the most difficult to write. Immediately the book gets more interesting. From the beginning of the second or third chapter, you realize that Barnes is playing with you. The simplicity is deceiving and you have the opportunity to think hard if you want to. The better chapters are sometimes even subtly shocking, yet they remain light and playful. On the other hand, the last chapter is very simple but I will probably never forget it. I may even try to write my own version of it.

The book is quite challenging, full of philosophy written into flesh. Barnes manages to tread a fine line between being sufficiently post-modern to please the chattering literature types, and being traditional enough to please more critical folks like me. I was pleased.

I don't want to give away anything, other reviewers will certainly do that if you are interested. But I will confidently recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading an intelligent story. Interestingly, as with "Life of Pi," not too far below the surface, this is a book about religion. But whereas "Life of Pi" is advertised as a book that will make you believe in God, I would advertise this as a book that will make you an atheist. Of course that's all just wind, but this is a very satisfying and clever book.

I want to especially recommend it to folks who, like me, sometimes find themselves defending the theory of evolution to its fundamentalist critics. It's very entertaining from this point of view.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Barnes' Innovative Novel Challenges Tradition, February 11, 2000
By 
Michael Mishak (Philadelphia, PA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters (Paperback)
Warning: Fundamentalist Christians who treasure their Bible, taking every word literally, pronouncing its absolute truth, and key to salvation should stay away from A History of the World in 10 ˝ Chapters! The Bible is Julian Barnes' playground. Did you ever wonder about the creation myths of Genesis, the story of Jonah and the whale, and the nature of truth in religion and in history? Well, it appears that author Julian Barnes has wondered about these things to a large extent, prompting and inspiring him to write A History of the World in 10 ˝ Chapters. The reader knows that Mr. Barnes is a naughty boy (but side-splittingly hysterical) when he paints Noah, savior and Patriarch of humanity, as an incompetent discriminating drunkard in the very first chapter (not to mention, he has some very creative uses for a unicorn). Nothing is sacred here. Barnes is indirectly addressing several deep and pressing issues of human existence through these uniquely different but beautifully interwoven ten chapters (the exquisitely crafted and philosophic underpinnings of the half chapter serve as an explanation and key to the connection of themes). The genius of the half chapter lies in its placement (after the eighth chapter). Barnes' writing style is entralling as well as hilarious, captivating us, driving us mad to find the connections. He drives home the point that history is not always clear cut when told from various subjective voices. An expert at reading between the lines, Barnes deconstructs the myths of the Old Testament, namely that of Jonah and Noah, transforming them into engrossing and hilarious alternate accounts of what "traditionally" transpired. This novel is unique in its structure, connecting each successive story (all different and dealing with a separate time in history) by some small fascinating detail. Barnes adopts several different points of view throughout the novel and connects various people's lives throughout history using motifs (often religious ones). In addition to its structure, Barnes' creativity and originality flourishes in this piece of work. Using a stowaway on Noah's Ark to "set the record straight" is ingenious. With a keen eye for detail (showcased in the chapter entitled "Shipwreck"), Barnes illustrates throughout the novel, humans obsession with the purity of race. He begins with Noah separating the clean from the unclean animals on the Ark and shows this trend throughout history. In one instance he details the plight of the Jews just before World War II, fleeing Nazi Germany in desperation only to be turned away by all countries. The humanity and dignity of the individuals is completely ignored by the Committees who negotiate the prices of their freedom as if the refugees were cattle. The novel takes an intelligent, satirical, and humorous approach to a completely subjective, materialistically cold, and remorseless account of history. He questions the "fabulated God-eyed version" of historical truth. Barnes challenges the molds of binary oppositions (clean/unclean, American/British, Indian/White, etc.) and challenges the reader to view history with a more scrutinizing eye. Whose version of the truth are we hearing? This is central to Barnes' philosophy of an objective truth. And in the end, as John and Paul said, "All You Need Is Love." Love is intricately connected with truth in that it allows for a clearer vision of reality, therefore allowing for a more objective view of history. As Barnes says, even though love may fail us, it teaches us to "stand up to history, to ignore its chin-out strut At times, Barnes becomes tangled in his own beautifully crafted web of language, making it cumbersome for the reader to continue (arm yourself with a dictionary). Otherwise, this is a witty, thought provoking, and insightful novel which demands a reading. ." This novel deserves 4 1/2 stars.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A witty glimpse at human history, August 2, 2001
By 
Guillermo Maynez (Mexico, Distrito Federal Mexico) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters (Paperback)
From the enormous and chaotic tapestry of human history, Barnes opens ten windows and sees what's there. Unifying and conducting the thread are several and unlikely subjects: woodworm, Noah's ark, survival, love, and Man's folly. The chapters are not arranged in any specifical order, chronological or any other. Each one is the snapshot of a particular, relevant or irrelevant moment in mankind's long, convoluted and often tragical history. But each tiny story is told with a great sense of humor. The humor of someone with affection but without delusions about us and our human nature.
Noah's Ark travel told by an unlikely passenger; the reaction of a person in front of a terroris attack; the panic of nuclear destruction; religious fanaticism taken to an extreme; etc, each brief moment tells us something about how we are.
Oh, and love. The half chapter is a marvelous dissertation on love as a permanent, ambivalent force in history. A masterpiece of monologue, it displays the wit and wisdom of this valuable author. I don't think it exaggerated to say that Barnes's work is a demonstration of literature's always renewable capabilities. His is a literature firmly rooted in the Western tradition, yet possessed with a fresh and humorous look at us humans. Highly recommendable.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great, varied and original, June 16, 2005
This review is from: A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters (Paperback)
This is my first review of a book... so bear with me... I've read a lot but never tried to compile my thoughts about them in any coherent way.

Julian Barnes has a very endearing writing style, and he knows how to use it. The _History of the World..._ is divided into a bunch of different sections, each being any combination of heartwarming, super-analytical, satirical, humourus and so on. He starts of with probably the most accesible and most likely to draw the reader in stories, a tale of Noah's Ark from a very different and odd perspective: that of woodworms.

After that the book takes on a much more abstract route, as he analyzes religion, a trial of woodworms(written in a somewhat hard to understand at first, but oddly comical formal style), a chilling tale of terrorists boarding a boat, a very in depth analysis of a 19th century painting and a huge variety of other topics. Each one is carried along by his magnificient writing style(which switches from story to story, but for each one he could be writing about the most boring of topics and I would still find it entertaining to read).

This is definitely a great book by an intriguing writer who I will try to read some more stuff of his.
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A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters
A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters by Julian Barnes (Paperback - November 27, 1990)
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