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A Little History of the World Paperback – October 7, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This is an unusual work for Yale: a children's history originally published 70 years ago. But it is a work one can quickly come to love. Gombrich, later known as an art historian, wrote this primer in 1935, when he was a young man in Vienna (it was soon banned by the Nazis as too "pacifist"). Rewritten (and updated) in English mainly by Gombrich himself (who died in 2001, age 92, while working on it), the book is still aimed at children, as the language makes clear: "Then, slowly the clouds parted to reveal the starry night of the Middle Ages." But while he addresses his readers directly at times, Gombrich never talks down to them. Using vivid imagery, storytelling and sly humor, he brings history to life in a way that adults as well as children can appreciate.The book displays a breadth of knowledge, as Gombrich begins with prehistoric man and ends with the close of WWII. In the final, newly added chapter, Gombrich's tone sadly darkens as he relates the rise of Hitler and his own escape from the Holocaust—children, he writes, "must learn from history how easy it is for human beings to be transformed into inhuman beings"—and ends on a note of cautious optimism about humanity's future. (Oct. 13)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

This is the first English translation of a book written in 1935 in German and translated into 18 languages. Thirty years later, a second German edition was published with a new final chapter. In 40 brief chapters, Gombrich relates the history of humankind from the Stone Age through World War II. In between are historic accounts of such topics as cave people and their inventions (including speech), ancient life along the Nile and in Mesopotamia and Greece, the growth of religion, the Dark Ages, the age of chivalry, the New World, and the Thirty Years' War. Much of this history is told through concise sketches of such figures as Confucius, Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Jesus Christ, Charlemagne, Leonardo da Vinci, Napoleon, and Columbus. Gombrich was asked to write a history geared to younger readers, so the book is filled with innumerable dates and facts, yet it is one to be read by adults. With 41 black-and-white woodcut illustrations and nine maps, it is a timeless and engaging narrative of the human race. George Cohen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (October 7, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030014332X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300143324
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (245 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #12,455 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sir Ernst Hans Josef Gombrich, OM, CBE (30 March 1909 - 3 November 2001) was an Austrian-born art historian who spent most of his working life in the United Kingdom. He is the author of many works of art criticism and art history. (Photograph: Pino Guidolotti)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

201 of 204 people found the following review helpful By Steven Chapra on October 17, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Most people know Gombrich through his magnificent "The Story of Art," which is simply the best overview of art ever written. Although "A Little History of the World" is on a much smaller scale, it is just as beautifully crafted. He does a wonderful job of providing a quick and insightful overview of (primarily) Western history. In particular, he transforms history into a compelling story that pulls you along from chapter to chapter. I can think of no better gift to give a young person in this day of sound bites and history-lite. And even though it was written for young people, it provides us older folks with a healthy and enjoyable refresher on where we and our society have come from. I've read several comprehensive world histories (in particular J.M. Roberts classic History of the World) and Gombrich's little book serves as a wonderful complement to such larger and more comprehensive works.
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67 of 70 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Liptak on January 14, 2009
Format: Paperback
In history, context is vital. Events seldom make sense when presented individually, and often, the only way to fully understand, comprehend and appreciate any given event in history is to know the chain of events that led to it. Learning about the Second World War is difficult without at least a basic knowledge of the First World War and how that was influenced by the Industrial revolution. Context is vital.

Over the weekend, I picked up a book that I've long wanted to read, shown to me by a friend several years ago when it was first translated into English: A Little History of the World. First written and published in 1936 (written in six weeks - SIX), this book covers a staggering amount of history, starting from the very beginnings of human history and culture, from the prehistoric eras, and running up through to the dropping of the atomic bombs in 1945. Needless to say, in 284 pages, this is not a book rife with specific details, names and dates. Rather, this is an extremely broad look at how human history progressed.

While there are plenty of details lacking, this book is not intended as a grand work of history. It's written simply, for a younger audience, to tell the tale of our existence - it helps to provide a broad context for our history to anyone who is mildly interested in the subject, and at this, the book succeeds wonderfully. As a student of history, I can appreciate the task at hand, and having read through the book in a day, I was astounded at just how much information is here. Almost every major era of human history is covered, and linked to the next - reading over the pages, we move from the Egyptian dynasties to ancient Babylon, to Greece, to Rome, to the Middle Ages and so on, up through to the present day.
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100 of 108 people found the following review helpful By Augusta37 on November 3, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There isn't much I can add much to the other reviews, but I just wanted to say that A Little History of the World is the best overview of world history for children that I've ran across. I highly recommend it to all the homeschoolers out there, and especially those who have children with attention disorders. My daughter does and this book completely held her attention and even had her asking questions. I can't praise this book highly enough.
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37 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Gregory J. Casteel on July 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I read a lot of books. Some would say that I read too many. Over the years, I've read some really great stuff. But this is one of the few books that I truly fell in love with. As I was reading it, I found myself saying, "I love this book!" over and over again. It's a quick read, divided into short chapters that can be read in a matter of minutes -- so even someone with a short attention span can read a chapter in a single sitting. And it is written in such an easy-to-read style that it can be understood and enjoyed by readers of any age. It was written with young readers in mind; but it is so wonderfully written that adults will love it just as much as kids will. The writing style is beautiful. I wish I could write that well. Everything is made so clear and easy to understand that it's a delight to read. It's hard to believe that this book was originally written in German and translated into English. I don't know who deserves the higher praise, E.H. Gombrich, who wrote the original German text, or Caroline Mustill, who translated it into perfect English prose. But what impresses me even more than the writing style is the content. This is simply the best history book that I've ever read. It provides an overview of all of world history from prehistoric times to the 20th century (it was originally published in 1936, and covered events up to the aftermath of World War I; but this new edition contains a final chapter that gives a brief overview of the events from World War I to roughly the end of the Cold War). And it does a masterful job of capturing the "big picture" of world history without getting bogged down in the sort of details that no one but historians really care about (as many history texts do).Read more ›
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56 of 61 people found the following review helpful By Cyrus on October 29, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
this relates history as if an older relative were sitting down and telling a child a story. full of mysteries, adventures and surprises...beautifully written...
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By AYABANS on January 31, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I originally got this book for my young niece, but once I started reading, it was hard to tear myself away.

In contrast to a typical "dry" history book with facts and dates, this book's style was extremely engaging. Gombrich did not shy away from using the first person and second person, and that made the style feel very interactive. For example, the section on Alexander the Great included, "His commands could now be said to reach all the way from the Nile to Samarkand. This would probably have been enough for you or me, but Alexander was far from satisfied." More importantly, Gombrich liberally inserts his own unique interpretations of the key takeaways, which add to the charm and coherence of the book. I loved that the book interprets rather than just relates. For example, he concluded his Bronze Age section with, "They were people just like us. Often unkind to one another. Often cruel and deceitful. Sadly, so are we. But even then a mother might sacrifice her life for her child and friends might die for each other. No more and no less than often than people do today." This also illustrates the author's ability to relate ancient events and people to modern people and current practices.

In fact, what amazed me about the style is that it managed to be conversational and dynamic but the author was still able to seamlessly integrate profound observations and sweeping statements. One of my favorite sentences was the description of the Spartans and the Athenians: "Knowing how to die like that isn't easy. But knowing how to live is, perhaps, even harder." Nonetheless, the grand generalizations were balanced by carefully selected details which made the history come to life.
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