A Little History of the World

I mentioned that we’d been reading A Little History of the World the other day and Kat commented that she’d love to know what I thought of it.

So far, we love this book!  Having started out with Story of the World, the kids and I all much prefer the charming conversational tone of this fun little volume.

We also adore the history of it — written in a matter of weeks nearly a hundred years ago by a German art student, and then updated recently by the author in his old age, when it was still highly in demand after all of these years.

I think that SOTW attempted in many ways to copy this book, but that series failed for us where this one shines.

That one is full of so many names and dates that we could never remember past the paragraph when they were mentioned.  This one limits the amount of details and focuses on the big picture, plus cheerfully reminds us of the characters and events we need to remember later.

That one drones on and we had to keep pushing ourselves to read more.  This one makes us laugh and makes us love the author, and the kids ask for one more chapter.

So far, religion seems to be treated very differently in this book compared to SOTW as well.  I’m curious to see how it plays out as we go along, since I know the spread of various religions is supposed to be a big theme in the book.

From Publisher’s Weekly:

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.

We are on about chapter 6 or 7 and have MANY chapters to go, but so far the book not only teaches us but makes us smile.

I have heard that parts about America are completely inaccurate and I’ve told the kids as much.  We are anxiously awaiting our country’s mention so we can see how we’re portrayed.  The kids understand that all history is a reflection of who gets to tell the stories, and that it should all be taken in context with other sources.  We’re also planning on researching the areas that are supposedly inaccurate to see how far off he was, too.

I also understand that SOTW is much longer and has multiple volumes to cover all the history out there, so obviously this one is not going to teach as much.  But just in terms of what the title says… we love it.

It is also available as an audio CD, on Kindle and as a new illustrated edition, which are all tempting me as well (edited to update that now they have a whole series of little history books for United States, literature, economics, religion, science and more).  I’ve heard of a lot of families that use the audio version in the car and enjoy it, and we are always on the road….

In any case, we’re very happy with it so far.

I’ll update as we go.  Considering it’s so inexpensive, it was definitely worth getting for our gang.


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7 thoughts on “A Little History of the World

  1. The parts–ok, one paragraph in particular–about America has an inaccuracy, yes, but this book is mainly about European history. I read reviews that complained about “total inaccuracy” about American history, and was expecting a lot more than what was there. My own read is that the reviewer was disturbed by the LACK of American history in the book. You all aren’t used to being treated as a side kick to the main historical show, but in this book that is entirely the focus. It is NOT about American history, nor is all the European (and other regions of the world) stuff merely a preamble to “how America came to be as it is today”. That said, I found it a very enjoyable read, and FAR superior to SOTW.
    .-= Risa´s last blog ..Flushed! A Musical by Evergreen Theatre =-.


    • Risa, the author revised it 5-10 years ago, before his death. The book has remained in print and I suspect that the people who complain about huge inaccuracies had one of the older editions. Apparently he corrected a lot of inaccuracies and was still working on it at his death. I’ve also read that we’re “barely mentioned” but I’m fine with that. It was originally written for German schoolchildren, after all.

      Glad to hear others liked it too. 🙂


  2. My husband and I listened to ALHOTW on the way down to and back from PA one time a couple of years ago (I’d guess it was about ten hours or so long). We loved it! I’m planning to have that be the “in car” book for the kids as soon as we finish up Around the World in 80 Days.


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