A Little History of the World by E.H. Gombrich

This is a curious little book. In 40 short chapters, the author, E. H. Gombrich, attempts to tell the history of the world from prehistoric times until the development of atomic energy. He succeeds in giving an easy-to-read overview of Western civilization, with a few chapters about Asia and the Middle East scattered throughout.

The book was originally written for children, and you can see this in its casual writing style, but the vocabulary and sentences seem too complex for the children I know. Maybe I’m underestimating them, but at any rate, Wake County has placed this book in the adult section. Here’s a sample passage about Attila the Hun:

“In 444 he was at the height of his power. Can you remember who was in power 444 years before Christ’s birth? Pericles, in Athens. Those were the best of times. But Attila was in every way his opposite. People said that wherever he trod, the grass ceased to grow. His hordes burnt and destroyed everything in their path. And yet in spite of all the gold and silver and treasures the Huns looted, and in spite of all the magnificent finery worn by their leaders, Attila himself remained a plain man. He ate off wooden plates and he lived in a simple tent. Gold and silver meant nothing to him. Power was what mattered.”

Another interesting thing about this book is that, because the author was German, his country of origin figures prominently in his history. That’s a nice change from most English language history books. It’s nice to be reminded occasionally that England was not always the focus of European events. America also gets pretty short shrift. There’s a chapter that is partially about the discovery of America by Columbus, and another about the American Revolution, and a few mentions of our role in the industrial revolution and the world wars, but we are not the focus here as so often happens in the books we usually read. I found that different point of view refreshing.

Like most world history books published in this country, there is almost no mention of either Africa or South America. China gets some attention, but only enough to whet my appetite for more. Likewise, Japan only comes into the book when Westerners force their way into the country. I am now very curious about the history of the rest of the world. Luckily, I work in a library!

Find and reserve this book in our catalog


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