A little history

A Little History of the World by E.H. Gombrich is a charming read. Gombrich is best known as the author of the standard study of art history The Story of Art, this translation of his childrens' history book is very readable. It was suggested that he should write a history of the world aimed at the junior market, when he was a young man in 1930's Vienna. The person who made this suggestion, Walter Neurath, ran an art gallery in the city, and published books on art. Fleeing Vienna in 1938 around the same time as Gombrich, he would go on to found the publishing company Thames & Hudson.

Gombrich's style is very engaging - I would have loved to have read this as a child. Initially published in German, it was deemed to be too pacifist for the Nazis, and went out of print briefly, surprisingly for its political views, rather than the ethnic origins of the author. Re-published after the war, it has been translated into 18 languages, but was only translated, fairly recently, into English.

It covers a broad sweep of history from prehistory to the mid-twentieth century. Gombrich is charmingly engaging, and honest. Although inevitably the book is largely Eurocentric, there are chapters on China, Japan, India, and the New World. Inevitably in such a broad sweep much detail is lost, and there is little time for the complexities of international politics, but Gombrich's portrayal of history as story, and a very exciting story at that, is inspiring, and would be guaranteed, I think, to inspire any young reader.

I devoured it as story and was left wanting to read more on certain subjects - surely what the author was aiming for. What a great previously undiscovered gem!


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