32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on 9 March 2007
...there was one book you could turn to which would take you through the entirety of human history in an entertaining as well as educational manner. Well guess what: there is, and 'A Little History..' is it. Don't be dissuaded by the fact that this is nominally a children's book. Unless you have devoted years to the study of history, you will finish this book a more knowledgeable person than when you started.
And for those who are put off by the size of the text, the audio version is available and beautifully read by the author's grandson.
67 of 72 people found the following review helpful
on 17 August 2006
I read this to see if it would be a suitable present for some friend's children, and wound up keeping it myself! You'd have to be one whiz at history not to learn a great deal from this book, it was great to have so many names that rang a vague bell finally put in context in such a concise and entertaining way. An excellent read, and one of the best-presented books in terms of binding and typography I've seen in a while.
The reviewer below who worried about the 'unrestrained paean to Marxism' clearly didn't read Gombrich's thoughtful and honest afterword, where he reviews his own opinions from over 50 years back and concludes that he was mistaken about the Soviet Union (to which he only devotes literally five lines which are not particularily opinionated) and too hard on industrialization. He also corrects his younger self on his orignal, parochial view of the Treaty of Versailles. I honour his candour in keeping the original lines in. In any case the idea that this book, with or without the afterword, is propaganda for ANY ideology is frankly absurd, and I would hate to see any reasonable person avoid the "Little History" from that mistaken impression.
Of course anyone will quarrel with the presentation of parts of history on which have an opinion-- personally I think he was rather too hard on Elizabeth I and rather too easy on the Chinese empire and the Aztecs! But that's the consequence of Gombrich's vivid storybook style, I think, and the fact that he has to deal with very complex situations in a couple of lines. I was especially impressed with the steady grace with which he handles potentially explosive religious issues. On the whole I don't think any but the most committed idealogue, left or right, would have a serious issue with their children reading this book. His view of history is probably best summed up with this:
"Now let's take a last look at these people dressed in skins, as they paddle their boats made of hollowed-out tree turnks towards their villages of huts... Do you think much has changed since then? Ther 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. And how could it be otherwise?"
Now to pick up another copy for those kids...
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
This isn't a book you would read from beginning to end, but as a book to dip in and out of it's highly enjoyable. The author writes with a witty style which is both engaging and easy to read. There are short chapters on all the major historical events in (mostly western) history which despite being brief do manage to capture the essence of the period. Another attractive feature of the book is the actual paper and binding used; if you're fussy about this kind of thing then you'll be pleased that it's a nice book to handle, too!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 22 November 2008
Although this book was written for precocious children, it's a fine read for any adult. It covers a huge range of History starting at the the might of the Eyptians and continuing right up until second world war. Everything is written in clear, concise and simple terms, so it never gets too heavy. And let's face it, that's the problem with most fact books - they're usually full of academic parlence and put most people to sleep rather quickly. It's always welcomed when this trend is bucked.
'A Little History of The World' contains 40 short chapters, each chapter focussed on a key time in the world's history. As with all history there are slants here and there and inevitably somethings get more of a mention than other's but on the whole it's balanced, intelligble and most important it's enjoyable.
There's a wealth of information in this book. It's written so a nine year old child could understand it but at the sametime I'd be very confident that anybody - except a history academic - would learn something they either didn't know or get a reminder of something they've forgotten.
A great book. Buy it, if you're an adult who enjoys a good read or as a fine educational gift for any child.
42 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on 5 October 2005
'Once upon a time ... ' A brilliant introduction to 'what is history' which draws you in irresistably - a great outline for adults as well as children. Although inevitably biased towards European history, it does cover the world and tells the 'story' in a way which will encourage you to find out more. Not only beautifully written, as you would expect from Gombrich, but also beautifully produced - in hardback on good-quality paper with stunning [lino-cut?] illustrations and at a very reasonable price. Order more than one - it makes a great present.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 27 February 2010
This book was originally written in the author's native German in the 1930d, and was translated into many languages, becoming something of an international bestseller. Its English translation came much later. Its span is very large: from pre-history to the Second World War. The origins of occidental civilisation in the near-East and Egypt are well covered. We then move on to the Classical period and the Middle Ages. The fount of oriental civilisation in China is certainly not ignored, but it msut be said that European history is the focus of the book. The book is divided into small chapters, each with a different subject.
The book is clearly aimed at children and young people. The style is friendly and informative, and reading it will benefit a child's education. The author encourages the reader to think and also to find out more about the subject, which is a positive recommendation. Some children may need an adult to help them with the book. The book is also great for adults, as one can learn a great deal from it. Of course a book with such scope can only provide an outline, but what a great outline it is!
In conclusion, this is a pleasantly traditional history book, and it should prove an enjoying and satisfying read. Recommended.
32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on 1 October 2005
Yale UP deserve congratulations from young and old readers alike for this beautifully produced and translated book. Written in the 1930s but only now translated into English it is vintage Gomnbrich - clear and concise and fascinating and thought aimed at younger readers will be enjoyed by adults too. And the compact size and gorgeous newly commissioned woodcuts all add to the joy that this book brings. Can't recommend it highly enough to anyone interested in Gombrich's writings or just looking for a wonderful short historical read.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 1 October 2010
Reading this book is somewhat like entering Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy's Total Perspective Vortex - it will make you realise how incredibly unlikely it is that you will have any significance in the grand narrative of human history, especially if you are not the warmongering dictator type. Nonetheless I found it inspiring, and not just because I wish I'd studied more history at school.
The book was originally published in German between the wars, and was a huge seller. This English edition was written much more recently and contains a new final chapter which is particularly moving and disturbing. Gombrich corrects what he earlier wrote about Germany's treatment at the end of World War I, and confesses that this inaccuracy in the original German edition may have contributed, in a small way, to the fervour that led to World War II. Reading the chapter, I was struck by the thought that if the 21st century is as violent and unstable as the 20th century, humanity will struggle to survive it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
First, some background. Gombrich wrote this history book for children as a young man in Germany in 1935, working to a six-week deadline! Although it was constantly in print and much translated, it was only towards the end of his life in the '90s that Gombrich set about producing an English version; he had been concerned that history as perceived in Britain was traditionally too concerned with the country's OWN history, and that a less Anglo-centric book would not be appropriate. He did not complete the English version, but approved his assistant's doing so after his death. So, but for a quick review chapter at the end, the book runs only up to the First World War and arrives several decades late - though it's not the less welcome for that.
Next, some reservations. Though I'm no historian, I suspect there may be flaws in this account. After all, Gombrich wrote originally a long time before the present state of the field, and he wrote quickly, after brief research. (The universe is not "trillions" of years old. And do we really know the dates of the Babylonian Exile? I was under the impression it wasn't certain that there had even been one!) I thought I caught a whiff of reluctance to criticise christianity (though the first plaudit on the back cover comes from Philip Pullman!). And I didn't always agree with his pronouncements. This one, for instance, seemed needlessly defeatist:
"And of course you must also realise that reason cannot, and never will, give us the key to all mysteries, although it has often put us on the right track."
Also, the tone of the book concerned me at first. It's written for children, with sometimes a little condescension: "Imagine that!" I wasn't sure I was going to get on with the authorial voice; but it soon settles down into good chewy history. Still, whether children will actually read such a long piece of non-fiction (284 pages), or whether they would even enjoy having it read to them, I'm not sure: it seems more like one of those books that adults WANT children to like. And finally, the book is a Euro-centric kings-and-queens kind of history - still refreshingly non-parochial to a British reader, but you could be forgiven for thinking that nothing happened on all the other continents till we turned up, or that most of history is driven by leaders only.
Still, putting aside all that, the book is strangely addictive. Its narrative flows smoothly, it unfolds complex episodes carefully, it makes its points well and it's appealingly humane. A lot of what I read I had not known before and it succeeds in telling us, as one reviewer puts it, "how we have come to be where we are". It's civilised, illuminating and oddly pleasing.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This is one of those children's books that you don't need to feel embarrassed about reading on the metro. I was a little put off by the very first pages - the prose style seemed to be aimed at very small children rather than 'young people'. Nethertheless, I quickly got used to it and Gombrich rapidly begins making some extraordinarily complex, yet delightful analogies to illustrate his rather sophisticated (and very socialist) takes on history.
Being neither a child nor a young person, I can't for certain say how much these groups will get from this book. I would imagine a lot, although as said, despite the prose, it might be a little difficult for young children. I'm sure readers of every age group will love this, however. A timeless classic hidden away for far too long.