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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.
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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...
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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.
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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.
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on 7 October 2005
Worth it just for the quality of paper, binding, cover and engravings alone. (First time in months I have seen a brand new hardback printed in the UK.) The quality of production and writing are superb. This is an interesting historical artifact by itself, having been written for children in 1935. That fact needs to be borne in mind during those moments when the book inevitably 'skims' over large subjects. I would recommend this just as a good read and a nicely finished book rather than look to it as an academic work.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book was written by the famous art historian E. H. Gombrich in 1936, as a childrens book for the German speaking market. It has been in print ever since and was being updated for an English market and translated by him, at the time of his death. Apparently he was to edit it to be more English focused, with more information about things like the English Civil War. The work was finished by his assistant but without the added material.

I think this is a shame. At a mere 280 pages you realise that he is never going to include everything. Nobody could, but it is very Europe focused. It also only touches very briefly on places like India and China. I couldn't help reading it thinking about everything that wasn't there.

Nevertheless, for a child who is first approaching the idea of history and what it is, and what it means, it would probably be a magical thing. It starts with the phrase once upon a time, and does its best to include all the more wondrous elements that history has included, the growth of reading and writing, the study of the stars, the great leaps forward that man has made, as well as the more bloody aspects of history.

It deals with religion in a very balanced and thoughtful way, which I was wondering about when I first started reading. So many of our wars and troubles come from disagreements about God and Gombrich's own life was shaped hugely by the First and Second World Wars, but it is an exercise in diplomacy and philosophy and works very well.

The book is attractively packaged with clear text, good maps and wonderful woodcuts which really would make this book an excellent gift for a child beginning to think about its place in the world.
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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.
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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.
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on 17 August 2011
As a student I find this book a pleasant surprise. I am applying to read History at Oxford and was recommended this book as a starting point for filling in gaps in my historical knowledge. This is a well written and non-exhaustive book which was a delight to read. Although primarily a children's book, this would be well worth the read for any adult.
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on 18 March 2015
The first thing I would say is if you are looking for a detailed account of particular events throughout history then you are better consulting a more academic style book, however it is for these exact reasons that this book excels at what it does.

The style and tone is aimed towards younger readers but is also perfectable acceptable for adults.

For me the beauty of this book is based around the way it shows the links through history, the concise style allows you to follow the progression and actually provides a better template for the directions and thoughts of the major civilisations and the way they relate to what happened before and how it influenced what happened later.

Rather than just a description of events that happened in the past it makes these events feel relevent and something that has shaped and lead us to the way we are at the present day. Essentially it is a narrative of thoughts and feelings, of beliefs, of repeated mistakes...and most importantly I think it shows we are actually not really that different from those humans that lived throughout history. We still fight over similar things (religion, power, greed), we still enjoy similar things (culture, the arts etc) and we still too easily criticise those that have a different way of doing things that is different to our own.
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