A Little History of the World


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E.H. Gombrich; Translated by Caroline Mustill; Illustrated by Clifford Harper

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The international bestseller: E. H. Gombrich’s sweeping history of the world, for the curious of all ages
“All stories begin with ‘Once upon a time.’ And that’s just what this story is all about: what happened, once upon a time.” So begins A Little History of the World, an engaging and lively book written for readers both young and old. Rather than focusing on dry facts and dates, E. H. Gombrich vividly brings the full span of human experience on Earth to life, from the stone age to the atomic age. He paints a colorful picture of wars and conquests; of grand works of art; of the advances and limitations of science; of remarkable people and remarkable events, from Confucius to Catherine the Great to Winston Churchill, and from the invention of art to the destruction of the Berlin Wall.
For adults seeking a single-volume overview of world history, for students in search of a quick refresher course, or for families to read and learn from together, Gombrich’s Little History enchants and educates.

Among E. H. Gombrich’s many writings are the international bestsellers The Story of Art and Art and Illusion. He was director of the Warburg Institute of the University of London from 1959 to 1976.

A selection of Readers' Subscription 

"In simple, vivid prose, Gombrich surveys the human past from pre-history to his own time. . . . Lucky children will have this book read to them. Intelligent adults will read it for themselves and regain contact with the spirit of European humanism at its best."—Anthony Grafton, Wall Street Journal

"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. . . . Using vivid imagery, storytelling and sly humor, [Gombrich] brings history to life in a way that adults as well as children can appreciate. The book displays a breadth of knowledge."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"This is the first English translation of a book written in 1935 in German and translated into 18 languages. Thirty years later, a second German edition was published with a new final chapter. In 40 brief chapters, Gombrich relates the history of humankind from the Stone Age through World War II. In between are historic accounts of such topics as cave people and their inventions (including speech), ancient life along the Nile and in Mesopotamia and Greece, the growth of religion, the Dark Ages, the age of chivalry, the New World, and the Thirty Years' War. Much of this history is told through concise sketches of such figures as Confucius, Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Jesus Christ, Charlemagne, Leonardo da Vinci, Napoleon, and Columbus. Gombrich was asked to write a history geared to younger readers, so the book is filled with innumerable dates and facts, yet it is one to be read by adults. With 41 black-and-white woodcut illustrations and nine maps, it is a timeless and engaging narrative of the human race."—Booklist

"A masterpiece of nonfiction writing for children. It is a wry and charming book, perfectly suited to the capacities of a 10-year-old, but also remarkably free of condescension. An adult can read it with pleasure. And, indeed, with instruction."—Scott McLemee, Newsday

"A brilliant piece of narrative, splendidly organised, told with an energy and confidence that are enormously attractive, and suffused with all the humanity and generosity of spirit that Gombrich's thousands of admirers came to cherish during his long and richly productive life. It's a wonderful surprise: irresistible, in fact."—Philip Pullman

"Imagine the full story of human habitation on our planet being told in such flowing prose that you want to read it out loud. If you can't imagine that, read A Little History of the World and experience it!"—Patricia S. Schroeder, President and CEO of the Association of American Publishers and Former U.S. Representative from Colorado

"[A] lively and involving history. . . . Superbly designed and freshly illustrated, this is a book to be savored and collected. . . . This is a text dominated not by dates and facts, but by the sweep of mankind’s experience across the centuries, a guide to humanity’s achievements and an acute witness to its frailties. The product of a generous and humane sensibility, this timeless account makes intelligible the full span of human history."—Artdaily

"Charmingly illustrated with woodcuts and beautifully produced."—Bookseller

"A timeless and engaging narrative of the human race."—Choice

". . . a marvellous antidote to history without chronology: the whole experience of human history, from prehistory to the Second World War, compressed into a flowing narrative. . . . [Gombrich] excels in creating a sense of the continuities of history - the ways in which human nature has not budged over the millennium, and the smallness of the differences between people. A delight."—Daily Telegraph

"Includes insightful looks into the world of art and science . . . readers of virtually any age can enjoy it."—Dennis Lythgoe, deseretnews.com

"The true fairy tale of the evolution of mankind."—Die Zeit

"The author's voice is conversational, and Gombrich brings clarity to broad movements in history while focusing on rich real-life characters. You'll be reaching for it to help your children with their history assignments when traditional textbooks leave them confused and overwhelmed."—Fort WorthStar-Telegram

"To round out our word feast for young minds, we've picked a nonfiction work called A Little History of the World, a 300-page tome that has been wildly popular across the globe since it was first published in 1935 but has just been translated into English. . . . [An] excellent choice for out-loud family reading."—Catherine Mallette, Fort WorthStar-Telegram

"Gombrich knows precisely how to converse with his audience, intelligent children between nine and thirteen. He uses powerful imagery to convey the sheer length of time that separates us from the dinosaurs."—Andrew Roberts, FT Magazine

"An intriguingly brisk journey for anyone looking to (re-)enter the world of history, or a realm of events and facts larger than ourselves."—David Podgurski, Greenwich (CT) Times

"Gombrich opens with the most magical definition of history I have ever read . . . Tolerance, reason and humanity . . . suffuse every page of the Little History."—Amanda Vickery, Guardian Review

"Though written for young people, E.H. Gombrich . . . writes with verve and infectious good humor. Yale packages Gombrich’s words attractively with woodcutlike illustrations by Clifford Harper."—Fritz Lanham, Houston Chronicle

"Imagine Goethe giving up the role of sage long enough to become a children’s author and you will have a reasonably good idea of the book’s content . . . As for the style . . . well, that is something even more remarkable. The tone is wry, at times, without ever being jokey—a kind of light seriousness that is very respectful of its young audience . . . Gombrich commanded a really humbling degree of erudition, but always with a certain generosity towards his audience. That combination is very much in evidence throughout."—Scott McLemee, Inside Higher Ed

"A lovely, lively historical survey that takes in Neanderthals, Hohenzollerns and just about everything in between . . . Conversational, sometimes playful . . . A fine conception and summarizing of the world's checkered past for young and old."Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"A delightful book that relates the history of the world [and] the 'bottomless well' of history in a conversational way."—Coleen Kelly, Minneapolis Star Tribune?

"Speaks to readers of any age. Gombrich’s sensibility is both a mystery and a language."—Mindy Aloff, New York Observer?

"This 'little history' has aged amazingly well."—New York Times Book Review

"The book is intellectually valuable, and unusual; rather than breaking history into eras or artificial categories. . . . Gombrich contextualizes them all and gives the vast unfolding of the Western world one wise, simple narrative. . . . For adults, it is full of delightful reminders as well as forgotten or never-known tidbits. As for younger readers . . . [the book] is a treasure for them."—Katie Haegele, Philadelphia Inquirer

"The sheer beauty of the language and charm in the writing is enough to recommend [this book] to readers of all ages, and begs to be read out loud. . . . It's quite wonderful."—Kelly Everding, Rain Taxi

"Though written for kids, this is a book the whole family will love."—Christy Karras, Salt Lake Tribune (Best Books of 2005)

"Presented in a story-like fashion, and no one has done it better than E.H. Gombrich."—Kevin Walker, Tampa Bay Online

"In perusing this little gem, it’s often easy to forget that one is reading a children’s book. . . . Gombrich’s sweeping narrative and keen insights can keep that older reader as enthralled as the younger. . . . His history, like his art history, is a story, which is what makes it so engaging to the young and old alike. . . . It is Gombrich’s outlook that makes this book so special. The eminent historian has retained a child-like sense of wonder about the world that too many people lose as they grow older. His ability to communicate just how truly astonishing the world is—he often stops in amazement when he recounts a story like that of Alexander the Great—carries readers swiftly along with him."—Kelly Jane Torrance, The American Enterprise

"A panoramic overview of history from the Stone Age to the 1990s that . . . manages to be entertaining and informative. . . . Gombrich, in other words, is a born teacher whose humanistic values are implicit in every word he wrote. . . . It has taken almost 70 years to reach English-speaking readers. It has been worth the wait: expertly translated, elegantly produced and charmingly illustrated by Clifford Harper, it will enchant any child."—Joel Greenberg, The Australian

"Witty, clear-eyed and humane, tells the sweeping story of humankind in 40 short and fascinating chapters . . ."—Susie Wilde, The News & Observer

"So sharp was Gombrich's intelligence and so lively his pen that it can be appreciated as much as literature as history. . . . There is not one of the 39 short chapters that is not enlivened by a sharp insight or arresting image."—Tim Blanning, Sunday Telegraph

"A Little History of the World by E.H. Gombrich is a bedtime treat to share with my two children and proof that brilliance and perspicacity needn't be stuffy."—Times

". . . a wonderful counterbalance to our entertaining cartoon kinder-staple, the Horrible Histories. . . . Gombrich proves that the search for a grander truth can for younger readers, be as engrossing as Horrible's farts, gore and ghouls."—Bettany Hughes, Times

"His enthusiasm for his subject is irresistible. . . . With Gombrich's Little History, at last available in English, there will be many generations of future historians who will attribute to it their lifelong passion for history - and for truth."Lisa Jardine, Times

". . . an enduring joy. . . . We have no shortage of historians eager to tell us what was important in the past and why; but few of them dare speak straight to the imagination of young people, to open their minds and to enrich their vision in the manner that Gombrich achieves so effortlessly here."—Peter Furtado, Times Higher Education Supplement

"I am going to buy ten copies of this book and give it to my ten favourite children . . . this is a book which teaches what it is to be civilised by its very tone, which is one of gentleness, curiosity and erudition."—A.N. Wilson, Times Literary Supplement

"A lovely book, gracefully written, provocative in the best sense . . . thoughtful, engaging, a reminder of how stimulating history can be."—Andre Alexis, Toronto Globe and Mail

". . . should delight readers of all ages, even if Gombrich warns, 'The history of the world is not a pretty poem.'"—Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today

"Lucky children will have this book read to them. Intelligent adults will read it for themselves and regain contact with the spirit of European humanism at its best."—Wall Street Journal (Europe)

"A charming read that extends from prehistory to nuclear warfare and can be enjoyed also by adults in search of an instructive overview of the human drama."—First Things

"Gombrich accomplishes what many university-level Western Civilization classes cannot—a riveting account of events that shaped the world from the Stone Age to the 1930s, illustrating the relevance of history to current events. Teachers and schools should add this to their reading lists."—Claire Martin, The

Denver Post

"It is history to read aloud, on a cold evening, preferably by a fire."—Susan Salter Reynolds,

Los Angeles Times

"A beautifully concise volume [that] will remind readers of any age that the past 5,000 years have been one big slugfest between darkness and enlightenment, unreason and reason."—Mary Ann Gwinn, Seattle Times

"Magical, transporting. . . . A children's history that adults will want to sneak off with and read on the sly."—VeryShortList.com

"What was the bestselling title this Christmas at Foyles in

London? Hilary Mantel’s Man Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall? Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo? Cormac McCarthy’s The Road? Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol? No. It was EH Gombrich’s A Little History of the World."—Mark Sanderson, Sunday Telegraph

"Imagine your eighth grade history textbook and The Little Prince had a baby. The latest version of E. H. Gombrich’s 1936 classic is that child."—Las Vegas Weekly

"A sophisticated narrative by the art historian which runs up to the First World War, written in language any child can understand."—Lorna Bradbury, The Daily Telegraph

"If love of learning is a guide of your life, here is a readable and interesting story of humankind’s past that will enlighten and sometimes surprise you and hold your interest to the end."—Melvyn Schreiber, M.D., Galveston Daily News

“Concise [and] full of easy, bite-size bits of information.”—Hoda Kotb, The Today Show (as seen in “Katie Lee & Hoda’s Favorite Things” segment)

"A remarkable book, written in an amiable, conversational style, effortlessly explaining, without condescension, difficult matters like the achievements of Charlemagne, the monetary system of medieval Europe and the ideas of the Enlightenment. . . . This resurrected history deserves reading for all its delights."—Edward Rothstein, New York Times

Featured in the 2006 Association of American University Presses (AAUP) University Press Books for Public and Secondary School Libraries

Named a Favorite Book of 2005 by the Los Angeles Times

A 2006 Book Sense Highlight

E.H. Gombrich was awarded the 1985 International Balzan Foundation Prize
ISBN: 9780300143324
Publication Date: October 7, 2008
304 pages, 5.5 x 8.5
40 b/w illus.

Educator’s Guide for A Little History of the World (.pdf)

Listen to an interview with the author on the Yale Press Podcast:

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