A Little History of the World

E. H. Gombrich, Author, Caroline Mustill, Translator , preface by Leonie Gombrich, illus. by Clifford Harper. Yale Univ. $25 (284p) ISBN 978-0-300-10883-5

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. Gombrich, later known as an art historian, wrote this primer in 1935, when he was a young man in Vienna (it was soon banned by the Nazis as too "pacifist"). Rewritten (and updated) in English mainly by Gombrich himself (who died in 2001, age 92, while working on it), the book is still aimed at children, as the language makes clear: "Then, slowly the clouds parted to reveal the starry night of the Middle Ages." But while he addresses his readers directly at times, Gombrich never talks down to them. Using vivid imagery, storytelling and sly humor, he brings history to life in a way that adults as well as children can appreciate.The book displays a breadth of knowledge, as Gombrich begins with prehistoric man and ends with the close of WWII. In the final, newly added chapter, Gombrich's tone sadly darkens as he relates the rise of Hitler and his own escape from the Holocaust—children, he writes, "must learn from history how easy it is for human beings to be transformed into inhuman beings"—and ends on a note of cautious optimism about humanity's future. (Oct. 13)

Reviewed on: 08/29/2005
Release date: 10/01/2005
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Paperback - 284 pages - 978-0-300-14332-4
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Paperback - 346 pages - 978-0-300-19718-1
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Hardcover - 8 pages - 978-1-84632-591-5
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