A Little History of the World

Gombrich, Ernst H.
Date published: 
September 2005

A new book by Sir Ernst Gombrich, author of the international bestsellers The Story of Art and Art & Illusion (among others), and Director of the Warburg Institute of the University of London 1959-1976, is clearly an event. In 1935, with a doctorate and no job, the 25 year-old Gombrich was invited by Walter Neurath (later founder of Thames and Hudson) to attempt a history of the world for younger readers. Written in an intense six weeks, Eine Kurze Weltgeshichte für Junge Leser was first published in Vienna the same year. An immediate success, it has since been translated INTO seventeen languages, tailored for the different markets. The original German edition was reissued in 1985 with an Epilogue bringing the story to the present, and Gombrich further revised it shortly before his death, aged 92, in 2001..

The Little History, as it came to be known, has never been published in English until now. In forty chapters, Gombrich tells the story of man FROM the stone age to the atomic bomb. There emerges a colourful picture of wars and conquests, grand works of art, the spread and limitations of science, tribes evolving towards society. This is not a text dominated by dates and facts, but by the sweep of mankind’s experience across the centuries, a guide to man’s achievements and an acute witness to his frailties..

What has made the Little History an international success? The key is its tone – completely clear, straightforward, relaxed, unpompous, humane – Gombrich makes immediate contact with the curious of all ages. It is the product of a pan-European sensibility, and is wholly free of nationalistic preoccupations. The broad sweep of mankind’s history seems freshly intelligible when told in this profoundly generous spirit