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A Little History of the World

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A Little History of the World (originally in German, Eine kurze Weltgeschichte für junge Leser) is a history book by Ernst Gombrich. It was written in 1935 in Vienna, Austria, when Gombrich was 26 years old. He was rewriting it for English readers when he died in 2001, at 92, in London. Gombrich insisted that only he translate the book into English. After his death, the translation was completed, according to his wishes, by Caroline Mustill, an assistant to Gombrich from 1995 until his death, and his granddaughter Leonie Gombrich. It was published in 2005 by Yale University Press.[1]

Short history[edit]

The short history chronicles human development from the inventions of cavemen to the results of the First World War. Additionally, the book describes the beliefs of many major world religions, including Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam, and incorporates these ideas into its narrative presentation of historical people and events.

Leonie Gombrich explains in the introduction to the English-language edition that Gombrich, writing the last phases of his doctoral thesis, had corresponded with the young daughter of some friends, who wanted to know what he was spending all of his time on at work. It was a great pleasure for Gombrich to explain his doctoral work to the girl, using only words and concepts that children could understand. Convinced that an intelligent child could understand even seemingly complicated ideas in history, if they were put into intelligible terms, Gombrich composed a sample chapter on the "Ritterzeit" (Time of the Knights), and sent it to the publisher Walter Neurath. Excited about the text, but somewhat pressed for time, Neurath asked Gombrich to produce a complete script in six weeks, so that the book could be printed. Unsure of his ability to satisfy such a demand, Gombrich, after some convincing, promised to try. He set himself to the task of writing a chapter a day (with the exception of Sundays, when he would read his work to Ilse Heller, later his wife). He spent his mornings and afternoons reading in his home and at the library and reserved his evenings for composition.[1] He chose his themes based on what seemed to him to be the most influential events in history from a modern perspective, and based upon what remains best remembered. Somewhat miraculously, he delivered the text on time, and the book appeared to the public in 1936.

Later, the book was banned during the National Socialist (Nazi) regime for being too pacifistic.[1][2]

Gombrich's goal in the book is summarized in his following words, which appear in the foreword to the book's Turkish edition:

"I would like to emphasize that this book isn't thought of and wasn't ever thought of as a replacement for history books used in schools, which serve an entirely different purpose. I would like for my readers to relax and to follow history without having to take notes of names and dates. I promise too, that I won't ask you for them."[3]


Anthony Grafton, in The Wall Street Journal, reviewed Gombrich's book: "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."

Chapter titles[edit]

  1. Once Upon a Time
  2. The Greatest Inventors of All Time
  3. The Land by the Nile
  4. Sunday, Monday
  5. The One and Only God
  6. I C-A-N R-E-A-D
  7. Heroes and Their Weapons
  8. An Unequal Struggle
  9. Two Small Cities in One Small Land
  10. The Enlightened One and His Land
  11. A Great Teacher of a Great People
  12. The Greatest Adventure of All
  13. New Wars and New Warriors
  14. An Enemy of History
  15. Rulers of the Western World
  16. The Good News
  17. Life in the Empire and at its Frontiers
  18. The Storm
  19. The Starry Night Begins
  20. There is No God but Allah, and Muhammad is His Prophet
  21. A Conqueror who Knows how to Rule
  22. A Struggle to Become Lord of Christendom
  23. Chivalrous Knights
  24. Emperors in the Age of Chivalry
  25. Cities and Citizens
  26. A New Age
  27. A New World
  28. A New Faith
  29. The Church at War
  30. Terrible Times
  31. An Unlucky King and a Lucky King
  32. Meanwhile, Looking Eastwards...
  33. A Truly New Age
  34. A Very Violent Revolution
  35. The Last Conqueror
  36. Men and Machines
  37. Across the Seas
  38. Two New States in Europe
  39. Dividing Up the World
  40. The Small Part of the History of the World Which I Have Lived Through Myself: Looking Back


  • Gombrich, Ernst H. Eine Kurze Weltgeschichte für junge Leser. Dumont. Germany, 2005.
  • Gombrich, Ernst H. A Little History of the World. Yale. UK and USA, 2005. ISBN 978-0300108835


  1. ^ a b c Hohenadel, Kristin (September 25, 2005). "This Story Sadly Appropriate for Children". The New York Times. Retrieved November 11, 2014.
  2. ^ A Little History of the World, English Edition, Preface.
  3. ^ The above information is contained in the foreword, by Leonie Gombrich.

External links[edit]