Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Little History of the World - E H Gombrich

Originally written in German, this book was translated into manhy many languages. Yet, it took more than 70 years to have the English translation available. History is interesting and bit confusing with all the dates and names. History over the millennia is created and recorded by the conquerors hence what is told is only one side of the story. However, what we have is derived out of the coherence of various form of data inputs, facts retained (through legends, tales epics), preserved ( by nature in various visible forms) and progressed ( languages, tools, methods and living style) over centuries. Personally to me, it is a very interesting and often contradicting subject.

It is difficult to have a grasp of the history without remembering dates and names of people and places. There are various names of historical figures known to us, but seldom do we get the connections right. Hence for a common reader, it is important to know these connections established by chronologically and by civilisations to appreciate reading historical works. This book has done that part tremendously. Without getting too sophisticated ( often too simplified for a serious history enthusiast), getting history to be an interesting read to the adolescent as well as the grown up, he managed to cover the vast history of human civilisation in a few concise chapters. Starting from the stone age days he covers most of the important landmarks of human development until the end of WW I ( remember , the book was originally written in 1935). The Englsih Version has a last chapter, which looks at the events post 1930s including the rise of Hitler and the Atom bomb with his view of the modern world.

In forty short chapters, he take us through the journey of human, covering every aspect of the modern day making. As I said before, most of the chapters describe the rise and the eventual fall of the civilisations/ dynasty or the colonial power. Largely centered around the Mediterranean region, which saw some of the largest and most powerful kingdom flourished through conquest and force, surviving centuries before another one takes over. The Roman, the Macedonian, the Greek, Phoenicians , the mighty Sumerians, Babylonians and Assyrians of the present day Iran, the Germanic tribes and the Austrian Empire, we get the glimpse of all these powers in their making and breaking. Some names like Alexander the Great, Julias Ceaser, Hammurani, Gengis Khan, places like Carthage, Jerusalem, various Greek and Italian Cities, you name it, appear in their chronological importance. He also minutely touch upon the rise and spread of various religion during these times, the Jews, Christians and the Muslims each found their grooming ground in these areas.

While there are passing remarks about the other part of the world , like Buddhism in China, the Chinese emperor who build the Great Wall, King Porous of India who fought gallantly against the world conqueror Alexander, the Spanish conquistadors in Latin America, the book largely centered around the European region. There are no mention about the Incas, the Mayans and various other societies who existed around the world, may be for lack of references. Despite all that, this is a commendable book and highly recommended to every enthusiast and students. The language is simple and easy and the read is fast. Except in the final chapter, he largely stay away from making judgmental remarks on the events. There are no glorification nor denouncement of any of the event.

This brought the memories of reading 'A Brief History of Nearly every thing' by Bill Bryson. Somehow, I would recommend this to the young readers over the former. Now, I shall look forward to reading "The story of Art".
A Little History of the World ( 1935)

E M Gombrich ( translated from German by Caroline Mustill in 2005)

Yale University Press

284 Pages
Guardian, Wiki Entry

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