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October 28, 2008

A Little History of the World — by E. H. Gombrich


From the book's inside flap: "In 1935, with a doctorate in art history and no prospect of a job, the twenty-six-year-old Ernst Gombrich was invited to attempt a history of the world for younger readers. Amazingly, he completed the task in an intense six weeks, and Eine kurze Welgeschichte für junge Leser was published in Vienna to immediate success.... Toward the end of his long life, Gombrich embarked upon a revision and, at last, an English translation."

That's this book.

From his granddaughter Leonie's preface: "My grandfather... is best known as an art historian.... But had it not been for a "A Little History of the World," "The Story of Art" would never have been written."

"To understand how it happened — and why this, his very first book, has never appeared in English until now despite being available in eighteen other languages — we need to start in Vienna in 1935, when my grandfather was still a young man."

There, he rapidly wrote the book in response to a challenge from a publisher who'd asked him to consider translating another history book for children which Gombrich found singularly unimpressive, noting, "I think I could write a better one myself."

The preface continues: "When the book came out in 1936... it was very well received.... In the end, the Nazis stopped publication... because they considered the outlook 'too pacifist.'"

"But the first edition of the 'Little History'... lay in a drawer in North London.... So nothing happened until, more than thirty years later... a second German edition was published."

"Apart from the 'Little History,' my grandfather wrote all his books in English: if there was ever to be an English edition, he was going to translate it himself."

"Then, for ten years, and despite repeated approaches, he refused to do so.... At the very end of his long and distinguished life, he embarked on producing a new English version of the book...."

"It is our great good fortune that Caroline [Mustill, his assistant] worked with him so closely, for he was still engaged in the task of translating and updating when he died, at the age of ninety-two [in 2001]. With his blessing, she has completed this difficult task meticulously and beautifully."

40 brief chapters in 284 pages provide a wonderful, easy-to-read tale of how things came to be.

The fastest way to having a sense of what things mean and why they happen I've ever come across.

Read Chapter 1 here.

Cheap at many time the $10.36 price.

No time to read?

No problema: for you, the audio CD.

"If you weren't a Christian, a Jew or a close relative of the emperor, life in the Roman Empire could be peaceful and pleasant."

Just that lyrical is this book.

October 28, 2008 at 12:01 PM | Permalink


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Bought it. Read it. Loved it.

Posted by: Milena | Nov 7, 2008 7:48:27 PM

Sounds simply phenomenal. A worthy addition to my library. Thank you ever so much for putting me on to it and I'm only sorry I came from the bookstore today without having read about it. I shall reserve it for tomorrow's book jaunt then.

Posted by: Milena | Oct 28, 2008 7:19:49 PM

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