A Little History of the World

By  EH Gombrich

About the Book 

Translated by Caroline Mustill

‘Exceptionally clear and beautifully organised… the sheer brio of storytelling… irresistible’ – Philip Pullman

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.

What Leonie Gombrich says about World Book Night

"When my grandfather, E. H. Gombrich, was alive, his Chinese translator told us of how he had smuggled rice to a librarian in Outer Mongolia in exchange for lessons in reading Western script. The memory of Gombrich’s awed reaction was my first thought on hearing that his work would be part of World Book Night. To be given the chance to open the world of reading to anyone, anywhere? I am sure that nothing could have pleased him more."

What we thinkEHG readingOutdoors copy

“From the big bang to the present day this really is the story of our world, told as just that, a story. As charming and delightful as it is utterly fascinating and absorbing.”

Also by E.H Gombrich

The Story of Art

Author biography

E.H Gombrich, author of the international six-million-copy bestseller The Story of Art and other classic works, was probably the best-known art historian of his time. Born in Vienna in 1909 he moved to London in 1936 where he later became Director of the Warburg Institute and Professor of the History of the Clasical Tradition at London University. Amoung his many honours were the Erasmus Prize, the Hegel Prize, the Wittgenstein Prize and the Goethe Prize. He was knighted in 1972 and appointed a member of the Order of Merit in 1988.

Caroline Mustill was researcher and assistant to Sir Ernst Gombrich from 1995 to 2001.


On World Book Night

There is nothing like the recommendation of a trusted friend to make you want to read a book. World Book Night is the glorious extension of this - sending carefully selected books out to people who might enjoy them - and who otherwise might not read them. I am so proud that my book is going to be part of WBN 2012, and I hope that it encourages the recipients to keep reading.

Jojo Moyes

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