Beloved history book gets English translation
Seventy years after it was rushed into print, a history book beloved by readers of all ages around the world is finally coming out in English.
Unemployed at the time, he worked hard on his tour of the ages through the eyes of a child: He set a goal of doing a chapter a day, read passages aloud to his wife, Ilse, and tapped into the narrative voice he had recently developed when he tried to explain his doctoral thesis to the daughter of family friends.
What seemed like a rush job was treated by reviewers and the general public as an admirable, accessible summary. "A Little History of the World" was an instant success and has been translated into 18 languages, selling hundreds of thousands of copies.
But for decades there was no English translation, even though Gombrich spent much of his life in London and wrote his other books in English. During those years, he was busy with other projects and thought "A Little History" more of interest to European readers. Only late in life did he get around to the English text.
"All stories begin with, `Once upon a time,'" is how the book begins. "And that's just what this story is all about, what happened, once upon a time."
"A Little History" is under 300 pages and its 40 chapters move quickly from Earth's formation to the Cold War era, touching upon ancient Greece and Rome, the rise of Christianity, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, technology and world wars.
The book is meant to inform and to raise questions. The Nazis banned "A Little History" because they thought it was too pacifist; Gombrich questions the meaning of war, and champions what he calls the principles of the Enlightenment: "tolerance, reason and humanity."
Gombrich attempts to address the violence of history without unduly upsetting his readers. "If I wished, I could write many more chapters on the wars between the Catholics and the Protestants," he writes of the 17th-century religious conflicts. "But I won't."
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