World History in 284 Pages

This was going to be called “Library Pick of the Week” since it really is my pick of the week but it deserves more gravitas than that and I plan on buying it before next fall. E.H. Gombrich’s A Little History of the Worldis superb. This book will be our spine for history studies for the next few years. Some compare it to Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the Worldin that both tell history from the narrative style for what it is: a story. I have considered using SOTW for our history with the kids many times, but for some reason it never “felt” perfect (Yes I confess; she who praises logic and reason so often resorts to plain old gut feelings.) for our particular family, though it may be a great fit for others. Perhaps it’s the rumors that after the first or second volume there are inaccuracies and blatant biases against Catholic history. Perhaps it’s the daunting activity books or other curricula-like materials that accompany the text. I don’t know. I just know that I never appreciated history as a child and I want to avoid that for my kids. History is so fascinating! And when it’s told in an interesting, NON-textbook way, I think even the most school-weary child can’t help but be drawn in.

That’s what A Little History of the World offers. It’s a story (not a curriculum), told in a brilliant, engaging, child-friendly way. Gombrich was an Austrian man and history (from Ancient Egypt up through World War II) is written from that perspective. (He also has The Story of Art which I’m eager to explore too.) Yet, even if it’s never read to children (I’d say age 7 is a great start), adults will be able to appreciate it. I think it’s an ideal approach for our purposes as I plan on teaching history next year using many, many living books. There is so much history to be told that every single “plan” and textbook in the world will have gaps. As a homeschooling mother, this gives me great peace knowing that ALL education models–public, private, or home– contain gaps; there is simply no way to learn all there is to know about human history. So using Connecting with History (about which I’m very excited!) as our guide to books and activities, we’ll also bring in Gombrich’s book as the central overview of any period we may be studying prior to exploring all the tangents and trails that interest us during that time. I also learned that there is a Little History of the World on CD!!!which I think could be a great alternative for some people who want to listen to it in the car or who want to let their children listen to the chapter while Mama is doing dishes or helping Billy-Bob with Calculus.

*Disclaimer: the very first chapter in this book talks with primitive man and Neanderthal-types. I’m quite comfortable with my own theories of evolution but if this topic offends you, it is a chapter easily skipped and certainly should not act as a deterrent to the rest of the book!

“There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories. “-Ursula K. LeGuin