|YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS|
the guardian Sat 08 November 2008
The German version of this marvellous history for children was written in a mere six weeks in 1935 by an unknown 26-year-old art history graduate who later became known as the distinguished art historian EH Gombrich. He was still working on an English version when he died aged 92. Like all the best teachers, Gombrich simplifies but never patronises, adding a good measure of humour and charm. The book's civilising and humanising mission is never in doubt as history unfolds up to the "tolerance, reason and humanity" of the Enlightenment. Yet in a final chapter, recalling the rise of Hitler, an older and wiser Gombrich concedes that his optimism was misplaced and that in the last century humanity took "a painful step backwards", betraying the ideals of the Enlightenment. "Schoolchildren are often intolerant," he explains. "Unfortunately grown-ups don't behave any better." Gombrich's view of history as an adventure will appeal to all ages, but perhaps this book's best recommendation is that it was banned by the Nazis for being "too pacifist".
the observer Sat 25 October 2008
Ernst Gombrich, the Austrian art historian best known for the international bestseller The Story of Art, wrote this concise world history for children in 1935. Like its successor, it was hugely popular, charting the story of mankind from the Stone Age to the First World War and beyond with infectious enthusiasm. Names and dates are kept to a minimum, while vivid descriptions flesh out characters such as Julius Caesar, 'a thin-faced bald-headed man... whose weak and sickly body hid a shining intellect and a will of iron', and bring life to Gombrich's egalitarian, pacifist world view. Generations of British children missed out, since an English translation didn't appear until 2005. Fortunately, they are just as likely to enjoy it as adults, both as a story and as a piece of history.