• A Little History of the World

  • By: E. H. Gombrich
  • Narrated by: Ralph Cosham
  • Length: 9 hrs and 11 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (2,977 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

E. H. Gombrich's world history, an international best seller now available in English for the first time, is a text dominated not by dates and facts but by the sweep of experience across the centuries, a guide to humanity's achievements, and an acute witness to its frailties.

In 40 concise chapters, Gombrich tells the story of humanity from the Stone Age to the atomic bomb. In between emerges a colorful picture of wars and conquests, grand works of art, and the spread and limitations of science. The product of a generous and humane sensibility, this timeless account makes intelligible the full span of human history for the curious of all ages, but especially children.

Translated by Caroline Mustill.

©1985 DuMont Literatur und Kunst Verlag GmbH und Co. KG, Cologne, Germany. English translation 2005 Leonie Gombrich (P)2006 Blackstone Audio Inc.
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

"A lovely, lively historical survey....A fine conception and summarizing of the world's checkered past for young and old." (Kirkus Reviews)
"A remarkable book, written in an amiable, conversational style....This resurrected history deserves reading for all its delights." (The New York Times)

What listeners say about A Little History of the World

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

an enlightening book; very well read

This is currently my favorite audiobook (and I have dozens!). It is an excellent wee book from the author of the more famous and much longer "The Story of Art" - now in its 16th edition! If The Story of Art was written for college students, this one was originally written for school children - although it is more insightful than many adult history books I have read. It is enchanting, educational and extremely entertaining! (can you tell I like adjectives beginning with "e"?!)
It is also read superbly (by Ralph Cosham) at a pace that people of all ages can easily follow.
I therefore thoroughly recommended this book for adults and children alike.
If you want more detail, go for JM Roberts' masterpiece (History of The World) a much longer (54 hour) audiobook that is also an absolute classic - but this "Little History" is the best place to start.

57 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Graceful story, perfect narrator

It's true, as others have said here, that this is mainly a history of the WESTERN world. There's a bit about India and China, mostly in the context of religious history (Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism); but it's mostly about the Mediterranean and western and northern Europe. But if you go into it knowing what it is, it's a gem of a book, presenting the history of those areas of the world in a lucid, engaging, and graceful manner. It's particularly useful in emphasizing aspects of European history that many other short histories of the world gloss over or rush through.

Ralph Cosham is the perfect narrator for this, so much so that I kept confusing him in my mind with the author.

A note about that religious history: in the context of an already short book, Gombrich's discussion of non-Western religious traditions is by no means skimpy: it's an outline, but a relaxed and anecdotal outline, and it shows a decidedly sympathetic and open mind.

42 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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A Humane and Engaging Introduction to History

I got this book because I love E. H. Gombrich's The Story of Art. I found A Little History to be an excellent introductory history book for children (and adults), because it is filled with Gombrich's deep humanity, curious mind, wide-ranging knowledge, disarming candor, charming humor, avuncular voice, and passionate commitment to history and learning. His writing is clear and engaging. He presents complicated situations and difficult concepts in simple terms without over-simplifying, as when he explains Buddha's enlightenment or the Protestant Reformation. He effectively tells both the positive and negative sides to the famous historical figures and cultures he describes. He also does a fine job of demonstrating the subjectivity of history by showing the different sides people have taken of the same events (as in the aftermath of World War I). He also vividly expresses the vast scale of pre-history and the small scale of human history to make readers appreciate their bracingly tiny places in the big scheme of things.

The last chapter is fascinating and moving, covering as it does Gombrich's changing awareness of the history he experienced as a Jewish citizen of Austria who had to emigrate to England, the aftermath of World War I and the horror of World War II. And the introduction by his granddaughter interestingly recounts how Gombrich came to write A Little History and The Story of Art.

This is a concise book! There are many absences! England and America and Asia are not given nearly as much coverage compared to Europe. However, it is so well-written and so engaging and so humane that reading it will make readers think more about what it means to be human and will inspire readers to become interested in history.

Ralph Cosham does his usual fine reading here: nothing fancy, just an appealing and accurate and fluid manner and voice. I easily imagined that I was a child listening to Grandfather Gombrich telling me history stories at bedtime

22 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

A treat

Such a sweet book. The kindly, grandfatherly voice of the narrator really made you feel like you were being read to before bed. It gives a broad account of world history, though the focus is very much on Europe. Still, a great history refresher and a total pleasure to listen to.

17 people found this helpful

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A very christian view of the history of the world

Started well, but then it became clear that it was a christian view of history. Sorry but I wasn't able to finish the book.

16 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

One that I listen to again and again

This is a great book. The reader sounds so vise and kind. I would say that this is the perfect book to listen to when in bed on a cold winter evening. It is a gem.

12 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Beautiful

And captivating. History-telling at its best. I knew the great art historian's major works but what a pleasant surprise it was to find another gem of his!

12 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

wish it was longer

I loved this book and was sorry that it had to end.

11 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

a good introduction or review

This short history was intended for German school-aged children. It is a good introduction or review to what is covered in Western history. Yes, there are chapters which include China but this is definitely a Western view.
The tone is wonderful. In the introduction, it is explained that the author wrote each chapter and then read it aloud on Sunday to his fiance. It's such a charming notion.
The author also humbles himself in the last chapter; reminding us that writing history is a difficult task because sometimes what we think is fact can turn out to be fiction.
The narration is excellent.

16 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

wonderful

This is a BEAUTIFUL book presented by the perfect narrator. What a treat. Even though it is the history of the world in a nutshell and it was written for children, I found that it filled in or solidified some of the more sketchy parts of my general knowledge. The book was written a long time ago and as a result contains a few antique view-points which, on the whole, do not detract from the delightful tone of this work.

15 people found this helpful

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  • Carla Ribeiro Oleiro
  • 08-04-21

One of the best audiobooks I ever read

This audiobook has so much useful information about the history of the world. Highly recommended 👌

2 people found this helpful

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  • James
  • 03-01-22

Required reading for a weary century

I already own a copy of the book and have done since it’s initial English publication. I’ve bought the book for partners, my dad and various children within the family. An incredible read, simple, clear, balanced and humanising. Gombrich has a unique clarity in explaining ideas and providing a brief overview that’s invaluable in providing an overview of the chronology of history and linking different periods of time together. He brings the past to life despite having to skip through large periods of time and complex situations, without feeling like he hasn’t done a time period justice. However it’s his narrative that really sells the book, positive, optimistic and humanising. The book never flinches from the horrors of human history or the crimes of colonialism, capitalism or human greed 1 despite this it stands to challenge extremism, fanaticism and hate and argues for common decency and respect. I can hardly think of a more moral book for children.
You could criticise the book from a more modern ‘progressive’ reading of the book and indicate how it ignores smaller states / peoples and minimises the role of minorities within human history but the book is a history of the entirety of civilisation so a line has to be drawn somewhere and Gombrich does a great job at a grand overview

1 person found this helpful

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  • Ian
  • 01-17-22

wonderful!

In my opinion, it should be required reading. this gives a brilliant overview of history, and does it in such an easy to digest way. I am not a child, and I think it is ideal for all ages.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 01-07-22

listened to this 6 times!

didnt think i was into “history of the world” but it turns i am thanks to this book and the narrator. Every era gets more interesting. this is a must listen!.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Buyer
  • 11-21-21

Wonderful time travel

Great narrator. Fluid history that allow you to do other things whilst keeping your brain entertained.
Food for thought

1 person found this helpful

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  • Richard S
  • 08-03-22

Tour of the World, from a European Perspective

This was originally written in 1936 for Austrian school children, but was updated for English readers in the 2000s so it includes one chapter at the end mentioning a little of WWII, the Holocaust and the Atomic Bomb. You dont need to be a 1930s Austrian school child to enjoy this; I'm 40, English, with a history degree, and found it interesting and entertaining.

It is quite focused on mainland Europe despite the title. The middle and far east are covered during antiquity and the historical development of the major religions but as time rolls on it becomes much more geographically focused and brings in worldwide history only where it pertains to Europe. I don't mind this perspective; any history of the world that fits into 9 and a half hours would need a thread to bind it together, and Gombrich kept it relevant to his target audience.

I feel a bit mean criticising a book like this, but with space at such a premium I did find Gombrich's selection of stories to focus on a little parochial at times. For example, Americans may be shocked to find their Revolution reduced to a single paragraph. I personally wouldn't have prioritised the story of Gustav of Sweden over such a significant and adventurous figure like George Washington myself.

European perpetrated atrocities are acknowledged and not pretended away. Generally speaking, the darker, brutal side of history is written in a way suitable for children.

All in all, this is a fairly fun history summary book, concentrating on interesting stories from a European perspective, and considering it was originally written in about 6 weeks, a rather brilliant piece of work.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 07-13-22

A pleasant read.

The book should be renamed the history of Europe. Although it is engaging and narrated well there are obvious shortcomings. Most of the Asian and far eastern history is absent. There is a clear bias towards the ottomans and Islam.

It is best that historians separate themselves while narrating history. However in this book the writer's preferences slip through and become apparent in his writing. Overall it was still captivating and enjoyable.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 07-06-22

Eurocentric

Easy to follow with insightful facts and reflections. Extremely euro centred and internationally misinformed.

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  • Tony H.
  • 07-03-22

Absolutely brilliant. I could not recommend this book more

I have enjoyed this book so so much . It’s a gem and so interesting . Fantastic is an understatement

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  • Anonymous User
  • 03-31-22

sit back and enjoy this gem

Narration is excellent. Content is meaningful and evocative. The overlapping timelines give a glimpse of what is happening at various times throughout early history to modern times. Facts and opinions are dealt with expertly and don't over burden the listener. superb.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 09-28-21

Crash course in history

It was more than pleasing to go through this book learning more about the details behind every movement of humans, groups to the formation of empires, religions, ideologies hitherto from when the book was written - all the while being guided through it with a sophisticated yet entertaining lens. This is a special book that I wish we would all have read as kids, this book has connected the dots of history’s timelines especially in comparison with western history with other great civilisations and how they interlink.

This is what a great book does, it weaves through time and location and is relevant to everyone and it teaches you great lessons and facts that we can all take on board.

Really adored the narrator and the book even more. I can’t help but wonder if this inspired a Short History of Nearly Everything, both books will be read time and time again as a reference.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Deirdre E Siegel
  • 08-02-22

Euro-centric history for children :-)

This is fabulous, a book written by an Austrian born Art Historian for children.
So full of facts that will tickle the ears of those with a thirst for knowledge of humanity being good, bad, ugly and gracious.
A pleasing journey from 3500AD to 1930’s via the civilized barbarianism of a Euro-centric stance.
Loved it, thank you E H Gombrich :-)

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  • Dan
  • 02-04-22

interesting but inevitably biased

many accounts of this narrative of history portray a biased point of view that is not necessarily accurate or fair. interesting, but make sure you consider alternate perspectives.

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  • Stacey
  • 11-25-21

Easy to follow, well-written, obvious bias

This book would no doubt be helpful for children to read, or anyone who wants a whistle-stop tour of history from a European perspective. It is, however, not as objective as some might like. Value judgements are frequent, and there is an overarching enlightenment-secular-scientistic worldview that is assumed here which some will not agree with. For example, science is essentially out as the hope of humankind, even though it can't make us morally good, or answer our questions of meaning and purpose. Likewise, Enlightenment values are promoted, but unless one is already a deistic or atheistic humanist, these will hardly seem either satisfactory or sufficient to answer the realities of the world in which we live and our experience of it.

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  • Paul N
  • 11-12-21

Best world history book

This might be the best world history book that I have read. Compared to Bill Bryson, this book focuses more on civilisations, religions, leaders and wars of the world. There are so much details that we could grasp in such one book. A must read and collected for both audio and printed versions.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 10-19-21

Fantastic

I loved this, what an amazing summary of the world. It has inspired me to read and learn more especially about 18th, 19th and 20th century Europe.

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  • Paul H Bowers
  • 10-18-21

Excellent

This book has been written for school kids.
It is a broad, and not detailed look at the whole of human history, but for a first introduction to the broad sweep of both ancient and modern history it is wonderful. It will both educate and guide the reader to where their personal preferences may lie for a more comprehensive deep dive.