A Little History of the World
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"A Little History of the World" Summary

By E.H. Gombrich

history | 284 pages | Published in NaN

In 1935, with a doctorate in art history and no prospect of a job, the 26-year-old Ernst Gombrich was invited by a publishing acquaintance to attempt a history of the world for younger readers. Amazingly, he completed the task in an intense six weeks, and Eine kurze Weltgeschichte für junge Leser was published in Vienna to immediate success, and is now available in seventeen languages across the world. Toward the end of his long life, Gombrich embarked upon a revision and, at last, an English translation. A Little History of the World presents his lively and involving history to English-language readers for the first time. Superbly designed and freshly illustrated, this is a book to be savored and collected. In forty concise chapters, Gombrich tells the story of man 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. This is a text dominated not by dates and facts, but by the sweep of mankind's experience across the centuries, a guide to humanity's achievements and an acute witness to its frailties. The product of a generous and humane sensibility, this timeless account makes intelligible the full span of human history.


Estimated read time: 6 min read

One Sentence Summary

"A Little History of the World" is a charming and concise overview of world history, written in an engaging and accessible style.


"A Little History of the World" by E.H. Gombrich is a captivating journey through the history of humankind, from the Stone Age to the atomic age. Originally written for children, this book has gained popularity among readers of all ages due to its engaging storytelling and comprehensive coverage of historical events and civilizations. Gombrich's narrative style and ability to simplify complex historical events make this book an enlightening and enjoyable read for anyone interested in understanding the story of human civilization.

Brief Synopsis

The book is structured as a chronological account of the major events and developments that have shaped human history. Gombrich takes the reader on a fascinating journey through ancient civilizations, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the modern era, providing an overview of the key historical periods and the people who influenced them.

Plot Overview and Setting

The narrative begins with the early development of humans and their progression from the Stone Age to the first civilizations. It then delves into the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Greece before moving on to the rise of the Roman Empire. The book continues to explore the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Age of Exploration, ultimately concluding with the events leading up to the First World War and the subsequent rise of totalitarian regimes.

Main Characters

Ancient HumansEarly human ancestors who developed primitive tools and gradually transitioned from hunter-gatherers to settled communities.
Julius CaesarA prominent Roman general and statesman who played a crucial role in the transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire.
Leonardo da VinciA renowned polymath of the Renaissance era, known for his contributions to art, science, and engineering.
Christopher ColumbusAn Italian explorer who completed four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean, leading to the widespread knowledge of the Americas.
Adolf HitlerThe dictator of Nazi Germany whose aggressive expansionist policies led to the outbreak of World War II.

Summary of Each Story Point Over Chapters

Early Civilizations

In the early chapters, Gombrich explores the development of early human societies, the invention of writing, and the rise of civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and beyond. He vividly describes the daily lives of these ancient peoples and their contributions to art, architecture, and governance.

The Classical World

The book then delves into the classical world, focusing on the achievements of ancient Greece and the expansion of the Roman Empire. Gombrich discusses the philosophical ideas of Greek thinkers, the art and architecture of the Greeks, and the military and administrative prowess of the Romans.

The Middle Ages

Moving into the Middle Ages, the narrative covers the feudal system, the influence of the Catholic Church, and the cultural and intellectual developments of the era. Gombrich provides insights into the lives of knights, the impact of the Black Death, and the rise of medieval universities.

The Renaissance

The Renaissance marks a period of immense cultural and artistic growth, and Gombrich highlights the works of renowned figures such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Shakespeare. The book explores the flourishing of humanist ideas, the age of exploration, and the impact of the printing press.

The Modern Era

The final chapters of the book focus on the major events of the modern era, including the Age of Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and the World Wars. Gombrich discusses the rise of colonial empires, the scientific advancements of the 19th and 20th centuries, and the political and social upheavals that characterized this period.

Main Events

Invention of WritingThe development of written language and its impact on the recording of history and communication.
Fall of the Roman EmpireThe decline and eventual collapse of the Roman Empire, leading to significant changes in Europe.
Age of ExplorationThe period of extensive exploration and discovery of new lands, leading to global trade and colonization.
Industrial RevolutionThe transition to new manufacturing processes, transforming economies and societies worldwide.
World WarsThe global conflicts that had a profound impact on the geopolitical landscape and human civilization.

Themes and Insights

Progress and Change

Throughout the book, Gombrich emphasizes the theme of progress and change, illustrating how human civilization has evolved through technological advancements, cultural shifts, and societal transformations. The narrative highlights the impact of innovation and adaptation on the course of history.

Power and Governance

The exploration of different civilizations and empires allows for an examination of power dynamics and governance structures. Gombrich provides insights into the rise and fall of rulers, the establishment of laws and institutions, and the influence of political decisions on societies.

Cultural Exchange

The book also emphasizes the theme of cultural exchange, showcasing how interactions between different civilizations led to the exchange of knowledge, ideas, and technologies. Gombrich highlights the interconnectedness of human societies and the enduring impact of cultural diffusion.

Reader's Takeaway

Readers will gain a comprehensive understanding of the major historical periods and events that have shaped the world. Gombrich's engaging narrative style and ability to distill complex historical concepts into accessible storytelling make this book an enriching and educational experience for readers of all ages. "A Little History of the World" provides a compelling overview of human civilization, offering valuable insights into the continuous evolution of societies and the enduring impact of historical developments.


In conclusion, "A Little History of the World" is a captivating and informative exploration of human history, written in a manner that engages readers and provides a broad understanding of the major events and civilizations that have shaped the world. Gombrich's narrative skill and comprehensive coverage make this book an essential read for anyone seeking to gain a deeper appreciation of the complexities and richness of human civilization.

A Little History of the World FAQ

  1. Who is the author of 'A Little History of the World'?

    The author of 'A Little History of the World' is E.H. Gombrich, who was a renowned art historian and the author of several books.

  2. What is the genre of 'A Little History of the World'?

    'A Little History of the World' is a non-fiction book categorized as a history book, specifically aimed at younger readers but suitable for all ages.

  3. What is the book's main focus?

    The book provides a comprehensive overview of world history, from the Stone Age to the atomic bomb, and is written in a storytelling style to engage readers.

  4. Is 'A Little History of the World' suitable for children?

    Yes, the book is suitable for children as it is written in a style that is accessible and engaging for younger readers, while still being informative for adults.

  5. Does 'A Little History of the World' cover specific historical events?

    Yes, the book covers various historical events, including the rise and fall of empires, important discoveries, and key figures in history, providing a broad understanding of world history.

  6. Is 'A Little History of the World' a comprehensive history book?

    While the book provides an overview of world history, it is not intended to be a comprehensive academic history book, but rather a captivating introduction to the subject.