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A Little History of the World, By EH Gombrich

Reviewed,Boyd Tonkin
Friday 07 November 2008 01:00
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In 1935, a jobless postgrad in Vienna inspected an English world-history primer for children with a view to translating it, and decided he could write a better book. So he did, a 39-chapter canter from the Neanderthals to the Treaty of Versailles, within six weeks. A few years later, Gombrich was a refugee in London, while the Nazis proscribed his "little history" as pacifist.

But its author had already flourished the almost superhuman gifts of charm, clarity and conviction in the exposition of big ideas that millions would later cherish in The Story of Art. Finally given an English version (by Caroline Mustill) after Sir Ernst's death, the history will entrance every age of reader. Nimble, humane, wise beyond his years, its maker never tilts the scales to score points off the past – but, in every era, warms to the arts of peace more than the fires of war.

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