Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Story of Mankind

I had high hopes for this book - my undergraduate and graduate degrees before my MLS were in European History, so this seemed like a natural to me. And overall I enjoyed the book and learned a few tidbits from history which were presented in a way that children might enjoy and understand. IF they could get through the whole, long, long litany of facts. The lighthearted, cautionary, teaching style that I liked in the book were often abandoned for lengthy litanies of dates and names - the very things that turn most children off in History class.

But like earlier posts, I had a great time finding my favorite quotes and I hope you will indulge me in my own list:

Nile Valley: The history of man is the record of a hungry creature in search of food. (22). And I thought that was only my history!

Moses: no quote - just one word - peregrinations (38) - I must admit I need to look this one up.

Greek Life: The Greeks, before everything else, wanted to be "free," both in mind and in body. That they might maintain their librerty, and be truly free in spirit, they reduced their daily needs to the lowest possible point. (70)

The Medieval World: Dates are a very useful invention. We could not do without them but unless we are very careful, they will play tricks with us. They are apt to make history too precise. And later: On the other hand, when you grow up you will discover that some of the people in this world have never passed beyond the stage of the cave-man. (191)

The Renaissance: The Renaissance was not a political or religious movement. It was a state of mind. (206)

The Renaissance: Let us be happy and cheerful for the mere joy of existence. (215)

The Age of Expression: I loved the discussion of Brother Thomas and his work "Imitation of Christ" and while I think I have read parts of this work before, I asked my husband to check it out for me at our main library. The quote from the book is: And it was the work of a man whose highest ideal of existence was expressed in the simple wish that "he might quietly spend his days sitting in a little corner with a little book." (221)

Religious Warfare: For tolerance (and please remember this when you grow older), is of very recent origin and even the people of our own so-called "modern world" are apt to be tolerant only upon such matters as do not interest them very much. (264) And ain't that the truth?!

The Holy Alliance: (my favorite) I want you to learn something more from this history than a mere succession of facts. I want you to approach all historical events in a frame of mind that will take nothing for granted. Don't be satisfied with the mere statement that "such and such a thing happened then and there." Try to discover the hidden motives behind every action and then you will understand the world around you much better and you will have a greater chance to help others, which (when all is said and done) is the only truly satisfactory way of living. (370)

The Age of the Engine: Indeed one of the most interesting chapters of history is the effort of man to let some one else do his work for him ... (403)

The Age of Science: Indeed it has come to pass that many of the ills of this world, which out ancestors regarded as inevitable "acts of God," have been exposed as manifestations of our own ignorance and neglect. (431) Will we never learn this??

Art: People begin to understand that Rembrandt and Beethoven and Rodin are the true prophets and leaders of their race and that a world without art and happiness resembles a nursery without laughter. (445)

A New World: But it is very difficult to give a true account of contemporary events. The problems that fill the minds of the people with whom we pass through life, are our own problems, and they hurt us too much or they please us too well to be described with that fairness which is necessary when we are writing history and not blowing the trumpet of propaganda. (458) This brings me to another question - in a graduate history class on the Old South, we argued whether or not it was possible to write history about another race and have it be valid and true??? If not, then is van Loon correct about current history?

The United States Comes of Age: No history of America's role in world affairs can overlook the Judas kiss given this country by our motion pictures. By portraying and glorifying our riches and our free-and-easy ways these pictures built in the minds of the common people everywhere an exaggerated concept of America that was to come home to roost. (485) I am not sure we can blame this kiss solely on the movie industry - maybe our own arrogance is more the problem.

Isolationism and Appeasement: Speaking of the Munich agreement which allowed Germany to invade Czechoslovakia in 1938. One of the most shameful betrayals in history was cheered at the time by millions with sighs of relief. (503) (truest statement in the book! - or the closest to my heart)

Now for just one or two final comments in closing. I must admit that the final chapters not written by van Loon were disappointing. I mean how do you discuss World War II without a full discussion of the Holocaust - I do not remember seeing anything about it in this book. Even so, I loved the grandfatherly tone of the book and thought individual chapters might be useful - even today - to present historical events in a different light. All in all, an interesting week's read.


1 comment:

Sandy D. said...

I do really love these quotes. I had missed the one about 'motion pictures' in my skimming, and found it particularly funny and thought-provoking what with all the Oscar stuff on the news right now.