Monday, September 8, 2008

The Story of Mankind

When I picked up the first newbery medal book, The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem Van Loon it was not what I expected. My first thought was how huge the book was and how it could possibly be written for a childrens audience. After sitting down and reading the first few chapters I began to understand it's writing style and unique way of representing history.

He did a good job covering what he did in the very large timeframe he had to work with, which was the time from which man (or a creature more or less resembling man) has been on this earth. I imagine it must have taken a lot of time and patience to cover all of this material, not to mention the numerous hand drawn illustrations and maps.

In the foreward the author talks of a visit to the tower of Old St. Lawrence in Rotterdam that he took in his younger years. After climbing to the top of the tower he looks down and remembers all the history making moments that happened in the busy streets below where people were going about their business in their normal fashion. He finds this trip very rewarding and returns many more times. He then gives us the "key" that will open the door of history for us.

The first half of this book is a lot easier to read than the second half. It made me remember a lot of history stories I had learned from school and I also learned many other facts and stories I did not know before.

This book reads more like a story than a history book. The book does not try to give an account of everything that has happend in the history of mankind. It tries to explains certain significant events, that without them the world would not be how it is today. The books talks about how we have become who we are today, from being men and women concerned only about finding food and shelter to using our brain to make tools. It talks about the origin of writing and the importance of being able to write down thoughts and ideas. This book focuses on how and and most importantly why things happened the way they did.

I enjoyed reading how man has evolved into the present day. I particularly enjoyed the chapters about the revolutions and how people over came the rich and corrupt governments to become independent people and nations.

Most of the chapters read just like a story. There are others however, like National Independence and Colonial Expansion and War, that are very confusing and you have to be very focused on reading them so you don't miss anything. When I say confusing I mean that there are too many people, dates, and countries to remember and this makes it difficult (even as an adult) to follow.

The goal of this book is to try to give you a taste of history and I believe the author has done just that. He really tries not to let his own views and perspectives bias the book, and he does a good job of making history fun for the most part. Overall it's a good read but I really doubt many children would pick it up and read it.

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