Sunday, November 8, 2009

A favorite from the past

Whoever said that history is boring was probably correct. Or, he or she hasn't read Hendrik Willem Van Loon's wonderful non-fiction book for young adults, The Story of Mankind. First published in 1921, the book has undergone several revisions and editions but is still very much relevant for today's readers. The Story of Mankind is also the first recipient of the Newbery Medal, a testament to its literary value.

Unlike other history books, The Story of Mankind reads like fiction for readers of all ages. Van Loon, by reading at his style, is a storyteller. Each chapter of the book feels like an adventure, with the historical characters serving as players of the narrative. The book is just a joy to read. The rise and fall of Rome, the concept of feudalism, the Reformation, and the Persian wars have never seemed so exciting.

History is the mighty tower of experience, which time has built amidst the endless fields of bygone ages. It is no easy task to reach the top of this ancient structure and get the benefit of the full view. There is no elevator, but young feet are strong and it can be done. -from the Foreword
The latest version of The Story of Mankind has 5 new chapters on technology and the concept of the Earth as a global village. While these certainly make the book updated, they aren't necessary. What Van Loon wrote in the original book is what you keep coming back to. Van Loon doesn't talk down to children condescendingly, which is often the case from writers who simplify their difficult subject areas for their readers. Van Loon understands children and what interests them. The Story of Mankind is something that you'll want to read and reread and read to your children.

7 comments:

savidgereads said...

I have to admit I had never heard of this book until saw it on your blog today. Though not maybe ideal for me I think this is one that I may have to get for my twelve year old sister. Thanks Peter!

Peter S. said...

Hi, savidgereads! Yes, it's going to be perfect for your sister!

Charlie said...

I disliked History because memorizing dates seemed more important than the events themselves. Storytelling, then, is a much better way.

Adding chapters to a classic, however, seems like a crime.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Charlie! I never knew that you would feel so passionately about those new chapters.

theliterarystew said...

Interesting. Never heard of this one. I love discovering forgotten books. I don't know if I'd like this though.

josbookshelf said...

Hi, Peter! This sounds like a great X'mas gift for my nephew. And I'd like a copy for myself as well. Is this book available locally?

Peter S. said...

@theliterarystew: Oh, you're gonna love it!

@josbookshelf: Yes, it's available locally. I bought my copy years ago, and I usually see this in Powerbooks and Fully Booked. Perhaps you can place an order in National.