I recently confronted the juggernaut of Newbery Medals, the very first winner from 1922 and a seriously massive piece of nonfiction: The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon. I actually got this out from the library months ago, was decidedly taken aback by how thick it was, and returned it unread for a later day. This time I bought the audiobook on Audible (14 hours!)–and to my pleasant surprise, found it a quite engaging read.
The Story of Mankind promises to tell the history of the human race, starting from the formation of the Earth (literally), on up through the present day…of 1922, of course, just a few years beyond the Great War. Along the way we go through the dinosaurs, primeval man, ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the Reformation. It’s not so much the story of mankind as it is the story of European male-kind, but I will say that for a 1922 book, it made some efforts to be broad-minded.
As long as this was, I found it engaging and interesting throughout. Targeting children, the history is not too dense, for good or ill. It made it easy to follow and simple to read (er, listen to) but don’t expect too much detail or advanced analysis. I liked that it made an effort to pull the long centuries of history together into a coherent story, tracing the line from different eras and different countries to show how parts of history normally told separately connect to each other. Continue reading