Story of Mankind

by Henrick Willem van Loon

Snapshot of the 1922 Winner

"History is the might Tower of Experience, which Time has built amidst the endless fields of bygone ages...There is no elevator, but young feet are strong and it can be done."


This quote from the forward illustrates Van Loon's purpose in writing The Story of Mankind. It is a general overview of history with a focus on traditional western civilization. This is a book for broad strokes rather than details. I found it curious how little was included about World War I in the book, though it was probably too soon to see what repercussions that awful conflict would have.


In many ways, this book reads like a great uncle sitting down and rambling about history to his family. The quirky narrative style provided a few laughs.

Quotes & Thoughts

"Besides, I hope that I have told you enough about the Middle Ages to make you curious to read more in the excellent books of which I shall give you a list at the end of the volume." (p. 108)


This line made me cheer as it was directing readers to not take Story of Mankind as the final authority on history.


"Don't be satisfied with the mere statement that "such and such a thing happened then and there." (p. 207)


History is not a list! One of the things I loved about studying history was when the fact lists began to make sense (or when sources would argue with one another).


"I did not like this and suggested we destroy the whole manuscript and begin once more from the beginning. This, however, the publishers would not allow." (p. 259).


I found it odd that the publishers let that line stand.


Books on My Mind