First thoughts: this book is LONG.
I’ve read long books before, and 540 pages is shorter than Harry Potter. But somehow, Hendrick van Loon’s The Story of Mankind seems so much longer than 540 pages.
The book begins with the concept of infinity–an illustration not usually used in history texts, but I liked it.From there, the progression through The Story of Mankind is pretty standard. It takes readers from prehistory through contemporary events, in this case, through the development of the United Nations. It’s my understanding that the author periodically added chapters after its original publication; I’m reading the 1954 edition.
The chapters are short, which I find so helpful in getting through a dense history. And the writing style is so, so great. Van Loon writes clearly, concisely, and in such a way that I finally understand the battles over Mesopotamia. Van Loon’s history strikes the balance between thorough and succinct, nuanced and digestible.
And there are pictures! Drawn by the author himself.
Illustrations help you imagine what things looked like. Maps and diagrams help you understand battles, movements, and geography when text might not be enough. I’ve read van Loon’s history up until the beginnings of the Renaissance so far, and I’m looking forward to finishing up the rest of his book. Favorite excerpt so far? “The history of man is the record of a hungry creature in search of food” (van Loon 22).
Would you read The Story of Mankind?