Why Did Gombrich Write a Little History of the World?

E. H. Gombrich, an Austrian-born art historian, wrote “A Little History of the World” to introduce children to the vast and complex world of history. This book is a concise and engaging overview of human history, from the Stone Age to the 20th century. It has since become a classic in children’s literature and a must-read for anyone interested in history.

So why did Gombrich write this book?

Gombrich was deeply concerned about the rise of fascism in Europe during his lifetime. He believed that education was crucial to preventing future wars and atrocities. As he stated in the preface of “A Little History of the World,” he saw his book as a way of “offering children some help in finding their bearings in this changing world.”

What sets this book apart?

One of the unique features of “A Little History of the World” is its conversational tone. Gombrich writes not as an expert but as a curious and thoughtful guide, inviting readers to join him on a journey through time. He also does an excellent job of balancing breadth with depth, covering major events and figures while still providing interesting details and anecdotes.

The Importance of Context

Another strength of Gombrich’s approach is his emphasis on context. He doesn’t just present facts but seeks to explain why events happened as they did. For example, when discussing Ancient Greece, he explains how geography shaped Greek culture and politics.

  • By being surrounded by sea
  • By having mountainous terrain
  • By having fertile plains

This approach makes history come alive for readers by showing how it connects to their own lives and experiences.

The Power of Illustration

Finally, it’s worth noting the importance of the illustrations in “A Little History of the World.” Gombrich worked closely with a friend and artist, Clifford Harper, to create charming and informative drawings that complement the text. These illustrations help readers visualize key events and concepts, making them easier to remember.


In conclusion, Gombrich wrote “A Little History of the World” to provide children with a broad understanding of human history and its importance. By adopting a conversational tone, emphasizing context, and including engaging illustrations, he created a book that is both informative and enjoyable to read. Whether you’re a child or an adult, this book is an excellent introduction to the world’s rich and fascinating history.