Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Story of Mankind

The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and BooksAMillion or you can read a copy for free at Project Gutenberg.

Honestly, unless you have a goal to read all the Newbery Medal and Honor Books, I recommend skipping this book. There are much better books covering world history and evolution out there; read them instead.

The Blurb

First published in 1921 and since translated into 18 languages, "The Story of Mankind" has charmed generations of readers. It begins with the origins of human life and sweeps forward to illuminate all of our pasts. This new version which retains van Loon's pen and ink illustrations, maps and animated chronology, along with illustrations by his grandson Dirk van Loon. It incorporates the most important developments of the last three decades, including space exploration, the emergence of developing countries, and the advances in medicine, science and technology, and looks forward to the prospects of the 21st century.

My Review 
The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
This book is awful. It's hard to read as an adult; I don't know how anyone expected children to stay with this book. And, having read the other Newbery Honor books from 1922, I have no idea how this book took the Medal. It's bad, it's soooooo bad. The other Honor stories are better suited for children and have a purpose beyond insulting everyone who isn't a white, Protestant male (women are largely ignored throughout the text).

Some shining examples of the prejudices found within this book:
**The assumption that Sumerians were white.
**The Phoenicians "did not know what the words honesty or integrity meant...Indeed, they were very unpleasant people and did not have a single friend."
**That, after the fall of Ancient Greece, the Greeks "became cheap artisans, content with second-rate work."
**Implications that "heathenish origin" is "both wicked and useless."
**And, this is a personal favorite of mine, considering I have ancestors from Mongolia and Loon (how aptly he was named) calls them "dirty little yellow men."
**Credits Greeks/Romans/Church as having the only written language in Europe without mentioning the Irish Ogham or Nordic Runes (probably because they were of "heathenish origin"). 
I can't even say that this book is Eurocentric because it's technically Christiancentric. Loon removes the Church from having much role in any of the historic events he covers, even though the Church was directly-involved with most of these events. The crazy Loon even goes so far as to credit the Church for saving mankind during the Middle Ages. Ha!
His science is outdated; granted, he did not have the scientific data that we have today at his disposal. 
Loon ignores a lot of the world so this book doesn't qualify as World History. This is a collection of summaries that briefly touch upon European History. The most we get about Asia is what amounts to a summary of Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha (skip the crazy Loon and read Hesse instead) before Loon dismisses 6,000-years of Indian history. As for Africa, he touches upon Carthage and Egypt but ignores the rest of the continent. He didn't attempt to cover Native Americans or Aboriginal Australians - he acts as though they didn't exist. 
Loon backtracks multiple times throughout the text, re-summarizing what he's already summarized as if we didn't get it the first time around - which we probably didn't because he leaves out too many details. 
The only positive I could find about this book is that it covers a few topics -like The Holy Alliance and The Monroe Doctrine- that have since been erased from American history books and are relevant to current roiling religious debates. I just think that readers are better off seeking that information elsewhere, in a book less biased and more focused on the facts. 
View all my reviews

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