One of the best history books I’ve read, that is both accessible and broad, is E.H. Gombrich’s informative A Little History of the World. Originally published back in 1935, and written in German, this fascinating history pulls away from the British-centric history books and reveals the history that shaped mainland Europe, from the Stone Age up until the First World War. All the major events in history are touched upon, giving clear and brilliant insight to the history we know, and the history we don’t. Another amazing thing about this book is how it was originally written for children but has proven itself perfectly capable of captivating readers of all ages. When it was published for the first time in English by Yale University Press in 2005, it began a whole new series of books – the Little Histories series.
Going beyond A Little History of the World, there are many topics already touched upon in the series. All of them have been written by well-known experts in these topics, such as David Crystal’s A Little Book of Language, or John Carey’s A Little History of Poetry. Each of these academics are known for their knowledge in these topics, which they brilliantly break down in their books to broadly introduce the topic, be it to a beginner or someone who has already read a couple of books on said topic. Other books in the series include Nigel Warburton’s A Little History of Philosophy, which will give anyone remotely interested in philosophy a knowledgeable runthrough of Western philosophy, or William Bynum’s A Little History of Science that successfully runs through all the major discoveries of science in physics, chemistry, and biology.
The success of this series in relation to learning about new topics in a fun way mostly boils down to their ability to write about general topics in an interesting and engaging way. It means you could find overlapping information in Carey’s A Little History of Poetry and John Sutherland’s A Little History of Literature, but still find something new from each book. The access to experts on these topics, writing in a way that is completely comprehensible, really encourages those who have enjoyed one book in the series to seek out more of them.