A Little History of the World-Ernst Hans Josef Gombrich and Clifford Harper

World HistoryCan you imagine several thousand years of world history compressed into three hundred four pages? Before reading this book, I certainly did not and I believe the same applies to many others.  However,  that is exactly what Ernst Han Josef Gombrich (1909-2001) has done in this history book that came into existence as a result of challenge issued to the author to write a better history book than the one he was editing at the time.  The book was written in 1935 and subsequently re-published bringing it up to date with modern history events. Gombrich never intended for the book to replace all of the history textbooks in use by teachers and professors.  However, the book does serve as a complement to dozens of study aids used by students across the globe.  Interestingly, the book is geared towards the ages of seven to nine years but I think that readers of all ages will find it to be quite informative.

The pace of the book is fast and once we get started with the history of the world we know before Christ, we embark on a ride that does not slow down.  In fact, if there is one thing about the book that I felt detracted from it, it is that the pace is sometimes too fast leaving out critical information about various topics.   One example in particular is the huge lack of information on Genghis Khan, who is mentioned in passing.  Additionally, the majority of the focus is on the Middle East and Europe thereby excluding North America, Central America, Southeast Asia, South America and the majority of the continent of Africa.  I do not fault Gombrich for the focus of the text.  If he had written about all of those places, the book would have spanned several volumes.  To appreciate what he has done here, the reader should approach the book as a quick reference guide as opposed to a sole source of historical information.

In spite of its few shortcomings, the book is a good read that is engaging, informative and contains just enough information to give it substance while warding off boredom.  Gombrich was born in Austria, lived through the rise of Adolf Hitler and left Germany  in 1939 before World War II plunged the world into anarchy.  His comments and recollections about the Third Reich are an added but small bonus.  But what is undeniably clear, is that he is a part of world history and to this day, considered one of the world’s best historians.  His only child, Richard, is currently an Indologist and scholar of Sanskrit, Pāli, and Buddhist Studies and was once the Boden Professor of Sanskrit at the University of Oxford.

After I finished the book, I was surprised at how much material Gombrich did cover over the span of three hundred pages.  Compressing the text must have been a tedious job for even the best of editors.  Furthermore, there always exist the question of how much to add or leave out.  Perhaps no matter which way the book had gone, something would not have made the final cut.  I do believe it would have been more beneficial to have included more history about the west, Southeast Asia and Africa.   Undoubtedly it would have increased the number of pages but come much closer to a history of the world even if it is “little”.  Nevertheless, Gombrich did a more than sufficient job of taking us back in time.   And even if you are well-versed in world history, I feel that you still might enjoy this short but engaging read.  For those who have children, they might appreciate this gift more than you think.  Gombrich did not write the definitive book on world history but he did create and leave us with a valuable addition to any library.  But as the title says, it truly is a little history of the world.

ISBN-10: 030014332X
ISBN-13: 978-0300143324

The West on Trial: The Fight For Guyana’s Freedom-Cheddi Jagan

JaganMarch 6, 1997- Cheddi Jagan, the former Premier of British Guyana and President of Guyana, dies in Washington, D.C., after suffering a severe heart attack nearly a month earlier.  Jagan, born in Port Mourant, had risen to become a leading voice in the Guyanese movement for independence from Great Britain.  This is his story about his life in Guyana and abroad and the long struggle faced by the Guyanese people in their quest for freedom.  As a son of Indian immigrants who never owned a pair of shoes until the age of 12,  his transformation into the future leader of Guyana reminds us that with focus, passion and dedication, life can be a most unexpected journey full of unimaginable surprises.

This phenomenal account of Guyana, reveals the dark and complex cycle of exploitation resulting in the formation of racial tensions that divided the country and nearly caused its destruction.   Further divided along sharp political lines,  the battle to control the course of Guyana’s future unveiled the hidden motives of the British and U.S. governments.  And these motives, helped promoted a civil war that is the most violent in the country’s history.  The United States, caught in a grip of paranoia about  the possible Communist influence in Central and South America, purposely meddled in the affairs of British Guiana.  The actions and non-actions of the United States are an example of the misguided and nefarious foreign policy advocated as a result of the Cold War against the Soviet Union and the developing conflict in Southeast Asia.  Guyana’s independence in 1966, was the first step in a long road the country faced in social, economic and political reformation.  Guyana, is just in a long list of countries, that had been subject to foreign influence for far too many years.  Jagan was ahead of his time and his vision and efforts for independence for Guyana remain a lesson to other nations also in the fight for their own political, economic and social freedom.

ISBN-10: 9768163089
ISBN-13: 978-9768163080

History of the People of Trinidad & Tobago- Eric Williams

51vyww6savl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Last week, Trinidad & Tobago had its annual carnival celebration, the world renown party that pays tribute to Trinidadian heritage.  Attended by travelers from all over the globe, the carnival celebration is the most popular in the world and second to none.   Last September I visited the famed country to see for myself the history and culture that makes up Trinidad & Tobago.   The country is a surreal blend of several cultures and elements of Spanish, British, Chinese, French and Indian cultures permeate the island giving the visitor a sense of enchantment unique to Trinidad.  The food is something to be had and I indulged in as much as I could during my brief stay.  I certainly will return to Trinidad one day and hope to see carnival in person  and experience first hand the biggest and best carnival celebration.

Eric Williams, the first prime minister of Trinidad & Tobago from 1962 to 1981, brings to us this investigative account of the history of the mythical and unique nation.  Tracing its origins back to the voyages of Christopher Columbus, the reader can see first had how the foundation for the modern-day nation was laid through occupation, invasion, colonization and finally independence on August 31, 1962.   As someone who has close friends from the small Caribbean nation and a late relative born in Port of Spain,  the information in this book combined with my visit to the island, proved to be an invaluable experience in understanding its deep and sometimes violent history.

Recently, Trinidad has seen a rise in violent crimes as the police force struggles to maintain composure and control in the face of corruption and escalating drug wars between rival factions across the island.   Still a major tourist destination, especially during carnival,  the government faces a growing problem without a clear solution.   It is hoped that change will occur and heal the island from the afflictions that currently plague the country.  For anyone interested in the history of Trinidad & Tobago or those who are of Trinidadian heritage looking to learn more about the country they call home, this book is a good place to start.

ISBN-10: 161759010X
ISBN-13: 978-1617590108