Sunday, August 24, 2008

A little history of the World

One reason I decided to give up working a regular job was the hope that I would have time to read a lot more. (There were many reasons, but this was a contributor.) On days when I am at home, I am managing to read about 4-5 hours a day.

Of course, this amount of reading is grossly inadequate. It is inadequate because my mountain of ignorance is made up of huge boulder-sized gaps in my knowledge.

No one seems to be mentioning this, but one side effect of traveling is that it serves to cast my ignorance into sharp, sharp relief. Every country and city I visit reminds me of how little of history and general knowledge I know. I go to Egypt and realize that I have only juvenile knowledge of their 3000 year civilization; in Mongolia I realize that I know hardly anything of the conquests of the great Genghis Khan; and every country seems to have Nobel laureates I haven’t even heard of, catchy folk songs I haven’t ever listened to. The list is endless.

One small candle of flame against this huge darkness is the book I am now reading. It is called ‘A Little History of The World’ by E.H. Gombrich. It was written in 1935, when the author was just 26 years old. The English version came out fairly recently. In under 300 pages and 40 chapters he manages to succinctly cover the entire history of the world. Since Gombrich’s publisher intended it for children, the book is immensely accessible.

Here’s what Patricia Schroeder says about the book: "Imagine the full story of human habitation on our planet being told in such flowing prose that you want to read it out loud. If you can't imagine that, read A Little History of the World and experience it!"

Check it out.


Arvind said...


Will try and get my hands on this book. However, I am in some sense at the exact opposite end of the spectrum. I am realizing how
( a ) i have no use for most of my current knowledge
( b ) I have way more knowledge than understanding
( c ) Most of what I know, was put into my head by my need to impress people (teachers, friends etc.)
( d ) Only an extraordinarily small part of my current knowledge makes life more meaningful and beautiful for me

I am trying to focus more on (d) above and this has mainly led me to books of the following kind
( i ) Zen poems, Smullyan and the like.
( ii ) Awareness of the human condition
( iii ) A return to math reading after stripping out ( c ) above while being conscious of ( d )


Goutham said...

Got to agree with Arvind on (b). But then, that is a better problem to have than no knowledge and no understanding.