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The Story of Mankind

3.26  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,415 Ratings  ·  260 Reviews
First published in 1921, The Story of Mankind has charmed generations of readers of all ages with its warmth, simplicity, and wisdom. Beginning with the origins of human life and sweeping forward to illuminate all of history, Hendrik van Loon's incomparable prose enlivens the characters and events of every age. His unique ability to convey history as a fascinating tale of ...more
Paperback, 704 pages
Published December 17th 1999 by Liveright (first published 1921)
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Heather History does not change, but our understanding of it does as new discoveries in archaeology, science, and history bring to light details and…moreHistory does not change, but our understanding of it does as new discoveries in archaeology, science, and history bring to light details and interpretations that supersede previously understood facts. The book is very dated, particularly in the beginning of the book which is filled with speculative and pseudo-history, some of which matches current understanding and interpretations of early history/archaeology and some of which doesn't. If I was going to use it for children, I would skip the first dozen or so chapters, perhaps even using only the chapters that cover about 800 A.D. forward. (less)
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Community Reviews

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Benji Martin
My journey through the Newbery winners begins here with the Story of Mankind. I’ve never been a great book review writer. It’s hard for me to talk about a book without giving too much away, so for these Newbery winners, I think I will stick to a format. I will answer the following questions. What did I like about the book? What did I dislike about the book? Did this book deserve to win the Newbery? Why or why not?

What I liked about the book:
Imagine that your grandfather was a retired history pr
James Swenson
Dec 30, 2011 James Swenson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
We found this in my grandma's basement after she died. I picked it up again at my folks' house, when I was looking for bedtime reading, and I went through it in bits and pieces, over the course of several visits.

I went in with an open mind: I always try to love the book I'm reading, but then I always questioned Grandma's taste. This time, I was pleasantly surprised.

I skimmed the other reviews on Goodreads: the most misguided of these claimed that "anyone could have written this book." That's the
Mar 21, 2011 Velvetink rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, z-1960-s, vintage
This is a book that belonged to my grandfather, it's the 1947 edition. I fell in love with the illustrations and is probably one of the reasons I love history. I've added 3 photographs of pages with illustrations that took my fancy. The first - of the universe with the sign (Here we Live) at first worried me a little - the vastness OUT THERE but I was very very young at the time. Now it reminds me of something that might come from a Douglas Adams book...perhaps he read Van Loon too. ;)
The Story of Mankind is the 1922 Newbery winner, and the first book to receive the award. It chronicles the history of "mankind" from its single cell origins through the end of World War I. I'm not sure what inspired the Newbery committee to choose a nearly 500 page book with such an ambitious scope, and I really can't see how this book would have gotten children excited about either reading or history.

First off, the book is incredibly Eurocentric. There is barely a mention of the world beyond
Anna Smithberger
Apr 24, 2014 Anna Smithberger rated it did not like it
This book is exceptionally Eurocentric, which makes sense for the period in which it was written, but does not excuse the racism and the belief that little of "historic importance" ever came out of the non-western world. I also found the tone extremely patronizing and the many strange asides, quips, and at times laborious rants van Loon would include made me want to throw the book across the room.

While the edition I read had been updated to include events branching into the 21st century, and the
Aug 12, 2014 Rob rated it did not like it
It's amazing how bad this book is. It's anti-semitic, condescending to previous generations, hardly filled with fact, but contains lots of opinions and some outright falsities. Loon likes to go on and on about his opinions of people/groups/etc and then skips over major historical events. For example, he opined about the horrible state of people in the middle ages and how it must have been due to their religious beliefs for about 15 pages and then devoted only one sentence to Joan of Arc. During ...more
Mar 04, 2011 Jackie rated it did not like it
It's amazing that this rambling version, with little significance to some major events of history, was awarded the Newbery Medal. Thankfully, we have some wonderful children's literature today that is worthy of the medal. Hendrick Van Loon attempts to capture The Story of Mankind for his grandchildren and future generations. Too bad the writing is horrible and the words are boring.

I struggled with giving this book two stars. I looked back at the books I gave one star to, and those books were REA
Colby Sharp
Jan 03, 2012 Colby Sharp rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I did it!!!!
Jack Kirby and the X-man
Feb 23, 2009 Jack Kirby and the X-man rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jack Kirby and the X-man by: Children's Books Group
I only got up to page 75 of this 500+ page book... Why, well basically there are a lot better books out there to spend my time reading.

I feel that if I were an 8-12 year old in 1921 I would have really loved this book. With a school librarian as a mother I'm sure I would have been introduced to it, and I would have lapped it up. I liked how accessable the writing style was (but it is now difficult to determine what the author included as jokes, and what was really believed). The short chapters w
I have finished The Book. Mr. van Loon's Narcoleptic Affect (thanks for that, Jen) notwithstanding, I enjoyed it. Seriously, I have never in my life fallen asleep reading a book as many times as I did this one. I lost count, but am pretty sure it was upwards of 10.

That said, I marked a TON of things I wanted to refer back to. We'll see how many make it into this review. Of course, my first thought, about 30 pages into this book was, "exactly who was this book written for?" A bunch of scholars wh
Jun 06, 2015 Anita rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: newbery-medals
I might be a little crazy, but I would like to try to read all the Newbery Medal winning books. There are over 90. I have already read several, but I decided to start at the first medal book for this journey. This book got the award in 1922. I think it is cool that it is a non-fiction book about history. Seeing it was written in 1921, I knew it would only take me to about WW1. What sold me on this book was that it covers the history of man, but in 300 plus pages.

I teach where we read a couple o
Apr 05, 2011 Amy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wow, where to start? This book was originally published in 1921, and covers a very general history of the world up to that time. There were a lot of things that surprised me about it. For one thing, I assumed the author would have different (more "old-fashioned") ideas. I expected some slant, but the direction of the slant was a surprise. The author comes across as what we would probably describe today as fairly liberal. He clearly disagreed with the US's decision to enter WWI; and was not impre ...more
Sep 19, 2015 D.C. rated it it was ok
Shelves: newberies
As an atheist view of basic Western civilization, and the great men of Europe, it really is not that bad at all. But as a story of mankind, as van Loon frequently reminds us that this is, it downright stinks. van Loon only briefly takes a break from talking about the glories and splendors of Europe to talk about Buddha and Confucius in Asia. The women of history, even the ones of Europe, are never mentioned. Of course, van Loon is a Dutch American, and his bias towards the story of white history ...more
Jun 21, 2009 Janis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having recently read this year's Newbery Medal book, I thought it would be interesting to read the winner of the first Newbery (awarded in 1922). I was a bit taken aback to find that it was a 662-page volume of history (what manner of children were these 1920s munchkins?) but I was pleasantly surprised by Van Loon's approach and style, which is clear and straightforward, witty and expressive. Delightful, detailed line drawings accompany the text. Occasionally the author steps away from the chron ...more
Christian Clarke
Sep 07, 2007 Christian Clarke rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Convicts
I've read this book a number of times while preparing to teach world history. Van Loon was a professor of history who decided to make the scope of world history palpable for his grandkids. The book's voice and tone is avuncular and affable. but it is not impartial. Van Loon, an immigrant who made good, love America and her European forefathers.
It took me forever to get through this book, because it basically reads like a textbook, which is fine, but not something I think would ever be appealing to kids in the twenty-first century. I would be SHOCKED if a kid actually willingly picked this up to read it, finished all 600+ pages, and enjoyed it.
Michael Scotto
Jan 07, 2012 Michael Scotto rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: newbery
Brutal read, but interesting as an artifact of the prevailing wisdom of its time.
Jan 27, 2011 Reynard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, history
Since time immemorial, humans love stories. Stories are what make scattered, seemingly random events look more connected, purposeful and meaningful. And that's the approach taken by Van Loon. Neither a scholarly analysis of the world at large, nor an academic definition of our mortal lives and strives, the book is supposed to be read as "story," as in the fireside, bedside stories, painted by captivating anecdotes, colorful narratives, and intimate feelings, as they continue to embrace children ...more
Thom Swennes
Written especially for children, The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon explains in simple words and in a clear form, the history of man. The concept of this book is as pretentious as the title suggests. In the first few chapters, many of the spurious assertions about paleontological matters have been drastically abridged since its first publication in 1921. As the narrative progresses the facts are more stable and relay a short but surprisingly detailed and informative history of the w ...more
Mar 14, 2012 Aimee rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I’ll say this for the Newbery committee: They did NOT get off to a rollicking start. I’m glad I had a commitment to read this book because without it, there is no way I would have finished this just for fun. It feels bad to start out this way, but I just did not enjoy this book.

Now know this: I like history. And he really got me going, for the first half of the book. From primordial soup to humans is glossed over pretty quickly but that didn’t bother me too much as this is a history of humans, n
Cassandra Kay Silva
May 17, 2011 Cassandra Kay Silva rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
Not to be a snob but this so called "history" could have been written by anybody. Almost everything in the book is common knowledge, and requires little if any referencing. I think that is why it got the original newberry because it would be really accessible to children. I almost threw the book out the window when about three fourths of the way through it he started apologizing for all of the people he left out and offended because he had to take liberties with deciding on subject matter based ...more
Originally reviewed on my blog, Books from Bleh to Basically Amazing.

The Story of Mankind by Hendrik van Loon was awarded the very first Newbery Medal in 1922. I decided a few years ago that I wanted to read and own every Newbery Award Winner. Given that this won the first Newbery, I was excited to read it, even though I had heard some less than favorable things about the writing.

Let me first admit that I skimmed a vast majority of this book. I started the book with the full intention of readin
Jan 04, 2013 Peter rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: newberys
The Story of Mankind heroically attempts to tell the history of the human race from caveman times to 1922, that being "the present". It succeeds in telling the history of white people, sort of, with a strong anti-religion skew.

I had high hopes of this book, because it was acclaimed the first Newbery winner by 163 librarians and has remained in print ever since, being repeatedly updated with chapters on the end - my library's 1980s edition finished with "Looking Toward the Year 2000". And the wri
Marts  (Thinker)
For centuries mankind has existed, discovered, explored, conquered, exploited. Man’s beginnings may be termed difficult, but due to a knowledge of no other method, may it just be said that life was drastically different. However, tribulations, disasters, and various dastardly acts were all pivotal in shaping this world as we now know it.
Van Loon’s book is quite an interesting one, beginning with an introduction to our earliest ancestors, he chronicles man’s developmental journey in his own opini
Feb 02, 2015 Jim marked it as could-not-finish  ·  review of another edition
I saw this available through my library & thought it would be interesting. I should have paid attention to both the publishing date (1921) & the audience. The emergence of man as a species is not just simplistic, but plain wrong according to modern theories, at least as I understand it.

I'm putting it on hold for a bit.

Decided there are too many better books to listen to.
Jan 14, 2012 katsok rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: newbery-winners
Ugh. It's done. There were parts I was interested in - thus two stars instead of one - but more parts I simply skimmed through. It floors me that this was one - the most distinguished children's book of 1921 and two - a book written for children, period. My favorite sentence was from page 228, "Again I wish I could make this book a thousand pages long." Seriously?

As I said on Twitter, I would not pass a test on this one. I read to about page 250 really seriously, reading and thinking deeply. Af
Nov 19, 2011 Skedatt rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
Picked it up for a dollar and glad that I didn't spend more.

At first I was rather excited to find it because it was mentioned somewhere as a good history for homeschooling. Wrong.

Perhaps it is because I have a background in history that I find comments such as "In a strange way, the Egyptians had come to believe..." p.24 and "But the lazy, ignorant monks..." p.270 as statements better found in an opinion paper, not in documenting history. There are platforms for that, but it isn't in a book li
Ugh, this was terrible. Who in their right mind chose this as a Newbery Medal book for children?? There is not ONE single child that would read this - I don't even know why I read it.
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Mar 12, 2016 Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: newbery
I saved the worst for last. My final Newbery and what a struggle it was to get through it! This is the story of the history of the world through the ages, written for a young audience. It is said to have been amended and updated and added to, but, if that is so, I can only shudder to think of the awful book that this book was originally. It is, in its present form, chock full of cruel opinions and mean asides about various peoples and their actions through the ages. I had considered keeping this ...more
Alice Eccles
Mar 03, 2016 Alice Eccles rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was the very first winner of the Newbery Medal, and I believe it deserved that honor. I haven't read many books from the early 1920s (only books that received Newbery medals or honors), but this is definitely high-quality in comparison to most of what I have read from that era. Hendrik Van Loon does a creditable job of putting history in perspective (with biases intact, though), not even touching on The Great War because it was too recent.
The edition I read was from the 1980s or 90s, and ot
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Hendrik Willem van Loon (January 14, 1882 – March 11, 1944) was a Dutch-American historian and journalist.

Born in Rotterdam, he went to the United States in 1903 to study at Cornell University. He was a correspondent during the Russian Revolution of 1905 and in Belgium in 1914 at the start of World War I. He later became a professor of history at Cornell University (1915-17) and in 1919 became an
More about Hendrik Willem van Loon...

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“On the other hand, when you grow up you will discover that some of the people in this world never passed beyond the stage of the cave-man.” 12 likes
“High in the North in a land called Svithjod there is a mountain. It is a hundred miles long and a hundred miles high and once every thousand years a little bird comes to this mountain to sharpen its beak. When the mountain has thus been worn away a single day of eternity will have passed.” 12 likes
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