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The Story of Mankind

3.32  ·  Rating details ·  1,823 Ratings  ·  314 Reviews
Anyone who can chronicle world history from 500,000 B.C. to present times--and do so in a lively, entertaining style--deserves a medal. Luckily, the bestowers of the very first Newbery Medal in 1922 thought so, too. The warm, personable tone of Hendrik Willem van Loon's writing lends itself to true learning in a way that stern, dry textbooks never do. In the introduction, ...more
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published February 1947 by George G Harrap & Co Ltd. London (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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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 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
Anna Smithberger
Apr 15, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Newbery Medal: 1922

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 t
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
Aug 26, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 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. ;)
Colby Sharp
Dec 30, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I did it!!!!
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
Apr 05, 2011 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
Feb 08, 2018 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Just to say that in Canada this book will be titled "The Story of Peoplekind"
May 29, 2013 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
Feb 19, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This short(ish) history of the world was well written (and apparently the first ever Caldecott winner?), but had all of the strengths and weaknesses you'd expect from a history book--even a children's history book--written by a Progressive at the beginning of the 20th century. Aside from the treatment of the Middle Ages, the Ancient world, and the Enlightenment, the best example is the contrast between the 1926 postscript, wherein van Loon calls for a strong captain to seize the helm of the ship ...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
Jack Kirby and the X-man
Feb 01, 2009 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
The first Newbery award-winner and thus the start of my grand Newbery read/re-read. This one is one of the rare non-fiction Newbery award-winners and one of the longest as well.

Basically an attempt to tell all of the world's history in one volume and aimed at young folk. Definitely a failure, but also kind of an unintentional time capsule. It shows what was considered important and unimportant, known and unknown at the time it was written. And the updates added in the back of the book at various
Jan 04, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: newberies
As an atheist view of basic Western civilization, and the great men of Europe, it really is not that bad at all, although it is so purely historical it fails largely to engage the issues of the modern reader. 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. Of course, van Loon is a Dutch American, and his bias toward ...more
Jun 21, 2009 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
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.
Sep 07, 2007 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.
Michael Scotto
Jan 07, 2012 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.
Aug 17, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This started out very interesting. I liked that this history was written for younger eyes. But it soon devolved into war after war after war...and it became incredibly difficult to remain interested, or even optimistic. Reading summaries of all of the world's wars over time really makes you realize how ridiculous and petty it all is. We go to war for the same shit year after year. When will it ever stop? I imagine that a history of mankind that is made up of 50% politics and war would not be ver ...more
Mar 14, 2012 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
2018 Newbery Medal Winner Challenge
For 2018, I am attempting to read all of the winners of the John Newbery Medal. Is it a crazy thing? Yes. But it is always been something I wanted to do. At many public libraries, including the first one I worked at, they are shelved separately. Reading all of the Newbery Medal winners would be a small way to satisfy that (not-s0) little itch I've always had to read ALL THE BOOKS.

My thoughts on the first ever book to win the medal:
More like the history of whit
Jan 04, 2013 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
Jan 27, 2011 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
Cassandra Kay Silva
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
Jul 14, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: newbery-win
This is a bit of a monster of children's book to delve into, especially as the first Newbery winner. (It posed as a hard blockade to overcome when I tried to read the Newberies as a child.) Given the subject material, I consider this written decently. There's nothing too heavy, so a child could climb this mountain if they did it in small bits. And maps are always fun. There are certainly better, more thorough ways to learn history, but this isn't an awful summary for what it is. (The author clea ...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
Marts  (Thinker)
Jan 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
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
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Children's Books: Winner & Honors from 1922 29 61 Jun 10, 2015 02:46PM  
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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
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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.” 18 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.” 17 likes
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