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It so happened that, in the final stages of writing his doctoral thesis, my grandfather had been corresponding with a little girl who was the daughter of some friends. She wanted to know what was keeping him so busy, and he enjoyed trying to explain his subject to her in ways she would understand.
A Little History of the World PDF Book by Ernst Gombrich
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He was also, he said later, feeling a little impatient with academic writing, having waded through so much of it in the course of his studies, and was convinced that it should be perfectly possible to explain most things to an intelligent child without jargon or pompous language. So he wrote a lively chapter on the age of chivalry and submitted it to Neurath – who was more than happy with it.
‘But,’ he said, ‘in order to meet the schedule that was intended for the translation, I will need a finished manuscript in six weeks’ time.’ My grandfather wasn’t sure that it could be done, but he liked the challenge and agreed to try. He plotted out the book at speed, selecting episodes for inclusion by asking himself simply which events of the past had touched most lives and were best remembered.
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He then set out to write a chapter a day. In the morning, he would read up on the day’s topic from what books were available in his parents’ house – including a big encyclopaedia. In the afternoon, he would go to the library to seek out, wherever possible, some texts belonging to the periods he was writing about, to give authenticity to his account.
Evenings were for writing. The only exceptions were Sundays – but to explain about these, I must first introduce my grandmother. Ilse Heller, as my grandmother was then called, had come to Vienna from Bohemia about five years earlier to pursue her piano studies. She was soon taken on as a pupil by Leonie Gombrich, after whom I am named.
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Leonie introduced Ilse to Ernst, and encouraged my grandfather to show her pupil some of the galleries and architectural splendours of Vienna. By 1935 their weekend outings together were well established – and in fact, they married the following year. And one Sunday, as my grandmother remembers it, they were walking in the Wienerwald and had stopped for a break.
‘Perhaps in a sunny clearing,’ she says, ‘sitting on the grass or on a fallen tree . . .’ – when my grandfather pulled a sheaf of papers from inside his jacket and said, ‘Do you mind if I read you something?’ ‘Well, it was better that he read it,’ says my grandmother now. ‘Even then, you know, Ernst’s handwriting was very difficult.’
That something, of course, was the Little History. Evidently she liked it, and the readings continued for the next six weeks until the book was done – for he delivered it to Neurath on time. If you read it aloud, you will find how beautifully those readings shaped the telling of it; the dedication gives an idea of how he appreciated them. A Little History of the World PDF
The original illustrations were produced by a former riding instructor, and my grandfather liked to point out that the numerous horses he included in his pictures were more skilfully drawn than the people. At Mycenae he discovered palaces and the tombs of kings, armour and shields, just as the Homeric songs had described them. And he found Troy, too, and dug there.
And it turned out that it really had been destroyed by fire. But in all those tombs and palaces there wasn’t one inscription, so that for a long time no one could put a date to them until, one day, quite by chance, a ring was found in Mycenae that didn’t come from there. On it, in hieroglyphs, was the name of an Egyptian king who had lived around 1400 BC.
And had been the predecessor of Akhenaton, the great reformer. Now at that time there was living in Greece, and on the many neighbouring islands and shores, a warlike people who had amassed great treasures. Greece was not so much a kingdom as a collection of small fortified cities, each with its own palace and king. A Little History of the World PDF
The people were mostly seafarers, like the Phoenicians, only they traded less and fought more.They were often at war with one another, but on occasion would gang together to plunder other shores. And as their fortunes grew bigger, they grew bolder – and not just bolder, but braver, because to be a sea raider takes courage as well as cunning.
So sea raiding was a task which fell to the nobility. The rest of the population were simple peasants and shepherds. Now, unlike the Egyptians, the Babylonians and the Assyrians, these noblemen weren’t interested in preserving the ways of their ancestors. Their many raids and battles with foreign peoples had opened their eyes to new ideas and taught them to relish variety and change.
And it was at this point, and in this part of the world, that history began to progress at a much greater speed, because people no longer believed that the old ways were best. From now on, things were constantly changing. And this is why, nowadays, when we find even a fragment of pottery – in Greece, or anywhere else in Europe – we can say: ‘this dates from roughly this or that period.’ A Little History of the World PDF
Because a hundred years later a pot like that would have gone out of fashion, and nobody would have wanted it. As well as large temples there was a stadium at Olympia, and all the Greeks – the Dorians, Ionians, Spartans and Athenians – came there to show how well they could run, throw the discus and the javelin, fight hand to hand and race chariots.
To be victorious at Olympia was the greatest honour in a man’s life. The prize was no more than a simple garland made from sprigs of wild olive, but what fame for the winners: the greatest poets sang their praises, the greatest sculptors carved their statues to stand for ever in Olympia. They were shown in their chariots, throwing the discus, or rubbing oil into their bodies before the fight.
Victory statues like these can still be seen today – there may even be one in your local museum. Since the Olympic Games took place once every four years, and were attended by all the Greeks, they provided everyone with a convenient way to measure time. This was gradually adopted throughout Greece. A Little History of the World PDF Download
Just as we say meaning ‘Before the birth of Christ’ or for after the birth of Christ (Anno Domini which means the year of our Lord in Latin), the Greeks would say: ‘At the time of this or that Olympiad’. The first Olympiad was in 776 . Can you work out when the tenth would have been? But don’t forget!
They only happened every four years. But it wasn’t only the Olympic Games that brought all the Greeks together. There was another sanctuary which they all held sacred. This one was at Delphi, and belonged to the sun god Apollo, and there was something most peculiar about it. As sometimes happens in volcanic regions, there was a fissure in the ground from which vapour issued.
If anyone inhaled it, it literally clouded their mind. It was as if they were drunk or delirious, and nothing they said made any sense. The very meaninglessness of these utterances seemed deeply mysterious to the Greeks, who said that ‘the god himself speaks through a mortal mouth’. A Little History of the World PDF Download
So they had a priestess – whom they called Pythia – sit over the fissure on a three-legged stool, while other priests interpreted her babble as predictions of the future. Above all, it was Athens and Sparta who could not put up with one another for long. By 430 the two states were locked in a long and bitter conflict.
This was the Peloponnesian War. The Spartans marched on Athens, savagely laying waste to the countryside all around. They uprooted all the olive trees and this was a terrible misfortune because it takes years for a newly planted olive tree to bear fruit. The Athenians hit back, attacking the Spartan colonies to the south of Italy, at Syracuse in Sicily.
There was a great deal of fighting and retaliation, a terrible plague in Athens in which Pericles died and, in the end, Athens lost the war and the city walls were torn down. As is usually the case with wars, not only Athens but the whole country was exhausted by the conflict, and the victors were no exception. A Little History of the World PDF Download
To add to it all, a small tribe near Delphi, provoked by the priests of the Oracle, invaded and plundered the sanctuary of Apollo. Utter confusion followed. A foreign tribe – though not so very foreign – took advantage of this confusion to interfere. Now it had been foretold that he who could untie the enchanted knot would become master of the world.
Alexander wasted little time fiddling with a knot that was clearly far worse than the sort you get in your shoelace when you are in a hurry. He did something my mother never let me do: he took his sword and simply chopped it through. The story’s meaning is twofold: Alexander would conquer the world in fulfilment of the ancient prophecy, and he would do it with the sword. A Little History of the World PDF Free
As indeed he did. You will find it easier to follow the rest of this story of conquest if you take a look at the map (on pages 70 and 71). Alexander could have gone on to attack Persia directly, but rather than risk an attack from the rear by the Persian provinces of Phoenicia and Egypt, he chose to subdue them first.
The Persians tried to block his way near a town called Issus, but Alexander crushed them. He plundered the magnificent royal tents and made off with the king’s treasure. He captured the king’s wife and sisters, too, and treated them with the utmost respect and courtesy. That was in 333 , an easy date to remember.
Phoenicia was less easy to conquer. For seven long months Alexander laid siege to the city of Tyre. Its destruction, when it came, was all the more brutal. Egypt was easier. Glad to be rid of the Persians, the Egyptians soon surrended to Persia’s foe. But Alexander was determined to be a true ruler of Egypt, the sort they were used to. A Little History of the World PDF Free
He marched across the desert to a temple of the sun god and had the priests proclaim him Son of the Sun, and therefore righteous Pharaoh. Before he left Egypt to continue his campaign, he founded a new city by the sea and named it after himself: Alexandria. It is still there today, and was for a long time one of the richest and most powerful cities in the world.
Only now did he march on Persia. In the meantime the Persian king had assembled a huge army and was waiting for Alexander near ancient Nineveh at a place called Gaugamela. He sent messengers ahead to meet Alexander and offered him half his kingdom and his daughter in marriage, if only he would agree not to fight. ‘If I were Alexander, I’d take it,’ said Alexander’s friend, Parmenios.
Alexander punished the assassins. Now he was king of the whole of Persia. Greece, Egypt, Phoenicia, Palestine, Babylonia, Assyria, Asia Minor and Persia – all these were now part of his empire. He set about putting it in order. His commands could now be said to reach all the way from the Nile to Samarkand. A Little History of the World PDF Free
This would probably have been enough for you or me, but Alexander was far from satisfied. He wanted to rule over new, undiscovered lands. He longed to see the mysterious, far-off peoples merchants talked about when they came to Persia with rare goods from the East. Like Dionysus in the Greek legend, he wanted to ride in triumph to the sun-burnished Indians of the East, and there receive their tribute.
So he spent little time in the Persian capital, and in 327 led his army on the most perilous adventures over unknown and unexplored mountain passes and down along the valley of the Indus into India. But the Indians did not submit to him willingly. The hermits and penitents in the forests denounced the conquerors from the distant West in their sermons.
And the soldiers of the warrior caste fought valiantly, so that every city had to be besieged and conquered in its turn. Alexander himself was no less valiant, as is shown by his encounter with an Indian king. King Porus had lain in wait for him on a branch of the Indus River, with a mighty army of war elephants and foot soldiers. A Little History of the World PDF Free
When Alexander reached the river the king’s army was positioned on the far bank, and Alexander and his soldiers had no choice but to cross the river in the face of the enemy host. His success was one of his greatest feats. Yet even more remarkable was his victory over that army, in the stifling heat of India.
Porus was brought before him in chains. ‘What do you want of me?’ asked Alexander. ‘Only that you treat me as befits a king.’ ‘And that is all?’ ‘That is all,’ came the reply, ‘there is no more to be said.’ Alexander was so impressed that he gave Porus back his kingdom.