A little history



As the As the snow fell today, I built a fire. Found a book, “A Little History of the World,” by E.H. Gombrich. Originally published in German in 1936, it’s  a world history for children. Not a textbook, according to the author, but hopefully an interesting, good read. It is. When finished I will pass it on to my 10 year old grandson, Eli. Each chapter focuses on an important period and characters in world history, starting with pre-history up to The Great War.

I never taught World History and although I knew many of the stories, I found it an easy to read, basic introduction. Lots of interesting stories.  I vaguely remember the battle of Marathon between Persians and Greek Athenians. But I couldn’t have told you the genesis of marathon races. A Greek ran to Athens from Marathon to warn the city about the Persians.

One story that caught my attention was from China in about 220 BC. The emperor, the first in China, Shih Huang-ti hated history. He ordered all history books, reports and records be burnt, along with the writings of Confucius and Lao-tzu.  He permitted books on useful subjects like agriculture. Anybody found in possession of any other books was to be put to death.

Huang-ti’s province was Ch’in; hence China. Haunt-ti conquered all provinces and unified and transformed the country. He threw out the princes and reorganized everything. He hated history and destroyed books because he wanted to wipe out every trace of the past. He would build a new China. He built roads and began work on the Great Wall of China.


Huang-ti claimed his four thousand mile Wall was necessary to protect China’s hard working and peaceable peasants and townspeople from the wild tribes of the steppes.

Huang-ti didn’t rule long. The Han family ascended the throne. They didn’t undo all of Huang-ti’s projects but they were not enemies of history. They remembered the teachings of the past and required government officials to know them.

Haunt-ti’s burning of books didn’t work. It was a bad idea trying to prevent people from knowing their own history. Truth and history would eventually prevail?

I eead this story and thought it might have a lesson for today?


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