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The Story of Mankind

The Story of Mankind by Hendrik van Loon

A book that won the Newberry Prize in 1921 for an Outstanding Contribution in Children's Literature, The Story of Mankind, by Hendrik van Loon is indeed a classic that has been enjoyed by generations of children and adults.

The book is an engagingly written work, dedicated to the author Hendrik van Loon's two young son's Hansje and Willem. It was created to convey the history of the human race to young people in a way that was interesting, memorable and would spur them onto further research and reading into the subject.

Tracing the origins of mankind from about 500,000 BC into the present era, The Story of Mankind encompasses anthropology, culture, sociology and history. This book creates a vivid portrayal of the development of the human race from the time of the caveman to the intelligent dominate species that it is today. Designed to be read by young readers and perhaps their parents and teachers along with them, it provides valuable lessons in a variety of subjects in a very readable fashion.

Modern day readers may find some of the concepts politically incorrect or not quite enlightened. Some critics have also found that van Loon takes Biblical concepts and presents them as proven history. However, aside from these small blips, the book is indeed a treasure trove of information. It also describes the foundations of Western thought and culture. It traces the development of art, music, literature, culture and civilization itself in the Western World. Van Loon was motivated to select the areas of history that he would describe by apparently asking himself whether this particular person or event changed the course of civilization or not.

After World War I, the author added one more chapter called “After Seven Years” and in later years, his children and other writers have added more chapters to make the book more contemporary and relevant for modern readers.

The original illustrations by the author added to the appeal of the book as he was a talented artist and naturalist. The book was also adapted to film in 1957, in a quirky version starring the inimitable Marx Brothers. As basic reading for anyone interested in the history of the human race, The Story of Mankind provides a great launching pad from which to explore the deep and complex mysteries that are contained in the origin of our species on earth.

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