From my point of view, having earned a BA in history, it was difficult to really enjoy such a superficial study. Van Loon dealt with such a vast subject matter that he could not put much detail into any one topic. From the point of view of a child there are a couple of things to consider. First, the sheer size of the book would be daunting. Second, the very subject matter would be rather off-putting to most children. Third, if a child did pick this up to read, they would probably get a bit confused. It wasn't too bad for me since I have a background in history, but I think it would be hard for a child to read it without having to ask a lot of questions, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it would make reading it frustrating for them.
Newbery wanted to help children be "strong, hardy, healthy, virtuous, wise and happy." I definitely think a knowledge of history is important, but I'm not sure if a crash course like this book is the best way. There were several nuggets I pulled out of the book. My favorites I will quote below:
- Why should we ever read fairy stories, when the truth of history is so much more interesting and entertaining? (p. 154)
- For tolerance, is of very recent origin and even the people of our own so-called "modern world" are apt to be tolerant only upon such matters as do not interest them very much. (p. 264)
- Try to discover the hidden motives behind every action and then you will understand the world around you much better and you will have a greater chance to help others, which (when all is said and done) is the only truly satisfactory way of living. (p. 370)
- But in practical politics, it does not matter what is true, but everything depends upon what the people believe to be true. (p. 382)
- Most likely we will follow a dozen wrong tracks before we find the right direction. And in the meantime we are fast learning one very important lesson--that the future belongs to the living and that the dead ought to mind their own business. (p. 482)
Quotes I laughed at.
- Thereafter the Romans enjoyed one great advantage over the Greeks. They managed the affairs of their country without making too many speeches. (p. 94)
- But if they followed this advice of the distant Pope and were caught, they were hanged by their near-by Liege Lord and that too was very unpleasant. (p. 164)