E. H. Gombrich: His 1936 Children's History of Art Finally Published in English

Historians in the News

"THE history of the world is, sadly, not a pretty poem," the art historian E. H. Gombrich wrote in his first book, a history primer for children, published in German in 1936. "It offers little variety, and it is nearly always the unpleasant things that are repeated, over and over again."

That book, "A Little History of the World," was a critical and popular success, translated in its early years into five languages. But for decades, Gombrich, one of the most renowned (and best-selling) art scholars of the 20th century, would not permit anyone to translate it into English, his adopted language. That task he preferred to reserve for himself. In the last years of his long life, he turned back to that slim first volume, produced when he was 26 and still living in Vienna. He was rewriting it for English readers when he died in 2001, at 92, in London.

Finally, that translation is being published by Yale University Press on Friday in Britain and on Oct. 13 in the United States.

That Yale University Press would seize on a 70-year-old history primer for children might seem unusual. But for scholars and generalists alike, the book sheds light on the worldview of an art historian who, like many in his generation, treasured Enlightenment principles and championed the power of art even as he witnessed the inhumanity of the Nazi regime and the devastation of two world wars.

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