|The Story of Mankind|
|by Hendrik Willem Van Loon|
|Relates the story of western civilization from earliest times through the beginning of the twentieth century, with special emphasis on the people and events that changed the course of history. Portrays in vivid prose the achievements of mankind in the areas of art and discovery, as well as the political forces leading to the modern nation-states. Richly illustrated with drawings by the author. Winner of the first Newbery Award in 1922, The Story of Mankind has introduced generations of children to the pageant of world history. Ages 10-14 |
A SHORT SUMMARY OF CHAPTERS 1 TO 20
 THUS far, from the top of our high tower we have been
looking eastward. But from this time on, the history of Egypt
and Mesopotamia is going to grow less interesting and I must
take you to study the western landscape.
Before we do this, let us stop a moment and make clear to
ourselves what we have seen.
First of all I showed you prehistoric man—a creature very
simple in his habits and very unattractive in his manners. I
told you how he was the most defenceless of the many animals
that roamed through the early wilderness of the five continents,
but being possessed of a larger and better brain, he managed to
hold his own.
Then came the glaciers and the many centuries of cold
weather, and life on this planet became so difficult that man was
obliged to think three times as hard as ever before if he wished
to survive. Since, however, that "wish to survive" was (and is)
the mainspring which keeps every living being going full tilt to
the last gasp of its breath, the brain of glacial man was set to
work in all earnestness. Not only did these hardy people manage
to exist through the long cold spells which killed many
ferocious animals, but when the earth became warm and comfortable
once more, prehistoric man had learned a number of
things which gave him such great advantages over his less intelligent
neighbors that the danger of extinction (a very serious
 one during the first half million years of man's residence upon
this planet) became a very remote one.
I told you how these earliest ancestors of ours were slowly
plodding along when suddenly (and for reasons that are not
well understood) the people who lived in the valley of the Nile
rushed ahead and almost over night, created the first centre of
Then I showed you Mesopotamia, "the land between the
rivers," which was the second great school of the human race.
And I made you a map of the little island bridges of the AEgean
Sea, which carried the knowledge and the science of the old
east to the young west, where lived the Greeks.
Next I told you of an Indo-European tribe, called the Hellenes,
who thousands of years before had left the heart of
Asia and who had in the eleventh century before our era pushed
their way into the rocky peninsula of Greece and who, since
then, have been known to us as the Greeks. And I told
you the story of the little Greek cities that were really states,
where the civilisation of old Egypt and Asia was transfigured
(that is a big word, but you can "figure out" what it means)
into something quite new, something that was much nobler and
finer than anything that had gone before.
When you look at the map you will see how by this time
civilisation has described a semi-circle. It begins in Egypt,
and by way of Mesopotamia and the AEgean Islands it moves
westward until it reaches the European continent. The first
four thousand years, Egyptians and Babylonians and Phoenicians
and a large number of Semitic tribes (please remember
that the Jews were but one of a large number of Semitic peoples)
have carried the torch that was to illuminate the world.
They now hand it over to the Indo-European Greeks, who become
the teachers of another Indo-European tribe, called the
Romans. But meanwhile the Semites have pushed westward
along the northern coast of Africa and have made themselves
the rulers of the western half of the Mediterranean just when
the eastern half has become a Greek (or Indo-European) possession.
 This, as you shall see in a moment, leads to a terrible conflict
between the two rival races, and out of their struggle arises
the victorious Roman Empire, which is to take this
Egyptian-Mesopotamian-Greek civilisation to the furthermost corners of
the European continent, where it serves as the foundation upon
which our modern society is based.
I know all this sounds very complicated, but if you get hold
of these few principles, the rest of our history will become a
great deal simpler. The maps will make clear what the words
fail to tell. And after this short intermission, we go back to
our story and give you an account of the famous war between
Carthage and Rome.
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