x w v u t s r
b q
a c d e f g p
h o
i j k l m n

The Outline of History
reviewed by William P. Meyers

Search This Site

Most Recent Book Reviews

Most Popular Book Reviews

Other Types of Reviews:

Movie Reviews
Restaurant Reviews
Product Reviews


The Outline of History, Being a Plain History of Life and Mankind
by H. G. Wells
illustrated by J. F. Horrabin
The MacMillan Company
1921 (first edition was 1920)
reviewed May 7, 2008
Amazon.com link used copies

The Outline of History is a remarkable book. Failing to read it because it is old and perhaps out of date in places is like failing to read Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

H. G. Wells is best known for such early science fiction works as The War of the Worlds and The Island of Doctor Moreau. He was born a relatively poor Englishman and had difficulty getting an education. He was keenly interested in improving society. Both his novels and his Outline reflect that.

The Outline of History begins with what was known about the origin of the earth and the universe at that time. It covers the fossil record and evolution through natural selection, including the evolution of the genus homo. It then proceeds to outline history up until World War I.

The Outline had a fair number of facts in it that were new to me, but what was remarkable was Wells's ability to share his insights about the nature of man and civilization. He points out how the Christian concept of the Trinity was actually borrowed from ancient Egyptian religion. He had a great deal to say about the merits of the various religions including Judaism, Christianity, and Buddhism.

I found his section on Frederick II of Germany to be of great interest; one might call him the first truly modern ruler, though others have claims to that title as well. The conflict between the new Protestant brands of Christianity and the Catholic Church is told in a way that provides real insight into the people of that era who were willing to die for their beliefs.

He notes that the U.S. signed the Tripoli Treaty in 1796 stating the the U.S. was a republic "not in any sense founded on the Christian religion." He notes the problem of public education in the United States: "Education is not a weed that will grow lustily in any soil, it is a necessary and delicate crop that may easily wilt and degenerate." He covers the Somerset case, dating it 1771 (See my The Somerset Decision).

I don't think Wells was a racist, but there are some bits of the book that sound racially prejudiced to my modern ears. He also does not write much about women, except to the extent they figured in history as known at that time.

It is a big book, doubtless you will find your own gems in it. It has been republished recently, but is also readily available in used book stores in hardcover versions.