Outline of History Volume 2: The Roman Empire to the Great War (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

Outline of History Volume 2: The Roman Empire to the Great War (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)


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The first comprehensive history of the world, The Outline of History is a vibrant synthesis of real history, told in a sweeping, panoramic style, as if it were fiction. H. G. Wells removes nationalism from the equation, creating the premier worldview of history, told from a global rather than a local point of view.

With The Outline of History Wells started a craze that lasted throughout the 1920s for copycat "outlines" on every conceivable subject. Coming right after the carnage of World War I, the Outline was neither unduly pessimistic and cynical about the human condition nor Pollyannaish about humanity's future. Instead, it offered an account of the development of the world's civilizations up to the present, showing its readers that an enlightened future depended on a clear, unprejudiced view of the past.

About the Author:
H. G. Wells is most famous for being one of the godfathers of science fiction. His masterpieces include The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and The War of the Worlds. Born in 1866 in the small town of Bromley, England, to an impoverished family, Wells never forgot the hardships of his origin and wrote with the common man in mind.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780760758670
Publisher: Barnes & Noble
Publication date: 06/17/2004
Series: Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading
Pages: 768
Sales rank: 200,728
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 2.00(d)

About the Author

H.G. Wells (1866-1946) published his first novel, The Time Machine, to critical and popular acclaim in 1895. Socially progressive and visionary in intellect, he became one of the most prolific writers of his generation. Through books like The Invisible Man and War of the Worlds, he explored a wide variety of social, philosophical, and political ideas through the medium of what we now call science fiction.

Date of Birth:

September 21, 1866

Date of Death:

August 13, 1946

Place of Birth:

Bromley, Kent, England

Place of Death:

London, England


Normal School of Science, London, England


In H. G. Wells' absorbing memoirs, Experiment in Autobiography (1934), he related in some detail how he came to write The Outline of History. "My idea was at first," he wrote, "an outline of history beginning with an account of the Roman and Chinese empires at the Christian era, and coming up to contemporary conditions." Established historians would collaborate in writing this chronicle of the last nineteen centuries, under Wells' supervision.

He soon gave up on the "established historians" and wrote the whole book himself, albeit with plentiful advice and commentary from professional colleagues. He also abandoned his plan to begin with the advent of Christianity. As readers of the first volume of The Outline of History know, he chose instead to launch his narrative with the creation of the solar system. In more than two dozen chapters he told us of everything from the emergence of life on earth to the history of Rome.

But Wells did not abandon his plan to come up "to contemporary conditions." In the second volume of The Outline of History, he carried the story down to what, in 1920, was the latest news: the "Great War" of 1914-1918 and the creation of the League of Nations. He also took the opportunity to peer into the future.

Anyone familiar with what passed for world history in 1920 cannot help but be impressed by the scope of Wells' account in this second volume. The first four chapters traced the rise of Christianity and Islam, with an intervening chapter on the tangled history of Asia, both western and eastern, from just before the Christian era to AD 650. Although Wells personally adhered to no religion, he treated the founders of Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism with respect, showing how their teachings harmonized in many ways with one another, and even--in his judgment--with the spiritual and ethical implications of modern science. He also anticipated the finding of more recent world historians, such as Andre Gunder Frank, that China was the world's richest and most advanced nation from the seventh century AD to at least the seventeenth. Chapter IV, after reviewing the history of early medieval Europe, charted the collision between Islam and Christianity during the Crusades.

The most remarkable portion of this second volume of The Outline of History is the way it surveys life in Asia and Europe between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries. To most of Wells' Western readers, this was simply the era of the later "Middle Ages" and the "Renaissance" and "Reformation." All eyes focused on the metamorphosis of Western Europe from feudalism to powerful monarchies and the first blushes of a distinctively "modern" sensibility.

But Wells began his exploration of this era with another theme altogether: the emergence of the Mongols as the world's greatest power in the thirteenth century, their conquests throughout Eurasia, and the exploits of their self-styled descendants, such as Timurlane and Baber, the founder of the Mughal Empire in northern India. He also took appropriate note of the rise of the Ottoman Turks as the preeminent power in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Balkans, capped by their seizure of Constantinople in 1453. Just by putting these vast events in the so-called medieval era first, ahead of his report of developments in Western Europe, Wells made a salient point. Western Europe did not yet occupy center stage in global history. The chief movers and shakers of the world during all this time were, as often before, the teeming tribes and nations of Asia, many of them Muslim.

In his next chapter, however, Wells caught up with the European story, sketching the "renascence of Western civilization" largely as a history of ideas, and in particular the progress of free inquiry and speculative thought from the thirteenth century to the sixteenth. Predictably, his heroes were men such as John Wycliffe, John Ball, and John Huss (Jan Hus), priestly rebels against the established order, although he was more guarded about Martin Luther and had nothing to say about John Calvin. He also devoted admiring pen-portraits to the earliest pioneers of modern science, from Roger Bacon to Galileo. Among the philosophers of the later Middle Ages, his idol was William of Occam, one of the originators of "nominalism," the doctrine that objects are unique and that the categories or "essences" into which we group them for our own convenience do not have any independent existence. By 1920 Wells had come to regard himself as a nominalist, like many other thinkers drawn to the methods and world-view of modern science.

But one section of this chapter stands out as an illustration of the limits of even Wells' imagination and reach, in good part because of the times in which he lived. If he surmounted these limits when dealing with the civilizations of Asia, he failed to do so when he looked westward to the so-called New World. The title of the section in question, "America Comes into History" (ch. VI, § 8), suggests that the great Amerindian civilizations of the pre-Columbian Western Hemisphere did not become "historical" until Europeans discovered--and ravaged--them. Wells' narrative did include a few sentences on the origins of the Aztec and Incan empires before the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors, but nearly the whole section focused on the conquest itself and its immediate aftermath. By the same token, there is no account of the major civilizations and cultures of sub-Saharan Africa before the seventeenth century, although in this instance Wells may more readily be excused. Much less was known about them by Western scholars at the time he conducted his research.

Then come five closely related chapters, originally linked under the omnibus title "The Age of the Great Powers," which treated, in succession, the history of Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries down to about 1775, the revolutions in North America and France that followed, the life and times of Napoleon (perhaps Wells' favorite villain), the nineteenth century chiefly in Europe, and World War I. Brief sections on the history of Japan, the European rape of Africa, the reawakening of China (which he expected would soon rival Europe and the U.S.), and the British Empire gave readers glimpses of life beyond Europe's shores, but they were glimpses only. The Americas barely entered the picture at all.

The real point of these five chapters was that Europe's division into a patchwork quilt of armed and aggressive national states in early modern times led ultimately to what Wells called the "international catastrophe of 1914," a catastrophe so horrific that it brought closure to the "Great Power period" in world history altogether. The decision to write The Outline of History in the first place had been a direct response on Wells' part to World War I, then known as the "Great War." He had attributed its millions of corpses and shattered landscapes to the teaching of history as national epic, as the record of this or that country's rise to glory and power, without regard for other nations or their own grievances and aspirations. Human beings needed to be reeducated, to view the history of all humankind as a single adventure. "History," he wrote in an eloquent article published in the spring of 1919, "is one." Accordingly, in Wells' eyes, it was essential to assign full responsibility for the Great War to the ill-taught leaders of the vainly strutting Great Powers of Europe, to Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Austria, and Russia, which had been jostling for supremacy for centuries and had now brought well-earned ruin on themselves.

The extensive chapter on the Great War ends with a bracing bitter account of the attempts of the peacemakers at Versailles in 1919 to create a new world order. Wells had been a leading figure in the movement in Great Britain to promote the idea of a postwar league of nations, a league with real authority to reduce or eliminate armaments altogether and to keep the peace of the world. As he saw it, the statesmen at Versailles had instead imposed a punitive peace on the defeated nations. They had fashioned the League of Nations, but it was a league only of diplomats appointed by their respective governments, with few powers and little authority. Wells expressed his disdain and disappointment in some of his most caustic prose and continued to ridicule the League of Nations for the rest of his life.

Nevertheless, he did not abandon hope. He brought his Outline to a striking close with Chapter XII, "The Next Stage of History," taking advantage of his considerable prowess and reputation as a prophet of things to come, first demonstrated in 1902 in a book entitled Anticipations. The future is accorded only one chapter, and it is quite compact, but it sums up all the thought that Wells could bring to bear on the deeper meaning of world history.

Wells argued that through the interplay of communities of obedience (the great settled civilizations) and communities of will (the nomadic cultures), humanity had progressed through the ages. In its advance, the size of its states had steadily enlarged, although still not widely enough. Ideas of freedom and democracy had also emerged and had been realized, at least in part, in various parts of the world. Knowledge and skill had vastly expanded.

Today, Wells insisted, technological wonders had transformed a planet of many separate, relatively isolated societies into a planet where the only sanely conceivable state was a world state, empowered by all its peoples to keep the peace and serve the needs of everyone. He offered his vision of what a true world state, a federation of all nations, could achieve. Still lacking was an educated public prepared to demand and support such a state, but this problem, too, could be solved, with enough will and determination. In the most often quoted passage from all of Wells' many books, he wrote: "Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe." He placed his wager on education.

Had the world heeded Wells' counsel in the postwar era, most of the horrors of the rest of the twentieth century might have been avoided. We might have inherited a sane, responsible world order in the twenty-first century. We shall never know for sure, but the wisdom and foresight that Wells displayed at the end of The Outline of History are cause for much soul-searching as we contemplate what actually ensued on this earth after its first publication.

In the years that followed, The Outline of History sold millions of copies in many languages. Religious conservatives, such as Archbishop Richard Downey and Hilaire Belloc, railed against it in polemical tracts. Florence Deeks, a Canadian woman, went to court to accuse Wells of plagiarizing a manuscript of her own, as if world history could be copyrighted. No credible evidence of plagiarism has ever surfaced, and no one has demonstrated that Wells even saw her manuscript. She lost her suits, both in Canada and Britain.

But on the whole, the Outline was warmly received. It inspired others to bring out similar, although never comparable, volumes. Its freshly written sequel, A Short History of the World (1922), was adopted as a textbook in progressive English secondary schools. Many professional historians, especially in the United States, caroled its praises, although some sprang to the attack.

No matter. As the celebrated Cornell historian Carl Becker commented, The Outline of History was "a notable effort to enlist the experience of mankind in the service of its destiny." Another great historian, the late A. J. P. Taylor of Oxford University, confessed that he may have learned more from the Outline, which he encountered as a youth, than from any other book he ever read. Nowadays, the professional study and writing and teaching of world history have become perhaps the most venturesome and exciting enterprises of scholars in the discipline. How much of this we owe to Wells is a matter of conjecture, but he surely belongs somewhere in the chain of causation.

What remains most true of Wells' The Outline of History is its sheer readability. Wells was among the finest prose writers of his generation, with an uncanny sense of how to seize the attention of the average educated man or woman. Swift but colorful biographical sketches, candid personal asides, vivid narration, memorable figures of speech, and frequent pauses to show the larger importance of the subjects at hand sustain our interest through its many pages. At the same time, Wells did not treat his readers with condescension. Nor did he evade controversy by suppressing it, as the many initialed footnotes from dissenting consultants included in early editions bear witness. But above all, he knew how to tell a story and give it human significance.

W. Warren Wagar is Distinguished Teaching Professor Emeritus in the History Department of Binghamton University, SUNY, where he taught from 1971 to 2002. He is the author and editor of eighteen books, including four on H. G. Wells.

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Outline of History Volume 2 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 27 reviews.
EntertainingWelseyShaw More than 1 year ago
The text is a landmark and this review isn't to discuss that. However, I do have to comment on B&N's reissue. It is riddled with typos. These are not in the earlier, non-B&N editions, as I own nearly every edition of this book. They were introduced by whoever created the pages for B&N. It's clear they simply relied on a spell checker and didn't actually proofread, because none of the typos is a wrong spelling: all are the wrong word, such as typing "So" when "No" was meant, or saying "Let's" instead of "Lets," the sorts of things that automated spellcheckers tend to miss. To show the utter carelessness with which these volumes were thrown together, even though the two are a set, one has horizontal writing on the spine and the other vertical. The plus of this reissue is it's the only one since the original edition that includes the original post WWI chapter at the end, instead of the additions made by a second writer in 1949 to bring the work up to date. So this is worth getting, but try to get your hands on a used copy of one of the non B&N versions as well.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Greatest Story Ever Told! I am eternally grateful that Barnes and Noble has republished this classic two-volume text on world history. I own both the two-volume Barnes and Nobles editions as well as the 1971 edition that extends the narrative after World War 1, including World War 2, the formation of the U.N., the Cold War, and the Space Race. The Outline of History is the best and most underrated book by H. G. Wells, the father of science fiction and universal history, much better than all his scientific romances combined since it is actually a true story. It is a supremely written universal history and it tells the epic adventure of the history of the world, life, and mankind according to the sciences of astronomy, biology, geology, anthropology, and world history. This is the modern scientific worldview expounded by Wells in the early twentieth century and the secular Bible of the modern era. As one of the greatest English writers in history, Wells shows great insight into the changes and meanings of world history, adding plenty of colorful descriptions and analogies to explain complex processes as well as many witty satirical remarks. Naturally, the book is biased in its materialism, biocentrism, and scientism, but it tries and largely succeeds in remaining objective, historical, and scientific throughout. The book spans from the origins of the solar system to the outbreak of World War 1, ending with final speculations about the possible future formation of a world state and global government. Based on the Newtonian science of the time, Wells speculates that the universe, the totality of space and time, has existed for billions of years or has existed for an infinite amount of time. After dealing with the origin and evolution of our planet, the story follows the Darwinian science of the time and covers the origin of life in the first seas and the evolution of life towards dry land, the sky, and beyond. The geological ages covered include the Ages of Fish, Amphibians, Reptiles, Mammals and Birds, Apes and Submen, and finally Mankind. Despite the subsequent progressive ages, the Paleolithic Age, the Neolithic Age, the Industrial Age, and the various imperial ages of the Persians, Greeks, Romans, Mongols, Arabs, and later Europeans, the many wars detailed in the book and the evolutionary struggle for existence prove that history is more nature red in tooth and claw and more about the march of armies than the march of progress, knowledge, and enlightenment. The book likewise covers the history of religion, including paganism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, giving interesting biographies of the major founders of these great but outdated faiths. The book largely follows the increasing complexity of life and civilization on earth. Despite the sufferings and tragedies of world history, life moves on and slowly progresses, perpetually dying as the old generation and being reborn as the new generation, and the range of life widens until the modern era when life has left our little planet and started to explore the wider universe. Thus, humanity finds itself on the path either to self-imposed destruction by modern global warfare or to further social and biological evolution in the formation of a world state and the colonization of space. It appears despite the sheer length of this epic story, we are merely at the twilight of the dawn and future history will be far longer and greater than all the history already recorded, if we don’t blow ourselves up first of course. I’d recommend this book as the ultimate encyclopedia, but I would recommend that readers first buy and read its abridgement, A Short History of the World (Penguin Classics), as preparation for this much fuller and larger two-volume world history. This story is clearly the greatest story ever told!
UncleDavy More than 1 year ago
This is a great book by a great writer. However it is colored by the author's desire for a worldwide utopian form of government and his tendency to sometimes preach. This is not to say that I don't agree with much of what he says, I do, I just feel that sometimes the author overindulges himself and that perhaps it isn't the place to do that in a chronicle of history. Still, the book is well written and the history comes alive. One word of warning for some; the author had a liberal viewpoint and if you have conservative ideals you may not like this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
THis is a book for those who would like to learn about history from a person, who can write with an eloquent prose. H G Wells's erudite voice comes to life, and educates the reader about the history of the human race.
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