Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Hendrik Willem Van Loon’s The Story of Mankind follows a chronological pattern in which each chapter addresses a specific event or series of events in human history. Each chapter is given a highly descriptive heading that provides a brief summary of its contents. The work begins, appropriately enough, with the chapter “The Setting of the Stage,” which briefly outlines the theory of the development of life on Earth and the eventual arrival of humans on the scene; the volume ends with an epilogue.

In between, Van Loon covers ample material with a considerable amount of detail, but in a briskly moving fashion and deft, quick characterizations of major figures that makes the volume read more like an adventure story—which, in a sense, it is—than academic history.

The style of the book, while historical in approach, is personal and even conversational in tone. Van Loon often pauses to address his young readers directly in order to explain his meaning in more detail, correct possible misconceptions, or provide additional examples. He frequently points out certain “lessons” of history, which are almost invariably commonsense conclusions drawn from the facts—such as that glory abroad often means misery at home for nations and that personal liberty, if it does not degenerate into license, is a good thing.

Van Loon envisions human history and civilization as moving in an ever-increasing arc from East to West, starting...

(The entire section is 550 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Written in 1921 by an immigrant from Holland to the United States, The Story of Mankind tells the history of Western civilization from...

(The entire section is 128 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Van Loon writes in a personalized, informative storytelling style. He refers to his own childhood, pauses to explain the meaning of difficult...

(The entire section is 156 words.)

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

In his attempt to be personal and approachable, van Loon makes strong value statements that may sound prejudiced and insensitive. He calls...

(The entire section is 104 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Why does van Loon call writing "the most important of all inventions"? Explain the difference between Egyptian, Sumerian, and Phoenician...

(The entire section is 201 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Explain the Greek system of self-government. How was Solon important to the development of this form of government? What role did slavery...

(The entire section is 181 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Many of van Loon's books serve as an expansion of The Story of Mankind. Tolerance analyzes humanity's struggle for the right to think,...

(The entire section is 178 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Bond, F. Fraser. "Strictly Personal— Hendrik and the Gate of Heaven." Saturday Review of Literature (June 15, 1946): 22. This essay,...

(The entire section is 181 words.)