This is a book about history. There are many kinds of histories you might hear about. Perhaps your grandparents have told you about the history of your family. And perhaps you have read books about the history of our planet full of dinosaurs and giant insects and woolly mammoths. Or perhaps you have read about the history of our galaxy and our solar system.
Sometimes people use the word “history” simply to mean “a story about things that happened in the past”. However, a history book such at this one usually talks about only those people and places which we can find out about by reading the stories people wrote about themselves, and digging up the houses they lived in and the tools they used.
For more recent events, this can be very easy. For instance, many of the men who went on the moon as part of the Apollo Program are still alive, and can tell us about what they saw and did. However, events that took place long ago can be much more difficult to find out about, because very few stories about them were written down to reach us hundreds or thousands of years later, and even the houses and cities that people lived in long ago have sometimes left very few remains.
This book is about the history of what we call Western Civilization, by which we mean the peoples who have lived in Europe and America over the last 6000 years or so.
Six thousand years may seem like a very long time to you and me, but scientists tell us that humans not so different from us have been living in Europe for five or ten times that long. However, it was only about four thousand years before the birth of Christ that people began to gather together and live in large cities. About that same time, people invented writing so that they could keep records of what they did and what they owned.
It is because people began building cities and writing things down six thousand years ago that our history starts then. I imagine that the people before that time were much like us in many ways, and told stories and did great things. But we will never know, because they had no way of passing those stories down to us.
There are many different ways to write about history. Some history books tell us all about the dates on which important events happened. Others try to tell us why events happened. Others discuss how people lived at times long before our own.
This book will do a little bit of each of these, but most of all this book is designed to help you understand what people who lived long ago were like: What they believed was important, how they worshiped God or gods or not at all, what stories they told and what heroes they admired.
To achieve that, I’ve included many different kinds of stories in this book: Stories about cities and battles and events, stories about famous people, stories about how ordinary people lived, stories that people told to amuse one another, stories from pagan mythologies and stories from the Bible. All of these different stories tell us about people in the past, and what they did and what they thought. But these stories also tell us about ourselves, for we are not so very different from the people in the past, and these people are our ancestors. Their stories are, in a way, our own story.
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