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A Short History of the World

H. G. Wells

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A Short History of the World by H. G. Wells was first published in 1922 and was intended as a shorter version of his earlier book The Outline of History. Taking the reader from the birth of galaxies to the first world war, this is a very comprehensive book that succinctly explains the development of life, religions, and humankind in general. The book was endorsed by Albert Einstein and was also banned by the Francoist government in Spain in 1940 for showing socialist inclinations, attacking the Catholic Church, and giving a view of the Spanish Civil war that didn't sit right with Francisco Franco.

In between the origin of the universe and WWI, Wells discusses the beginning of life, the age of mammals, the first men, ancient civilisations, the birth of Judaism and Christianity, the ancient Greeks, the reformation, the American war of Independence, and much more. Full chapter list

This book has 223 pages in the PDF version, and was originally published in 1922.

Production notes: This edition of A Short History of the World was published by Global Grey ebooks on the 2nd July 2021. The artwork used for the cover is 'Seascape' by Willy Hamacher.

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Excerpt from 'A Short History of the World'

It is interesting to note that Charlemagne corresponded with the Caliph Haroun-al-Raschid, the Haroun-al-Raschid of the Arabian Nights. It is recorded that Haroun-al-Raschid sent ambassadors from Bagdad—which had now replaced Damascus as the Moslem capital—with a splendid tent, a water clock, an elephant and the keys of the Holy Sepulchre. This latter present was admirably calculated to set the Byzantine Empire and this new Holy Roman Empire by the ears as to which was the proper protector of the Christians in Jerusalem.

These presents remind us that while Europe in the ninth century was still a weltering disorder of war and pillage, there flourished a great Arab Empire in Egypt and Mesopotamia, far more civilized than anything Europe could show. Here literature and science still lived; the arts flourished, and the mind of man could move without fear or superstition. And even in Spain and North Africa where the Saracenic dominions were falling into political confusion there was a vigorous intellectual life. Aristotle was read and discussed by these Jews and Arabs during these centuries of European darkness. They guarded the neglected seeds of science and philosophy.

North-east of the Caliph’s dominions was a number of Turkish tribes. They had been converted to Islam, and they held the faith much more simply and fiercely than the actively intellectual Arabs and Persians to the south. In the tenth century the Turks were growing strong and vigorous while the Arab power was divided and decaying. The relations of the Turks to the Empire of the Caliphate became very similar to the relations of the Medes to the last Babylonian Empire fourteen centuries before. In the eleventh century a group of Turkish tribes, the Seljuk Turks, came down into Mesopotamia and made the Caliph their nominal ruler but really their captive and tool. They conquered Armenia. Then they struck at the remnants of the Byzantine power in Asia Minor. In 1071 the Byzantine army was utterly smashed at the battle of Melasgird, and the Turks swept forward until not a trace of Byzantine rule remained in Asia. They took the fortress of Nicæa over against Constantinople, and prepared to attempt that city.

The Byzantine emperor, Michael VII, was overcome with terror. He was already heavily engaged in warfare with a band of Norman adventurers who had seized Durazzo, and with a fierce Turkish people, the Petschenegs, who were raiding over the Danube. In his extremity he sought help where he could, and it is notable that he did not appeal to the western emperor but to the Pope of Rome as the head of Latin Christendom. He wrote to Pope Gregory VII, and his successor Alexius Comnenus wrote still more urgently to Urban II.

This was not a quarter of a century from the rupture of the Latin and Greek churches. That controversy was still vividly alive in men’s minds, and this disaster to Byzantium must have presented itself to the Pope as a supreme opportunity for reasserting the supremacy of the Latin Church over the dissentient Greeks. Moreover this occasion gave the Pope a chance to deal with two other matters that troubled western Christendom very greatly. One was the custom of “private war” which disordered social life, and the other was the superabundant fighting energy of the Low Germans and Christianized Northmen and particularly of the Franks and Normans. A religious war, the Crusade, the War of the Cross, was preached against the Turkish captors of Jerusalem, and a truce to all warfare amongst Christians (1095). The declared object of this war was the recovery of the Holy Sepulchre from the unbelievers. A man called Peter the Hermit carried on a popular propaganda throughout France and Germany on broadly democratic lines. He went clad in a coarse garment, barefooted on an ass, he carried a huge cross and harangued the crowd in street or market-place or church. He denounced the cruelties practised upon the Christian pilgrims by the Turks, and the shame of the Holy Sepulchre being in any but Christian hands. The fruits of centuries of Christian teaching became apparent in the response. A great wave of enthusiasm swept the western world, and popular Christendom discovered itself.

Such a widespread uprising of the common people in relation to a single idea as now occurred was a new thing in the history of our race. There is nothing to parallel it in the previous history of the Roman Empire or of India or China. On a smaller scale, however, there had been similar movements among the Jewish people after their liberation from the Babylonian captivity, and later on Islam was to display a parallel susceptibility to collective feeling. Such movements were certainly connected with the new spirit that had come into life with the development of the missionary- teaching religions. The Hebrew prophets, Jesus and his disciples, Mani, Muhammad, were all exhorters of men’s individual souls. They brought the personal conscience face to face with God. Before that time religion had been much more a business of fetish, of pseudoscience, than of conscience. The old kind of religion turned upon temple, initiated priest and mystical sacrifice, and ruled the common man like a slave by fear. The new kind of religion made a man of him.

The preaching of the First Crusade was the first stirring of the common people in European history. It may be too much to call it the birth of modern democracy, but certainly at that time modern democracy stirred. Before very long we shall find it stirring again, and raising the most disturbing social and religious questions.

Certainly this first stirring of democracy ended very pitifully and lamentably. Considerable bodies of common people, crowds rather than armies, set out eastward from France and the Rhineland and Central Europe without waiting for leaders or proper equipment to rescue the Holy Sepulchre. This was the “people’s crusade.” Two great mobs blundered into Hungary, mistook the recently converted Magyars for pagans, committed atrocities and were massacred. A third multitude with a similarly confused mind, after a great pogrom of the Jews in the Rhineland, marched eastward, and was also destroyed in Hungary. Two other huge crowds, under the leadership of Peter the Hermit himself, reached Constantinople, crossed the Bosphorus, and were massacred rather than defeated by the Seljuk Turks. So began and ended this first movement of the European people, as people.

Next year (1097) the real fighting forces crossed the Bosphorus. Essentially they were Norman in leadership and spirit. They stormed Nicæa, marched by much the same route as Alexander had followed fourteen centuries before, to Antioch. The siege of Antioch kept them a year, and in June 1099 they invested Jerusalem. It was stormed after a month’s siege. The slaughter was terrible. Men riding on horseback were splashed by the blood in the streets. At nightfall on July 15th the Crusaders had fought their way into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and overcome all opposition there: blood-stained, weary and “sobbing from excess of joy” they knelt down in prayer.

Immediately the hostility of Latin and Greek broke out again. The Crusaders were the servants of the Latin Church, and the Greek patriarch of Jerusalem found himself in a far worse case under the triumphant Latins than under the Turks. The Crusaders discovered themselves between Byzantine and Turk and fighting both. Much of Asia Minor was recovered by the Byzantine Empire, and the Latin princes were left, a buffer between Turk and Greek, with Jerusalem and a few small principalities, of which Edessa was one of the chief, in Syria. Their grip even on these possessions was precarious, and in 1144 Edessa fell to the Moslim, leading to an ineffective Second Crusade, which failed to recover Edessa but saved Antioch from a similar fate.

Chapter List for 'A Short History of the World'

1. The World In Space
2. The World In Time
3. The Beginnings Of Life
4. The Age Of Fishes
5. The Age Of The Coal Swamps
6. The Age Of Reptiles
7. The First Birds And The First Mammals
8. The Age Of Mammals
9. Monkeys, Apes And Sub-Men
10. The Neanderthaler And The Rhodesian Man
11. The First True Men
12. Primitive Thought
13. The Beginnings Of Cultivation
14. Primitive Neolithic Civilizations
15. Sumeria, Early Egypt And Writing
16. Primitive Nomadic Peoples
17. The First Seagoing Peoples
18. Egypt, Babylon And Assyria
19. The Primitive Aryans
20. The Last Babylonian Empire And The Empire Of Darius I
21. The Early History Of The Jews
22. Priests And Prophets In Judea
23. The Greeks
24. The Wars Of The Greeks And Persians
25. The Splendour Of Greece
26. The Empire Of Alexander The Great
27. The Museum And Library At Alexandria
28. The Life Of Gautama Buddha
29. King Asoka
30. Confucius And Lao Tse
31. Rome Comes Into History
32. Rome And Carthage
33. The Growth Of The Roman Empire
34. Between Rome And China
35. The Common Man’s Life Under The Early Roman Empire
36. Religious Developments Under The Roman Empire
37. The Teaching Of Jesus
38. The Development Of Doctrinal Christianity
39. The Barbarians Break The Empire Into East And West
40. The Huns And The End Of The Western Empire
41. The Byzantine And Sassanid Empires
42. The Dynasties Of Suy And Tang In China
43. Muhammad And Islam
44. The Great Days Of The Arabs
45. The Development Of Latin Christendom
46. The Crusades And The Age Of Papal Dominion
47. Recalcitrant Princes And The Great Schism
48. The Mongol Conquests
49. The Intellectual Revival Of The Europeans
50. The Reformation Of The Latin Church
51. The Emperor Charles V
52. The Age Of Political Experiments; Of Grand Monarchy And Parliaments And Republicanism In Europe
53. The New Empires Of The Europeans In Asia And Overseas
54. The American War Of Independence
55. The French Revolution And The Restoration Of Monarchy In France
56. The Uneasy Peace In Europe That Followed The Fall Of Napoleon
57. The Development Of Material Knowledge
58. The Industrial Revolution
59. The Development Of Modern Political And Social Ideas
60. The Expansion Of The United States
61. The Rise Of Germany To Predominance In Europe
62. The New Overseas Empires Of Steamship And Railway
63. European Aggression In Asia And The Rise Of Japan
64. The British Empire In 1914
65. The Age Of Armament In Europe, And The Great War Of 1914-18
66. The Revolution And Famine In Russia
67. The Political And Social Reconstruction Of The World
Chronological Table

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