A remarkable series of letters written in the pleasanter vein of fiction rather than of history, interspersed with intimate personal touches here and there, and giving glimpses of the growth of the world from ages past, down to the days of Napoleon, setting out the results of introspection as much as of study forced by physical inactivity when inside a prison, is this book of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru which presents history not as a mere piling up of names and events, but as a helpful guide in determining the Time-spirit of days gone by as well as of the present. Though not an ambitious and scholarly survey of world history, the book is eminently helpful in that it keeps to chronology and gives brief but telling surveys of contemporaneous civilizations. It was Lord Acton who said that history should not be written—much less should it be taught—to Greenwich latitudes and longitudes, thereby meaning that the study of history of one particular country or part of the world to the exclusion of all the rest, may lead to a perverse understanding of the very purpose of history. It is no small temptation for an Indian to write history with particular emphasis on Delhi and its many empires though lawfully they may claim a very large place in any world history. Pandit Jawaharlal has however avoided over-emphasis on India though doubtless he has given the East, the home of the most ancient civilizations, its due share in his scheme of the world-narrative without minimizing the importance of those vast expanses of territory outside India and China which have had civilizations later in origin but equally outstanding and have left an ineffaceable record in human progress.
Nov-Dec 1989, volume 13, No 6