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A History of the World in 10½ Chapters by…

A History of the World in 10½ Chapters (1989)

by Julian Barnes

Other authors: Théodore Géricault (Illustrator)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (47)  Dutch (4)  Danish (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (53)
Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
I couldn't get into this book. I read the first chapter and half of the second. I could see how others might find it witty or entertaining ("Ooh he's being naughty by painting a Biblical patriarch in a disparaging light, teehee"). I love satire, but somehow his writing just didn't strike a chord with me. I have too many potentially awesome books in my queue to spend time on a book that doesn't offer me entertainment or education, so I just gave up on it. But, I have a feeling I'm an outlier here, and that others would actually enjoy it, so I won't bother with giving it a rating.
  joshuagomez | May 31, 2019 |
The 10 and a half chapters of short stories that make up this novel are written to entertain and bye and large they do, if the reader can get past the first story which I found to be just plain crass. The Stowaway is a re-telling of of the story of Noah’s Ark from a humorous practical perspective, the jokes or really one extended joke are relentless and thirty three pages later I feared for the rest of the book. It does however serve to introduce one of the major themes that run through the book and that is the myth of storytelling. This is picked up and taken to the extreme in the chapter entitled ‘Shipwreck’ which is a deconstruction of Théodore Géricault’s painting “The Raft of the Medusa” (there is a reproduction of the painting enclosed in the book so that readers will not find themselves all at sea) - Oh my God I am beginning to sound like Barnes. Chapter seven starts off like this:

“I was a normal eighteen-year-old: shuttered, self conscious, untravelled and sneering; violently educated, socially crass, emotionally blurting.”

I immediately thought that if I was still this eighteen year old person then I might have found this book wonderfully enriching, but as I am not I don’t.

The novel was published in 1989 and has been hailed as a post-modern approach to the history of the world as a reflection of the human condition. I enjoyed some of the stories and appreciated some of the clever witty writing, but only when the crassness was not too overwhelming. Barnes references the story of Noah’s ark in every one of his stories I think, although I could not bring myself to search through the half chapter entitled Parenthesis (I had a feeling it was called Possession until I checked the contents list) to check this out. A mixed bag then that has amused and entertained many readers, but it didn’t do much for me especially as I knew where Mount Ararat was having seen it for myself. Three stars

PS I have got [Flaubert’s Parrot] on my shelf to read and I have a feeling I know exactly what it is going to be like, perhaps I can forget it is there. ( )
1 vote baswood | Mar 5, 2019 |
Some may call this a nonlinear novel, I prefer loosely connected short stories. It's certainly not a history book. There is useful plot summary by chapter on Wikipedia for those looking for a synopsis. I'm not a huge fan of postmodernist literature: this stuff about ambiguity and unreliable narrators was never my thing. However, this book grew on me as it went on. Several themes were thoughtfully and humorously crafted, I've selected a few below.

Maritime disasters: By far my favourite story is The Stowaway, a satirical description of Noah's ark from the perspective of stowaway woodworms. But there are also some gems later on, such as a shipwreck prompting cannibalism, the Titanic, Jonah and the whale, and a take on Jewish refugees in 1939 in limbo on the sea. The last three of these, encapsulated in Three Simple Stories, is probably my next favourite.

Art as propaganda: Barnes lays a particular emphasis, mostly satirical, on how historical or mythical events are treated in art. In The Shipwreck, he describes what a painting leaves out as much as what it includes, and how human interpretation motivates these choices. In the Titanic story, a survivor attempts to take part in a re-enactment of the ship's sinking.

Irreverence to religion: In The Wars of Religion, woodworms are threatened with excommunication for attacking a church and humiliating a priest. Noah is frequently mentioned: in separate stories, a fanatically religious woman and a credulent astronaut seek Noah's ark on a mountain.

Philosophy of life: The second half of the novel focuses more on philosophical questions and attitudes to life. In Upstream!, an actor travels to an exotic jungle and comes to terms with a colleague drowning in a raft accident. There's an isolated discourse on love in the half-chapter Parenthesis. The final chapter, The Dream, is an extreme account of a life where every desire is met.

A History of the World in 10½ Chapters is "clever" in the sense there are many interlocking elements, even while the stories themselves cover a range of epochs, perspectives and literary forms. But is this really clever, or just a gimmick? I lean towards the former. My only complaint is the absence of any memorable characters or relationships. Overall, I found the novel highly readable and would certainly recommend it to those looking for something different. ( )
  jigarpatel | Feb 27, 2019 |
This book explores life and love through the ages, beginning with Noah's ark and ending with a futuristic look at death. And yes, it does have 10.5 chapters. It's not a single story but a look at life through various time periods, styles, and focal points. Yet, it hangs together with enough links to be satisfying as a novel...more than a set of inter-related stories. Each chapter is very different from the others...almost like enjoying a multi-course meal. Mr. Barnes is a great writer and this book made me think. ( )
1 vote LynnB | Nov 29, 2018 |
This is a weird book and that's why I loved it and read it twice in 15 days. The book is about exactly what it says in the title: history of the world. Not entire history of the world obviously, just some stories. While at first these 10 stories may seem random, each of them has something that connects them. It's usually some form of an a ship (an ark, a boat or a raft) and woodworms. I love each story. (with the exception of the sixth) Just like "The Sense of an Ending", this book is also philosophical.
The "half chapter" is not a story but rather an essay on love. It's probably one of my favorite chapters of all time. One of the funnies stories is the trial of the woodworms.
The other chapters seem to tell us that the history always repeats itself. People will always divide each other (by the type of an animal, nationality or religious beliefs) There will also be love. And love will always help us. Barnes analyzes and sometimes overanalyzes everything. And as an overthinker myself, I must admire his way of telling a coherent story.

2nd read:June 28-July 2 ( )
1 vote aljosa95 | Mar 27, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (27 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Julian Barnesprimary authorall editionscalculated
Géricault, ThéodoreIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Courtois-Fourcy, MichelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
De Juan, MaribelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gyllenhak, UlfTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hoog, ElseTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jennings, AlexNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jennings, AlexNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lynn, JennyCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mitchell, SusanDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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to Pat Kavanagh
First words
They put the behemoths in the hold along with the rhinos, the hippos and the elephants.
These are grand words. We must make sure we deserve them. Listen to them again: 'I love you.' Subject, verb, object: the unadorned impregnable sentence. The subject is a short word, implying the self-effacement of the lover. The verb is longer but unambiguous, a demonstrative moment as the tongue flicks anxiously away from the palate to release the vowel. The object, like the subject, has no consonants, and is attained by pushing the lips forward as if for a kiss. 'I love you.' How serious, how weighted, how freighted it sounds.
Here the manuscript ... breaks off, without giving details of the annual penance ... It appears from the condition of the parchment that in the course of the last four and a half centuries it has been attacked, perhaps on more than one occasion, by some species of termite, which has devoured the closing words of the juge d'Eglise.
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These simple stories
Connect mountain and shipwreck
Through people and dreams.

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679731377, Paperback)

This is, in short, a complete, unsettling, and frequently exhilarating vision of the world, starting with the voyage of Noah's ark and ending with a sneak preview of heaven!

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:50 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Offers an idiosyncratic, revisionist history of life on planet Earth, from a playful account of Noah by a stowaway on the Ark, to the spiritual odyssey of a American astronaut.

» see all 4 descriptions

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