Glimpses of World History – a much different perspective


September 9, 2012 by quirkyuncle

Glimpses of World History

It is said that history is written by the victor. Basically true, because the winner is typically the one holding the pen and the power to promote their own agenda.

There are, however, always two sides to every story. If you are given the chance to see both of them, and keep an open mind, you are better able to discover the truth. From my experience, no group holds a monopoly on the truth, which typically falls somewhere between the two sides.

Alternate versions of history can be difficult to find. The established order frowns on giving the historic pen to just anyone, after all. Glimpses of World History presents just such a view: it is a definitive presentation of history from a non-European perspective.

The author, Jawaharlal Nehru (yes, the Nehru jacket guy), studied in England – college in Cambridge and law school in London. He became a member of the British Bar and studied with eminent British scholars of the time. Highly educated and respected, he eventually became the first Prime Minister of India, when the British relinquished control. In the interim period, Nehru spent a number of years in imprisoned by the British for his outspoken criticism and political activism against their rule.

Nehru had a teenaged daughter, Indira, that he felt needed to learn about history to be a success in life. Unable to see her while he was in jail, he wrote her nearly 200 letters from prison over a period of 2-1/2 years, each covering a different historic topic. These letters were eventually compiled into the book Glimpses of World History.

Apparently, Nehru did a fine job. His daughter grew up to become Indira Gandhi, who served four terms as Indian Prime Minister.

Considering the weight of the material it contains, Glimpses of World History is an easy read. Being letters from a man to his 13 year-old daughter, it is very personal and simply written. The encapsulated presentation lends itself to being read in an interrupted fashion over time – you lose nothing not reading the 1200 page volume cover to cover. Well indexed, it can be a great reference source for students who like to shake things up a bit – I can pretty much guarantee this book won’t appear in the bibliography of any of your classmates.

And, the insight it gives is nothing less than phenomenal. It’s a book that will rock your world.

From the Wikipedia article:

  • The New York Times described Glimpses of World History as
    “… one of the most remarkable books ever written…. One is awed by the breadth of Nehru’s culture.”
  • As an example, the chapter on Genghis Khan and the Mongol invasion runs counter to dominant European views. Prefacing Nehru’s introduction to the Mongol empire, which was practically as large as the British empire and lasted as long, he said:
    “It would be foolish not to recognize the greatness of Europe. But it would be equally foolish to forget the greatness of Asia.”

    Nehru goes on to state:
    “Genghis is, without doubt, the greatest military genius and leader in history…. Alexander and Caesar seem petty before him.”

    (*NOTE* – I’m not advocating that Genghis Khan is a great humanitarian. What I am saying is that sometimes the only difference between a ‘barbarian’ and a ‘military genius’ is perspective. Ask any number of indigenous people their thoughts on peaceful European colonization…)

As you can see, the version of history given in Glimpses of World History certainly isn’t the one you heard in school. I think it isn’t one they want publicized too much, either. Aside from used and rare versions, I’ve only been able to find Glimpses of World History for sale in one place in the United States: from SiliconIndia is a business that caters to Indian expatriates residing in the USA. One of its services is selling items to help folks maintain their Indian heritage. You can order Glimpses of World History from SiliconIndia here. I’ve ordered several copies over the years and never had any issues, other than it takes a while to receive after being shipped all the way from Bangalore, India (how it comes wrapped is a story in itself).

Why would such a well written work by a renowned individual not be readily available? Perhaps Nehru’s view of the world is more credible than we’d care to believe. Order a copy and judge for yourself. At about $25, it’s a bargain for what you get, and a book you’ll be telling folks about for years to come.

Glimpses of World History


  1. Joe says:

    The book cover illustrated here, is of a heavily condensed version of Nehru’s original book. This book is edited by Saul Padover from the original english translation of 993 pages to just 304 pages. Unfortunately both books have the same title, and no mention is made of the editing until page 13 of Padover’s 1960 introduction where he writes: “A vast number of historic minutiae, detailing comparatively obscure events, especially in remote parts of Asia, have been eliminated. Most remarks of a personal nature, as well as dates and such facts as are easily available in standard reference works, have also been excised from the present edition.”

    • quirkyuncle says:

      Actually, Joe, this is the cover of the full version. It is the same cover as the copy I own that has a page count of just under 1200 pages (including a quite comprehensive index). This is the same full version of the book that my blog links to on the Silicon India website, should anyone be interested in purchasing it.

      I have seen the condensed version you speak of. While it does retain most of the historical content, it does lack the personal touch of Nehru’s communication with his daughter that makes the original book such an interesting read.

      I would encourage anyone seeking to purchase or read Glimpses of World History to make sure that they get the full version. Thank you, Joe, for bringing this up, for it is a point worth noting.

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