A Selection of World History Overview Books

— Congratulations to Janet, who won my almost-new timeline!

Last week, I discussed the usefulness of a family timeline book to pull together all of the history threads our children are exposed to, both through regular study of history and through happy coincidence in everyday life.

Covering the entire span of human history in a short period of time can be a helpful way to create anchor points (a.k.a. hooks) for deeper knowledge.  It also helps to give a “big picture,” helpful for those who prefer a whole-to-parts approach to learning.

Here are a few books I can recommend, grouped by age.  They can be re-read regularly, or you could read a different survey book each year or two.

For the youngest learners:

All of these books are recommended for giving a child the simple appreciation and understanding of change over time.  The Turn of the Century book also includes short stories of imagined children, from the turn of each century.  It would be a great book to add on for a younger sibling tagging along with an older child.


For elementary:

There are two books generally recommended for elementary-age students.  The great news is that they are both available as audiobooks, in addition to print.  If you go with A LIttle History, which is my favourite between the two, spend a few extra dollars to get the illustrated edition, which has beautiful colour images and larger pages.








In upper elementary, adding a children’s World History encyclopedia  to your family library will be very useful.  Any interesting topics can immediately be explored in more detail, usually with illustrations and diagrams.  We have the Usborne and Kingfisher (old edition with the white cover), and both are good.  The Usborne is more heavily illustrated, and a lot of information is conveyed through captions to the illustrations.  The white-covered Kingfisher has a few paragraphs of well-organised text, which are much easier for a child to outline/summarize.

For Upper Elementary and Middle School







Van Loon’s book is available as an audiobook as well.   Some middle-schoolers may be ready for a full year of integrated history using Big History, described below.

For High School:

I do not have children in this age-range yet.  These resources are what I plan to use, but I have lots of time to think of additional ideas! Because I am not a history buff, I hope to outsource history by this age.  The resource that most grabs my attention is The Big History Project, which is a free, online class covering history and science starting from the dawn of time.  I see Big History as being a capstone course before moving on to college-level coursework for the advanced high schooler.  A little introduction to Big History:

From there, I will rely on The Great Courses, which offers both world history overview courses, and region/era specific classes.  Note that you can obtain many TGC titles through audible, for a fraction of the price!

Do you know of any other great overview books to recommend?  


One thought on “A Selection of World History Overview Books”

  1. Thanks for the timeline! I’m glad you’r kids are a bit older than mine. You’ll be through high school by the time we get there and will have even more wisdom to share. 🙂

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