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I recently finished reading The Story of the World Volume1: Ancient Times (Revised) by Susan Wise Bauer, and I thought I would give my own little review.

I have somewhat mixed feelings about this book. First, I would like to say that I greatly enjoyed reading it. For those who don’t know about it, this is the first volume of four of a chronological history series for elementary children. It’s written in a conversational story-type style to appeal to young children. I think Bauer definitely succeeds in this area, and I think most children would be engaged by the book. To my knowledge, the bulk of this history program is contained in the activity books that accompany the four volumes. I have never looked at the activity book, but it’s supposed to contain discussion questions, map work, projects and resources for additional reading. It may be that the additional resources would alleviate some the concerns that I discuss below.

Volume 1 covers the earliest nomads to the last Roman emperor, or from 7000 BC to 476 AD. Biblical history in the book is rather sparse and mentions Abraham, Joseph, Moses, a little about Jesus, the destruction of the temple and persecution of early Christians. I have to admit that my own knowledge of ancient history outside of the Bible is very poor. So, as far as the accuracy of the book I can say little. My first concern though was the story of Abraham. Bauer says “The book of Genesis, in the Bible, tells us about Abram:” (and then the rest of the chapter is blocked off indicating that what follows has its source in the book of Genesis.) She begins the story about Terah leaving Ur because he was afraid the city would be attacked by Gutian invaders. She goes on to say that after Terah’s death, Abraham considered asking the moon god (or some other gods) for advice on what to do. To her credit, she has a note in an appendix stating that the Bible is ambiguous about whether Terah left Ur at Abraham’s prompting due to God’s calling or if he left the city prior to that. I was bothered by this chapter in the book because she presents the story as if this is what the Bible says. It’s even “blocked off” as being the story from Genesis. But what she did was present the biblical story mixed with her speculation and presented it as fact. Frankly, this didn’t set well with me. I thought it was unnecessary. It’s not that what she said about Terah was not plausible and consistent with what was going on during that time; it’s that her version of the story was presented as fact coming from the Bible.

In reading the rest of the book, I was somewhat leery because I wasn’t sure what was fact and what was her speculation in the other areas of history that I knew little about. I understand, however, that the style of the book lends itself to generalizations because it’s meant to be understood by young children. Anytime you generalize a story for a child, it is likely that truth will become distorted because of the necessary simplification. I also understand that in all of history, the ancient times period is most likely to consist of speculation due to the amount (or lack thereof) of information that we have available. Also, I know that it would be tedious to be constantly saying in a book for a young child, this “may have happened” or “this could be true”, etc. However, I thought the way she presented the Abraham story was unnecessary and misleading.

However, my biggest issue with this volume is the lack of a biblical worldview. This is not a criticism of the author because, if I understand correctly, she wrote the book(s) to appeal to both Christian and secular audiences. The author is a Christian, and some have said that the book is too Christian in that it calls some religious stories “myths” while claiming the resurrection of Jesus is true. So maybe in that sense, it has somewhat of a biblical worldview. But, as I mentioned above, the biblical history included in the book is rather sparse. I personally want a history program that integrates the Bible with the rest of history, and the “ancient times” period is, of course, the time to do this! After having read this book, I happened upon a discussion thread from My Father’s World classical Christian curriculum about why they don’t use the first volume of the Story of the World series. They do, however, use volumes 2-4. In her answer to the question “why do you use SOTW Volume 2, but not Volume 1?”, I agree with the administrator in her desire to present history from a Biblical perspective:

More from Marie….
I was thinking about this question again last night while I was laying in bed. (Isn’t that a great time of quiet for thinking?)

I realized that the question really is:

Why do we use the Bible as the main resource book vs. Story of the World Volume 1 in Creation to the Greeks? Keep in mind that Creation to the Greeks is a study of ancient history.

1. Why not use the most accurate, most ancient “original document” available? That is the Bible.

2. As a Christian and a parent, I ask myself, what would God want my kids to know about the ancient history period? He has made it very clear to us….he gave us a great history book that is full of action, intrigue, motives both good and evil, and even His interpretation of events and people. If we lay a foundation so that our kids can see God at work in history, then we can go on and study other years of history from a correct perspective.

3. From a life-changing point of view, I want my kids to be immersed in the life-changing word of God. Why not spend a whole year hearing God’s incredible words to mankind?

So now let’s rephrase the original question: why don’t we use Story of the World Volume 1 as a supplement, like the other books in the package?

1. Most of the information in Story of the World Volume 1 is already contained in other books we use. We want to keep the cost down, so we don’t duplicate info. For example, Ancient World is a wonderful, colorful book providing easy-to understand information as well as many color illustrations about ancient Egypt, Israel, Assyria, the Hittites, the Babylonians, etc.

2. We use Streams of Civilization as a resource for parents and for advanced students so that they can understand history from a Christian perspective. Were there cave men? (You’d be surprised at the answer!) How did we get different races after the flood if there was only Noah and his family? We don’t read every page–just the relevant information. Story of the World doesn’t contain that type of information.

Note: We do use Story of the World Volume 2 and beyond in our other history years. The author has a wonderful storytelling style that makes history come alive! If your kids are like mine, they won’t grow up hating history!!!!

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