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Words to warm a writer’s heart

“This book was so interesting!”–spoken by a ninth grader.

A couple of months ago, the daughter of a friend of my brother and sister-in-law wandered into their home office and saw the poster for the History of the Ancient World on their wall. “Hey, we use that book at our school!” she said.

Heather said, “Oh, yeah, my sister-in-law wrote it.”

“I love that book!” she said. She is clearly a girl of great taste and intelligence.

So she and her mother (here they are)–

talked to her history teacher, and on this trip to Seattle her teacher invited me to come speak to his ninth-grade history class.

This was a first for me. I don’t generally find myself lecturing ninth-graders (apart from my own). But they were charming and interested, and told me how much they liked the book and how it was so much better than a standard textbook, and asked lots of questions about how you write a history of the world.

Like, “How do you decide where to start?” (Answer: You pick a starting point, write fifty pages, throw them away and start at a better place.)

And, “Are you going to finish the books on time?” (Answer: Er, no, not even close.)

And, “Now that you’ve done the first two books, is it getting easier?” (Answer: No, I reinvent the wheel every single blasted time; the only difference is that now I can say to myself, I’ve done it twice, it will probably come together one more time.)

And, “Do you edit your rough drafts?” (Answer: Well, the original drafts of both books came out to around 900,000 words each, and the final drafts clocked in at 250,000, so that should speak for itself. Someday I will seriously publish The History of the World: The Director’s Cut. Not that anyone will read it.)


This was fun. I talk about history a lot, but I don’t talk about writing it very often, and I enjoyed myself. And afterwards they wanted me to sign books.

I LOVE having teenage fans. And it’s not a given, when you write political history about people named Meskiaggasher and Adjib and Yi.