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The World

From the master storyteller and internationally bestselling author – the story of humanity from prehistory to the present day, told through the one thing all humans have in common: family.

We begin with the footsteps of a family walking along a beach 950,000 years ago. From here, Montefiore takes us on an exhilarating epic journey through the families that have shaped our world: the Caesars, Medicis and Incas, Ottomans and Mughals, Bonapartes, Habsburgs and Zulus, Rothschilds, Rockefellers and Krupps, Churchills, Kennedys, Castros, Nehrus, Pahlavis and Kenyattas, Saudis, Kims and Assads.

A rich cast of complex characters form the beating heart of the story. Some are well-known leaders, from Alexander the Great, Attila, Ivan the Terrible and Genghis Khan to Hitler, Thatcher, Obama, Putin and Zelensky. Some are creative, from Socrates, Michelangelo and Shakespeare to Newton, Mozart, Balzac, Freud, Bowie and Tim Berners-Lee.

Others are lesser-known: Hongwu, who began life as a beggar and founded the Ming dynasty; Kamehameha, conqueror of Hawaii; Zenobia, Arab empress who defied Rome; King Henry of Haiti; Lady Murasaki, first female novelist; Sayyida al-Hurra, Moroccan pirate-queen. Here are not just conquerors and queens but prophets, charlatans, actors, gangsters, artists, scientists, doctors, tycoons, lovers, wives, husbands and children.
This is world history on the most grand and intimate scale – spanning centuries, continents and cultures, and linking grand themes of war, migration, plague, religion, medicine and technology to the people at the centre of the human drama.

As spellbinding as fiction, THE WORLD captures the story of humankind in all its joy, sorrow, romance, ingenuity and cruelty in a ground-breaking, single narrative that will forever shift the boundaries of what history can achieve.

Sources and notes for THE WORLD: A FAMILY HISTORY are available to download here.


‘A staggering achievement. Montefiore has given us a tremendous gift: a pulsingly readable world history through the millennia and from one end of the globe to the other’ Simon Schama

‘A tour de force – hugely ambitious, erudite and filled with surprises – that puts the family and families back into the heart of history’ Peter Frankopan

‘Compelling, moving, epic and diverse, Montefiore’s wonderful storytelling prowess and the wide research pulls off this unparalleled world history in a single narrative with unforgettable style. All the drama of humankind is here from cavemen to Putin and Zelensky’ Olivette Otele

‘One word for Montefiore’s book: magisterial’ Ben Okri

‘In this work of astonishing scope and erudition, Montefiore interweaves the stories of the servants, courtiers and kings, pioneers, preachers and philosophers who have made history. A brilliant synthesis that will impart fresh insight to even the most learned readers’ Henry Kissinger

‘A history of the world from the Neanderthals to Trump. It’s a rollicking tale, a kaleidoscope of savagery, sex, cruelty and chaos. By focusing on family, Montefiore provides an intimacy usually lacking in global histories . . . This book . . . has personality and a soul. It’s also outrageously funny . . . an enormously entertaining book’ Gerard DeGroot ―THE TIMES

‘A delightful world history, told through influential families. A moreish chronicle. The device of weaving together the past using the most enduring and essential unit of human relations is inspired. It lets readers empathise with people who helped shape historical events and were shaped by them… The method also allows the author to cover every continent and era, and to give women and even children a voice and presence that they tend to be denied in more conventional histories. Despite the book’s formidable length, there is never a dull moment. The story moves at pace across terrible battles, court intrigues, personal triumphs and disasters, lurid sexual practices and hideous tortures. Almost every page offers what used to be known in Fleet Street as a “marmalade dropper”… The author tells these stories with verve and palpable relish for the unbridled sex and inventive violence that run through them. His character sketches are pithy and witty… The footnotes, often short essays in themselves, have the acid drollery of Edward Gibbon… overall this book is a triumph and a delight, an epic that entertains, informs and appals in enjoyably equal measure’ THE ECONOMIST

‘A magnificent new book by Montefiore. [A] magisterial tome… Determined to…make some sense of the chaos of world history, he has done so magnificently and meticulously by choosing as his framework all the dynasties we know of that ever held power or made a name for themselves. This real-life Game of Thrones… Dip into this book anywhere and the minutiae of history leap off the page… Dip too into the author’s copious footnotes and there are gems to be mined… Montefiore compiled this during Covid lockdown and wove it into a compelling narrative…a massive effort of researching moulding and turning it into storytelling – often sassy, always entertaining – of the first order… To my mind what it gives above all is perspective from which comes understanding and not a little wisdom’ Tony Rennell ― DAILY MAIL ‘Book of the Week’

‘For any reader with the stomach for bloodshed and megalomaniac ambition, for anyone with a taste for Ptolemaic depravities or who would simply like to spend some quality time with China’s imperial eunuchs, Montefiore’s ‘World’ . . . will deliver it and more in spades. The author’s major achievement is to make us see the world through a different lens – to make the unfamiliar familiar and, more important, the familiar unfamiliar . . . Europe would more than catch up . . . but it is that other world that this book brings most vividly, almost feverishly, to life. There is hardly a dull paragraph’ David Crane ― THE SPECTATOR

‘To tell a history of the world through its most influential families is a clever way to marshal thousands of years of humanity . . . an incredible undertaking. Montefiore finds enduring resonances and offers new perspectives . . . Because these are family stories, he adeptly eschews traditionally male histories to find greater texture and diversity. A remarkable achievement’ OBSERVER

‘A history of pretty much everything everywhere from the evolution of Homo sapiens to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Dip into any page and you’ll find history rushing by in prose that combines clarity, liveliness and even deadpan humour with intriguing asides a speciality . . . a staggering achievement’ James Walton ― DAILY TELEGRAPH

‘Succeeds in scintillating fashion . . . an epic rich in detail . . . on each page, you’ll find an interesting idea, a witty observation or a footnote containing an anecdote emblematic of a wider point. Montefiore pays attention to the lives of women and children and to places slighted by Western historians. This is an extraordinary work of wisdom and vivid storytelling’ Victor Sebestyen ― LITERARY REVIEW

‘[A] rollicking, globetrotting . . . truly global history spanning almost every continent . . . [A] thrilling tapestry. Only a highly skilled storyteller and pen-portraitist could so deftly grip attention across twenty-three “acts”, spanning more than six millennia and packed with lavish and pullulating detail. The World is wildly entertaining . . . certainly enriching . . . [and] bracingly profane’ David Armitage ― TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT

‘This is not just an undoubted book of the year but of many years… it’s a treasure trove of marvellous stories, brilliantly researched and absorbingly told, fascinating characters who leap off the pages but, above all, the thing missing most in our troubled, self-absorbed society – perspective’ Tony Rennell ― DAILY MAIL ‘Books of the Year’

‘Don’t be put off by the doorstopper length: this history of the world, told through the stories of eminent families, is a riveting page-turner. The author brings his cast of dynastic titans, rogues and psychopaths to life with pithy, witty pen portraits, ladling on the sex and violence. An epic that both entertains and informs’ THE ECONOMIST, Best Books of 2022

‘Terrific. Monumental . . . full of fun . . . a rollicking read. Simon Sebag Montefiore is very good at finding the little incidental details which bring things to life’ Robbie Millen ― TIMES RADIO

‘[A] masterful and truly staggering account’ BBC HISTORY REVEALED

‘The World is almost narcotic to read’ Tanya Gold ― JEWISH CHRONICLE

‘The World: A Family History is an incredible piece of work, innovative in way it tells the story of us, of human beings, centred around families… The book starts beautifully, it’s incredibly easy to read, written so eloquently that literally the words fall off like caramel from the pages. It is a delightful book’ Sangita Myska ― LBC

‘The World – A Family History is [Montefiore’s] most ambitious work yet. It does what it says on the tin, namely providing an account of world history using the family as a device to tell the story. It is erudite but never boring … There is also a great deal of humour – and sometimes a combination of both sex and humour. Women play a huge role in the book … There is a fabulous amount of information in the book … If more politicians and policymakers spent time studying history, they might avoid making the sort of lamentable mistakes that Bush and Blair made in Afghanistan and Iraq. The World – A Family History would be a good place to start’ David Soskin ― REACTION

‘The best way to describe Sebag’s The World is: Succession meets Game of Thrones Sarah Vine ― MAIL PLUS

‘A history of the world, from more than 800,000 years ago to the present day. It contains a vast breadth of knowledge about the world, acquired from a lifetime of reading, and all told through the stories of some of the most influential families in history. Many are household names: the Caesars, Genghis, Habsburgs, Medicis, Romanovs, Bonapartes, Rothschilds, Kennedys, Kims, Assads and Trumps. Many are not. We follow them through their ups and downs, loves and marriages, greed and ambition, wealth and deaths’ GEOGRAPHICAL

‘Do not be daunted by its length. The narrative is pacy and there is not a page wasted. The author has produced a masterclass in style and structure — Richard Foreman, author of ‘Turpin’s Assassin’’ ASPECTS OF HISTORY ‘Books of the Year’

‘This is not just your standard world history, and by writing it through the prism of family, Montefiore has made it immediately identifiable as one reads of the great dynasties, whether emperor or writer, general or artist. Written with lashings of elan, I raced through its 1300 pages… This special book should please any lover of history’ Oliver Webb-Carter ― ASPECTS OF HISTORY ‘Books of the Year’

‘An epic global history that is cleverly and thrillingly told through the prism of family (or, more typically, dynasty)’ Saul David ― ASPECTS OF HISTORY ‘Books of the Year’

‘I knew it was going to be good but I didn’t realize how excellent and readable it would be. I was captivated from the first page and read this book as eagerly as I devoured The Lord of the Rings when I was eleven… There is a compulsive readability to this approach of mothers fathers and the damage or love that they pass on to their children. We can all relate on many levels… The most cinematic achievement is one of global connectiveness… both frightening and hopeful’ Hamilton Wende ― SUNDAY TIMES (South Africa)

‘There is a certain satisfaction in holding, and reading a bulky tome. Simon Sebag Montefiore’s The World: A Family History requires strong wrists, but is well worth the physical effort. It is a most readable and fascinating history of humanity from the perspective of that most enduring of institutions: the family. There is pleasure and learning on every one — Alexander McCall Smith’ NEW STATESMAN

‘Poisoning, adultery, incest, murder & mayhem: Montefiore’s entertaining history of the world is told through the dynasties that helped shape humanity. Plenty of world histories have come out in the past few years but this one is different – a family history of the world… One extraordinary story follows another, all of them extraordinarily well told. It is hard to stop turning the pages… One of the commonest criticisms of world histories such as Jared Diamond’s Guns Germs & Steel or Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens is that they are all about the vast impersonal forces… Montefiore’s family-centred alternative is the perfect antidote, revelling in the peculiarities and downright perversities of its all-too-human cast… No one who has watched TV dramas such as Succession or read Shakespeare will be surprised…. Montefiore’s vignettes are fascinating, albeit in a disturbing kind of way… There’s no doubting that family is the central institution of human history and Montefiore’s overview of its most recent five millennia is entertaining and consistently interesting’ Ian Morris ― FINANCIAL TIMES

‘This magnificent, all-embracing account of the world in terms of Bonapartes, Medicis, Habsburgs, Borgias – they can be fun – Trumps, bin Ladens and so on is going to take even a quick reader like myself a satisfyingly long time to devour’ Antonia Fraser ― THE TIMES