As your grandfather I would like to help you to understand this confused and confusing world. Since I will not be here for ever, it is important to put something on paper for you now.
I have spent my life as a historian and anthropologist trying to understand how the world works. I have written many academic books. However, as I get older, I have become increasingly interested in trying to understand and explain the bigger picture in a simple and more concise way.
I write from a particular viewpoint, that of an elderly, white, British, male, academic. Yet I hope I have escaped enough from these limitations to say something that applies more widely. Furthermore I am writing to a specific person, you my grand-daughter, an English girl. You are now only seven, but I imagine you in ten years time. Yet, though this is specially for you, I hope people who are older and younger than you, and of other countries and backgrounds, will also be able to appreciate what I say. For I would like Spanish, French, Russians, as well as Chinese, Japanese, Indians, Americans and others to be able to compare their experience to yours.
I have deliberately written the letters quickly and without referring to lots of books. It seems best to speak as directly as I can from my experience. So there are bound to be gaps and there are ideas which you will question. These are personal letters written to tell you what I feel and think about certain issues. They are based on a lifetime of travel in Europe and Asia, teaching several generations of students in Cambridge University, reading and writing about the past and the present.
I can fit these thoughts into a set of short letters because, in the end, there are just two questions behind all of them. The first is what are humans really like? Are they basically violent or kind, selfish or social, creative or dull? The second is what are the origins and what is the nature of the world we live in?