the Books

Whether you know absolutely nothing about a subject and are embarking on your first steps, or you are already familiar with the world the Little History describes, these are the most energetic, entertaining and reliable guides you will find.

View all the books

A Little History of Music, by
Robert Philip

Published: April 11, 2023

Buy the book

UK, Europe and Rest of World


Buy the book

North America


A lively, engaging guide to music around the world, from prehistory to the present

Human beings have always made music. Music can move us and tell stories of faith, struggle, or love. It is common to all cultures across the world. But how has it changed over the millennia?

Robert Philip explores the extraordinary history of music in all its forms, from our earliest ancestors to today’s mass-produced songs. This is a truly global story. Looking to Europe, South America, Asia, Africa, and beyond, Philip reveals how musicians have been brought together by trade and migration and examines the vast impact of colonialism. From Hildegard von Bingen and Clara Schumann to Bob Dylan and Aretha Franklin, great performers and composers have profoundly shaped music as we know it.

Covering a remarkable range of genres, including medieval chant, classical opera, jazz, and hip hop, this Little History shines a light on the wonder of music—and why it is treasured across the world.

“The impossible elegantly achieved: a history of music spanning five continents and thousands of years in just 278 lucid, friendly pages. Whether you are musically expert or you don’t know your opera from your hip-hop, it’s a joy to read.” – John Rutter, composer and conductor

“An engrossing, often surprising book that helps break the classical music silo. Philip places the development of the art form alongside contemporary social, political and religious developments and connects the European masters to issues of global identity and nationalism, with fascinating results.” – Petroc Trelawny, BBC Radio 3 broadcaster

“An astonishing feat of concision, this Little History covers all known kinds of music, ever, from everywhere. It’s written with fairness and balance, but also enthusiasm and love for the activity of music-making. The foregrounding of popular music in the twentieth century is particularly striking and original.” – Judith Weir, composer and Master of the King’s Music

About the author

Robert Philip was formerly a senior lecturer in music at the Open University and is a well-known presenter on BBC Radio. He is the author of The Classical Music Lover’s Companion to Orchestral Music and the award-winning Performing Music in the Age of …

More about Robert Philip

About the illustrator

Emily Louise Howard is the hands, head and heart behind The Diggingest Girl, a printmaking + illustration + crafts studio recently relocated to Atlanta, Georgia from Erlanger, KY. Identifying as an artist from the tender age of seven, Emily studied fin …

More about Emily Louise Howard