This book is a sure best seller (1) because of the success of the author's previous books in not dissimilar vein (The Story of Mankind, Van Loon's Geography, etc); (2) because of the refreshing originality of conception and execution, which takes it completely out of the category of a group of biographies of famous people. ts off to the idea, even though it may put off some readers who prefer their biography straight. He conceives the plan of a series of dinners, given at his ancestral home in the old village of Veere, on the Dutch coast, before the war, but during the period when the rumblings of Hitler are beginning to be heard. He and a friend choose a motley array of guests from the other world, starting with Erasmus, who serves as Greek chorus to the entire panorama; they invite people they would like to have known, heroes of history and literature; they set in opposition to each other, great figures who had -- in life -- been at violent they even choose some guests for their degree of unpleasantness. And the outcome? Van Loon has a chance to run the gamut of his gifts -- he inserts rather rambling but delightfully human biographical notes, done for the enlightenment of his less scholarly fellow host; he interjects personal comments on the relation of his subjects to the world today; he gives them their proper settings, in their own worlds; he plans appropriate banquets to make them feel at home, and yet -- now and again to piue their interest in modern customs. The dinners themselves give his guests a chance to reveal their true selves, to talk -- sometimes of the past, sometimes of the present chaos. In the final analysis, the reader has a sense of having shared with Van Loon a personal and more intimate knowledge and acquaintance with such characters as George Washington and William of Orange, Descartes, Voltaire, Hthovan, Cervantes and Shakespeare, Emerson, Queen Elizabeth and the Empress Theodora, Robespierr and Torquemada, Dante and Leonardo, Montaigne and Rabelais, Emily Dickinson and Chopin, and final and favorite guest, Thomas Jefferson.