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The Hollywood History of the World

The Hollywood History of the World is a 1988 book about historical movies written by George MacDonald Fraser.[1][2]

The Hollywood History of the World
AuthorGeorge MacDonald Fraser
CountryUnited Kingdom
Publication date
1996 (rev. ed.)

Fraser said he was inspired to write the book when it occurred to him that "in a way, Hollywood has been a great historical educator, because if you or I or anyone else thinks of ancient Rome, you probably think of something you've seen in the movies. Who would know what the Romans wore or looked like or a chariot race looked like if they hadn't seen Ben Hur? Who would know what a Philistine temple looked like if Victor Mature hadn't pushed one over? I think we get more vivid pictures of history from the movies than we ever get from histories. Sometimes there are minor distortions, sometimes there are major distortions, but one can be pretty sure the background detail has been accurately researched."[3]

It divides films into seven main "ages":

It was republished in 1996, adding entries on films such as Braveheart, Last of the Mohicans (1992), and Rob Roy (1995).[4]


The book is notable for its juxtaposition of historical portraits against those of the actors who portrayed the subjects, with Fraser frequently offering comments about how well the likeness has been achieved, as in the following from the 1970 film Cromwell:[5]

Charles I, as painted by Sir Anthony van Dyck, was portrayed by Alec Guinness: "Perhaps the best living image ever presented in a historical film; he is Van Dyck's portraits come to life, and if some expert points out that he is slightly too tall, he doesn't look it".
Oliver Cromwell, as painted by Peter Lely, was portrayed by Richard Harris: "He looks nothing like, and can give no believable impression of, that plain, burly, enigmatic Englishman who stares so enigmatically out of his portraits."


  1. ^ C. Warren Hollister, "We Learned It at the Movies : THE HOLLYWOOD HISTORY OF THE WORLD by George MacDonald Fraser", LA Times,25 September 1988 accessed 23 November 2012
  2. ^ "Hollywood did not always get it wrong". The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995). ACT: National Library of Australia. 30 October 1988. p. 20. Retrieved 18 December 2013.
  3. ^ LAWRENCE, V. G. (1988, Aug 13). Zipped kilts a rare faux pas in annals of hollywood history. The Globe and Mail Retrieved from
  4. ^ Brian MacFarlane, Screening the Past 16 June, 1997 accessed 23 November 2012
  5. ^ Fraser, George MacDonald (1988). The Hollywood History of the World. London: Michael Joseph Limited. pp. 111–112. ISBN 0-7181-2997-0. Note: Wikipedia policy restricts showing only public domain imagery. The reader may therefore use their imagination for the actor's portrayal. Or watch the movie.