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Intimate History of Humanity, An Paperback – December 1, 1995

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

This groundbreaking book by an internationally renowned historian and prolific author is so wide-ranging in scope that categorizing the various issues and audiences it seeks to address would be difficult. Implicit in Zeldin's work is a challenge to traditional historians who have heretofore pigeonholed their accounts of the human past into discrete cubicles (social, economic, political history, etc.). By contrast, Zeldin attempts a history of human thoughts and feelings unfettered by considerations of historical epoch or culture. Each chapter focuses on a particular thought or feeling, such as toil, the art of conversation, voluntarism, compassion, attitudes on class and social status, and authority. To organize his ideas, Zeldin employs a masterful new technique. After introducing each chapter with a personal vignette based on interviews he has conducted with individuals musing on the meaning of some aspect of their lives, Zeldin traces changes or commonalities in that feeling across time and place. General readers will be inspired by this thought-provoking and immensely readable work.?Marie Marmo Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., N.J.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Extraordinary and beautiful...the most exciting and ambitious work of non-fiction I have read in more than a decade" -- Maggie Gee Daily Telegraph "One of the year's most original and outstanding books...fascinating labyrinths of history and human experience, which he perceptively, intructively and absorbingly explores. This is a read to relish" Financial Times "Theodore Zeldin's all-embracing history of our feelings throughout the ages [is] brilliantly original and unsettling... His scope is dazzling... A seductive and unusually thought provoking book" Sunday Telegraph "Bubbling wit... Zeldin makes life exciting for the reader. It is like being on some careering fair-ground ride that whirls you from one limelit fragment of civilisation to the next at breakneck speed...gatecrashing all the cultures of the world" Spectator "It's the sort of book that will go on being famous long after we're all dead... If ever a volume deserved that overused ecomium "this book will change your life", it is this one" Oxford Today --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint Edition edition (December 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060926910
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060926915
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #178,537 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey S. Bennion on January 18, 1999
Format: Paperback
Everyone who's interested in history honors those who have lived in the past, how they have come to unique solutions to solve their problems. We try to guard against what C.S. Lewis calls "chronological snobbery" -- the notion that just because we were born later, we necessarily are smarter and wiser than those who have gone before us.
The older I get, the more I'm convinced that the ancients had it right all along. And this book is a powerful antidote against chronological snobbery. Aside from being truly uplifting, it's encouraging to see how people have faced, and overcome, dilemmas similar to our own. To see the many ways they have solved those problems is fascinating and liberating.
My only regret is that this book has received far too little attention. The scope is so wide ranging, the range of fascinating tiny details so vast, that it's difficult to review, and impossible to summarize, at least with my paltry expository skills. So just read it! And spread the word!
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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 27, 2001
Format: Paperback
I find it difficult to praise this book enough. It is definitely not just a book about history--it is more a book about philosophy and the human condition. I could say that this is a book about everything--or rather everything that deals with being human.
Even though it certainly is not a chronological story of human events, it examines many of the aspects of intrapersonal and interpersonal behavior we take for granted every day. He states himself, "But this book is not a summary of history: it has deliberately limited itself to finding lock that look as though they will not open, and to showing how they can be opened." The author, Theodore Zeldin, raises the question of what freedom really is, the history of conversation, loneliness, sex, dating, religion, and much more. He has interviewed people from all over the world to find commonalities and differences in the way we lead our lives. I think this is the kind of book that everyone can relate to and must be somewhat interested in as long as one cares about the human condition.
As the author states himself, "This book has tried to show how great a difference to the conduct of daily life the ability to alter the focus of one's perceptions can make. To be hospitable to the nuances of life, it is no use treating the mind as an automatic camera; only by composing one's picture and playing with light and shadow can one hope to see something interesting." This book is in the end optimistic and Zeldin believes that humanity is merely at the beginnings of worldwide hospitality and sharing and understanding of ideas.
Personally, this is the kind of reading I particularly enjoy--a compelling work that gets you thinking, a work which raises as many questions as it answers.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Rochelle on December 24, 1999
Format: Paperback
This is a unique read... Not a novel, but equally engrossing; not a historical account, but namedrops events from history which most readers will probably be unaware of; my first philosophical read but not intimidatingly so! Chapters are split into themes such as "how respect has become more desirable than power", "why there has been more progress in cooking than in sex" and so on. It was the index which made me buy this book, oddly enough: "Caesar, Cairo, Cardano, Calcuta, Calvin (John), camerada, cancer..." Any book which includes such a diverse range of topics has to teach you many things. I'm jealous of the author and have bought this book for friends - and would recommend it to anyone.
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62 of 73 people found the following review helpful By David Egan on March 11, 2003
Format: Paperback
Theodore Zeldin announces his project in a brief preface. It bristles with the energy of ambition. We sense that we may be about to launch into something truly revolutionary:
"I want to show how, today, it is possible for individuals to form a fresh view both of their own personal history and of humanity's whole record of cruelty, misunderstanding, and joy. To have a new vision of the future, it has always first been necessary to have a new vision of the past.... Instead of explaining the peculiarity of individuals by pointing to their family or childhood, I take a longer view: I show how they pay attention to--or ignore--the experience of previous, more distant generations, and how they are continuing the struggles of many other communities all over the world ... among whom they have more soul-mates than they may realize."
The 25 chapters that follow bear titles like "How humans have repeatedly lost hope, and how new encounters, and a new pair of spectacles, revive them," and "How people choose a way of life, and how it does not wholly satisfy them." Each chapter begins with a portrait of one or several people in the contemporary world--usually French women--focusing on a particular life problem, or a creative attempt at solving such a problem. Zeldin follows this portrait with a brief history of that problem, or of a clearly related phenomenon.
For instance, the first chapter opens with a portrait of Juliette, a domestic servant who feels trapped in her job, in her social class, and by the unbridgeable distance between her and potential friends. This portrait is followed by a history of slavery--not a linear history, but a selective highlighting of relevant themes and moments in the history of slavery.
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