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A Study Of History (Complete in 2 Volumes) Paperback – 1965

4.1 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: LAUREL EDITION - DELL BOOKS; First Paperback Edition edition (1965)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000H9SE0M
  • Product Dimensions: 7.3 x 4.4 x 2.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #849,751 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I first became acquainted with the name of Arnold Toynbee through reading the science fiction of Arthur C. Clarke. Later, I saw references to him in Heinlein and Poul Anderson, and decided to see what it was all about. This book was worth reading. Toynbee's thesis is that all societies rise and fall through a process of "challenge and response."
As long as a society is growing, encountering new challenges, overcoming them, and moving on to other challenges, it is healthy. He also describes the "dominant minority," "external proletariat," and "internal proletariat" groups that make up societies. For instance, to take the example of Rome, the Romans themselves were the dominant minority, whose traditions sustained the Republic and then the Empire. The internal proletariat of Rome was the Christian religion, which came to inherit the prestige of the Romans. The external minorities were the Slavic and Germanic tribes on the northern borders, which were kept at bay until the dominant minority lost its will to expand.
Toynbee does not see empires (such as the Roman Empire) or "universal states" as triumphs of a society's strength, but rather as a sign of weakness. A healthy society expands, develops creative arts, and encourages social mobility; an empire has rigid rules of conduct, laws, and social hierarchy. Toynbee's thesis is an excellent primer for understanding history, and can easily be applied to today's societies, including ours. He offers many different examples of growing, static, and declining societies, and shows an incredible mastery of his subject.
Now the bad news: This is dry, tough reading. There are no maps, no visuals, and few "helps" for people unfamiliar with world history.
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A Study of History is an excellent, lifetime study of how and why civilization progresses through time. Written in 1939, Toynbee predicts the rise of nationalism, the fall of the USSR, and victory of capitalism, and the enormous growth of Western culture. His central theme is simple yet true: civilizations advance by overcoming outside challenges and internal stagnation. Read this once per lifetime.
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Format: Paperback
Toynbee's comparative analysis of the birth life and decline of civilizations is an enlightening masterwork. The corrolations we can draw from history and apply to our own individual development are mind-blowing. A must have in hardback for any library. Takes awhile to work through, but high value added from the experience.
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Format: Paperback
Toynbee has three major theories of the rise and fall of civilizations.
1. Challange and response. There must be a challange to the population in order for a civilization to rise. The challange must be just right. Too little and the civilization does not rise. Too great a challange and the civilization is destroyed before it gets a chance or rise or is destroyed soon thereafter.
2. Withdrawl and change. An element of the civilization withdraws in some manner from the central civilization and undergoes some sort of creative transformation which it then introduces to the greater body of the civilization. This is a mechanism for maintaining the civilization.
3. The Nemesis of Creativity: There is within a civilization a creative minority. If the creative minority lacks the opportunity to create, the civilization will die or stagnate. This can happen in two ways: The majority group, lacking the talent to create, gains enough power to create, but the creativity is second rate and the civilization dies or stagnates. On the other hand, an exogenous group may gain power over the avenues of creativity and the creativity produced is destructive to the civiliation.
Of the three basic ideas the Nemesis of Creativity notion seems the most insightful. The challange and response seems little more than the golden mean. Withdrawl and change seems more relevant. As far as the Nemesis of creativity is concerned, this can be visualized in a simple microcosm. Suppose, for example, government action were taken which prevented the highly talented minority from obtaining either an education or given a good education, this minority were prevented from getting prime jobs. If, say, the space program were afflicted with this sort of thing, second-rate engineers, managers, scientists and such would be in positions of responsibility. Their positions would promote failure. It would be better to give these people jobs with good pay and no decision-making powers.
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Format: Paperback
I came to this book through a personal study of the secrets of human development. Singapore's miracle of development from 1970 on was the immediate precursor to discovering this work. The architect, Lee Kuan Yew, repeated read Toynbee's work through his career and used the challenge and response theory effectively to lift his country. Study of History is an enduring masterpiece. Clearly, it is more detailed and rich addressing western civilizations than eastern, but some of this imbalance might be due to the abridgement. I also find it interesting to contrast the book with Jared Diamond's "history as science" theory and would have loved to have seen Toynbee's consideration of Diamond's scholarship. Though Toynbee's emphasis is on the social, cultural and spiritual levels and boxes in geo physical factors in accord with the science of his era, I believe the two works complement each other in the end.
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