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The Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time Hardcover – November 7, 2002

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 127 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (November 7, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743235533
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743235532
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.3 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #93,295 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This engaging, accessible book of essays from Pulitzer Prize-winning philosopher and historian Durant, author of the authoritative 11-volume Story of Civilization, should be essential reading for anyone interested in the evolution of thought. Little, the founder and director of The Will Durant Foundation, includes in his slim compendium such works as "The One Hundred 'Best' Books For an Education" and "Twelve Vital Dates in World History." Durant's "The Ten 'Greatest' Thinkers" details minds as enlightening as Confucius and as influential as Darwin, whom Durant says "reduced man to an animal fighting for his transient mastery of the globe." "The Ten 'Greatest' Poets," charts a course from Homer's brilliance to Dante's haunted heart to Whitman's "frank and lusty" originality, in prose peppered with biographical bon mots and excerpts of the world's loveliest poems. Lay folks especially will find this a delightful introduction to Durant's irrepressible style. What else would one expect from Durant, an intellect who, when asked, "Whom in all of history would you most like to have known?" drolly replied, "Madame de Pompadour."
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

By the time of his death in 1981, it was fashionable for many scholars to deride the works of Will Durant; his faith in human progress and emphasis upon the great achievements of individuals seemed outmoded in circles that stressed pessimism about the fate of humanity and lauded the power of mass movements. So it is refreshing to again encounter historical writing that brims with optimism and pays just tribute to individual minds and ideas that have shaped history and advanced both moral and material progress. Editor Little is a lecturer on philosophy, a documentary filmmaker, and director of the Will Durant Foundation. His compilation of Durant's essays is divided into sections on the greatest thinkers, poets, books, and landmarks of human progress. Even Durant acknowledges that his efforts to rate "top tens" borders on the frivolous, but there is nothing frivolous about Durant's elegant prose and cogent insight into the lives and minds of men as diverse as Confucius, Voltaire, and Darwin. This compact work is a gem that elevates historical writing to the level of superb literature. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 44 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 8, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to more fully develop themselves through self-education. The book is not too heavy-handed with the various subject matter, nor is it written in the stale, esoteric language of an academic. It is a series of papers written by a man of the people for the people, and the passion that Durant has for the material (and the love of knowledge) shines through.
This book is a wonderful and concise lesson in history, arts, and sciences, and will help start any one's pursuit of knowledge and wisdom.
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98 of 114 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Biskup on November 3, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I just read this book and it is a quick, easy, read. I think this book is an excellent way to develop perspective, either as a high school or college student, or for someone older who wants to more rigorously develop his or her world-view. The model of this book is a "classical education", along the lines of the recently re-released Harvard 5-foot bookshelf. Most of the people critical of this publication completely missed the point. Many times in the essays Will Durant specifically says that these are merely his opinions, and there are many other educated people out there with different opinions. These essays are intended as a STARTING place to educate yourself and he specifically suggests that you should read further and along your specific lines of interest. (The author also suggests on page 65 that as a college graduate, you might be ready to BEGIN your education with his suggested reading.) Anyone who complains that such-and-such was "rated" ahead of someone else [that they like], or that someone they revere was left off the "top 10" (because most likely they were not left out of the book completely, the author drops a lot of names of people who should be highly considered) just completely didn't understand this book.

However, there is one huge problem with this book. I didn't realize it when I started the book (I am not really aware of who Will Durant was) but even though the publication date is 2002, nothing in this book is recent. Actually, Mr. Durant died 25 years ago and I suspect that most or all these essays were written long before then. Unfortunately Mr. Little, the compiler, does not tell us when these essays were written. This becomes painfully obvious when you get to the list of suggested reading.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful By W. C HALL VINE VOICE on November 8, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It's said that good things come in small packages. Sometimes great things do, too. This book may be only 118 pages long, but between these covers you will find reasoned and inspired discussion of some of the people and works who have truly ennobled mankind.

Will Durant, in partnership with his wife Ariel, spent his lifetime celebrating our highest and best achievements as a people. His essays on the greatest thinkers, greatest poets, best books, peaks of human progress and vital dates in world history should not only serve as a compact education, it should also fill you with a sense that for all of humanity's folly and waste, we have actually accomplished much that is worthwhile these past few thousand years. It's also very likely this book will spark within you a desire to know and to learn more about our rich heritage.

My only wish for this book is that compiler John Little had included the dates these works were originally written. The chapter on the best books for an education, for example, while including many timeless classics, also includes some volumes which have been surpassed by later works--including the Durant's own magisterial lifework, the "Story of Civilization." But this a minor quibble over what is on the whole an exceptional work.--William C. Hall
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Blaine Greenfield on January 24, 2007
Format: Audio CD

Will Durant, a best-selling historian and philosopher, who devoted his

life to studying human history . . . his efforts earned him a Pulitzer


Although I never read anything by Durant, this work gave me

a feel for his writing . . . in addition, it made me realize that though

I have spent many years in both undergraduate and graduate education,

I should now return to many books that I missed along the way if

I want to attain a true liberal arts education.

This book is actually a summation of Durant's work . . . it presents

a series of somewhat brief essays with titles ranging from

"The One Hundred Best Books for an Education" to "The Ten Greatest

Thinkers" and including "The Ten Greatest Poets," "The Ten Peaks

of Human Progress" and "Twelve Vital Dates in Human History."

I particularly liked those dealing with people . . . the ones dealing

with dates and events were less interesting.


ALL TIME, particularly if you slept in or never took a course in

Western Civilization . . . Durant makes the material come alive,

particularly when he makes such observations as the following:

Confucius was one of the top thinkers. (He then explains why.)

You might as well not lived until you have heard Bach's work.

Balzac is almost as illuminating as life itself.

Miss not a word of Flaubert's MADAM BOVARY.

You will marvel at the delicacies of Anatole France.

Meander through the 1,700 pages of WAR AND PEACE.

Poe is a little bit overrated.

Whitman is our only American giant.
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