217 of 226 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought-Provoking, Politically Incorrect Analysis
In one of the interviews that serve as interludes between the chapters of his book, Will Durant says he started his career as a liberal and became more & more conservative during his fifty year career as a historian. If he was a conservative, he was a rather liberal one. Some of the ideas he voices would be anathema to conservatives. E.g. Wealth concentrated into...
Published on May 6, 2005 by George R Dekle
62 of 71 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some lessons learned
Will and Ariel Durant wrote a massive eleven-volume history, The Story of Civilization. After they finished volume ten -- which was to be the last - they came out with this brief work. (In 1975 they produced the final volume in the series, The Age of Napoleon). Although this series is not considered by professional historians to be a great work of history, the Durants'...
Published on December 1, 2002 by Steve Jackson
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217 of 226 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought-Provoking, Politically Incorrect Analysis,
This review is from: The Lessons of History (Will Durant Audio Library) (Audio CD)
In one of the interviews that serve as interludes between the chapters of his book, Will Durant says he started his career as a liberal and became more & more conservative during his fifty year career as a historian. If he was a conservative, he was a rather liberal one. Some of the ideas he voices would be anathema to conservatives. E.g. Wealth concentrated into fewer and fewer hands should be redistributed to the have nots. Liberals on the other hand, would be distressed by other of his views. E.g. Once the wealth gets redistributed, government should not attempt to prevent the talented and industrious from re-accumulating it.
The paradox is not really paradoxical at all. Obscene wealth in the hands of a very few causes unrest (and eventually revolution) among the obscenely poor. On the other hand, if industry and talent are not rewarded, culture stagnates. Durant gives the fall of the Roman Republic as an example of an obscenely rich aristocracy committing political suicide by refusing to peacefully redistribute some of their wealth to the poor. The economic stagnation of Communist East Europe serves as an example of what happens when you stop the natural flow of wealth back to the talented and industrious.
Durant makes some statements that would get him lynched in the 21st Century American media. E.g. "Only those who are below average really want equality."
Durant is probably most accurately classified as an agnostic, but he says that on balance, religion has done far more good than harm for civilization. Durant contends that civilizations and cultures decline and die when they lose their moral compass. And they lose their moral compass when they lose their religion. Simply put, those contemplating crime are more likely to be detered by the wrath of God than the long arm of the law.
Durant voices many other thought-provoking opinions. You may not agree with everything he says (his wife doesn't), but you will certainly be stimulated to deep thought by what he says.
I was somewhat amused by the interviews interspersed among the chapters. The reverential awe shown by Durant's interviewer was quite neatly counterbalanced by the sardonic wit of Durant's wife, Ariel. When Durant said something she didn't agree with, she let you know about it and gave excellent reasons for her disagreement. Durant quite wisely did what any intelligent husband would do. He almost always let her have the last word.
85 of 91 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best of the best..,
Will and Ariel Durant were to history what Carl Sagan was to science: They breathed life into a subject considered lifeless by too many, and clothed the skeleton of recorded history in a garment rich in colorful detail and vast in perspective. "Lessons Of History" is, in my opinion, the finest 100 page non-fiction book ever written, and represents the capstone and encapsulating work of two authors who gave the world their ten thousand page "Story Of Civilization" over a period of 50 years.
Within this delightful book, one can view the enormous panorama of human civilization as it developed from, and was formed by, the matrices of geography, religion, science, war, and a host of other factors. The Durant's, in a writing style that should have been copyrighted, provide the reader with an engaging view of humanity that few readers will come away from without being touched and awed. To be sure, the Durant's works have had a few (very few) detractors, but they were almost entirely high-browed academics in narrow research areas who most likely envied them their commercial success. If I could give this synopsis of 100 centuries of history more than 5 stars I'd do it in a nanosecond.
84 of 91 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful,
After finishing the ten volumes of "The History of Civilization", Will and Ariel Durant went back revising and taking notes from their monumental work and produced this insightful essay.
The goal was not to summarize 3,421 years of recorded history in a hundred pages. That would have been silly. The goal was to give some thought to what means to study history; how important is to know our heritage; can we understand our nature and the relations between individuals or between groups or nations just by analysing the past; can the acumulated human experience tell us where are we heading to?
The book was first published in 1968, the worse phase of the cold war, when any perspective of future seemed rather dark and the uncertainties of the period certainly permeate the book.
The book might be considered biased and conservative but that is fair game since the authors warn us about that on the first chapter, "Hesitations". "Historian are not free from bias and prejudice", they say and "most history is guessing, and the rest is prejudice".
The book was written with great care. The sentences are powerful, elegant, concise and insightful. It brings noteworthy quotes and is itself very quotable. A book to be read and appreciated several times.
Leonardo Alves - January 2001
62 of 71 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some lessons learned,
This review is from: The Lessons of History (Audio CD)
Will and Ariel Durant wrote a massive eleven-volume history, The Story of Civilization. After they finished volume ten -- which was to be the last - they came out with this brief work. (In 1975 they produced the final volume in the series, The Age of Napoleon). Although this series is not considered by professional historians to be a great work of history, the Durants' love of history is evident on every page. I read most of them in high school and college, and they help inspire a life-long interest history.
The Lessons of History consists of a number of short chapters, in which the Durants summarize what their study of history revealed on various themes, such as war, morals, government, religion, etc. Although certainly not a profound work, it contains a number of insights. For example, the discussion of the lineage of communism is quite interesting. On the other hand, the Durants strike me as having been moderately left of center, and some of their arguments in favor of government regulation of the economy don't convince me. They appear somewhat more conservative on morals, and there is a good discussion on how war negatively impacts traditional morality. The discussion of religion is somewhat ambiguous, perhaps reflecting Will Durant, who studied for the priesthood, became an atheist, and died an agnostic.
This work came out in 1968, and the Durants make a couple of predictions which didn't exactly come true. They argue that by 2000 the Roman Catholic Church will be politically dominant in the US. In addition, they expressed the commonplace idea in the 60s that the Soviet Union and the United States were coming closer together and would eventually meet in the middle.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lessons like this are never dated or obsolete,
There are many conclusions that the Durants reach from history, and they are organized into categories. The main chapters are:
*) Biology and history.
*) Race and history.
*) Character and history.
*) Morals and history.
*) Religion and history.
*) Economics and history.
*) Socialism and history.
*) Government and history.
*) History and war.
The Durants are quite frank in their statements about history; they mention their main lesson several times. It is summed up on page 41; "We must remind ourselves again that history as usually written is quite different from history as usually lived." Although the book was written in 1968, their statements can be applied to many modern social, economic and political issues. On page 40, there is the statement; "Even our generation has not rivaled the popularity of homosexualism in ancient Greece or Rome or Renaissance Italy." Statements like this show the historical ignorance of many that consider the recent issues regarding homosexuality to be unique to this generation.
In the chapter on economics and history, several examples of mighty societies that suffered through devastating revolutions as a consequence of the wealth being concentrated in the hands of a few are given. Ancient Athens, Rome and France all underwent convulsions due to economic disparities. Recent statistics describing the continuing concentration of wealth in a smaller number of people in the United States raises concerns. On page 57, there is the statement, "The government of the United States, in 1933-52 and 1960-65, followed Solon's peaceful methods, and accomplished a moderate and pacifying redistribution; perhaps someone studied history." There is no doubt that the Durants would not approve of the current policies of the Bush administration.
Every generation seems destined to consider their problems to be unique to the human experience. While in some ways, such as in science and technology it is true, in general it is very self-centered. Most problems are continuing with occasional peaks, so we can learn much from history. This book can serve as a primer in that respect.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I still refer to this book 30 years after first reading it.,
Will and Ariel Durant tried to bring Philosophy and an understanding of History to the common man and woman. They succeeded admirably, and some thirty years after reading this book I still turn to it in order to understand events occurring around me. This is no scholarly tome, but an invaluable manual for those seeking a better understanding of the world around us. It should be compulsory reading for all those aspiring to public office.
31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The first reference point for any thinker,
This book is an almost impossibly concise summary of the human condition. It covers everything, to a level of detail that tantalises the reader, enticing them to read further into the text, and more by the same author(s). It is an excellent introduction to history and the philosophy of history. An absolute must for any serious historian, or anyone with a heathly interest in the subject.
34 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sweep of History.,
For the person in a hurry, but who is also curious about history, I would recommend this book. It is the culmination of a survey of history that Will and Ariel Durrant did in the 1960's. I realize that some of the conclusions have been dated, such as concern about the Soviet Union, but that does not destroy the value of the work. Indeed, who is to say that the Soviet Union, or some neo-Tsarist regime, could not rise again?
Moreover, this book covers other topics, all of them revolving around the "Human Predicament," which is basically a choice between freedom and security. Or better yet, actual freedom, and claimed security, since if you chose security over freedom, you will lose both freedom and security.
This book is an easy read, written on the high-school level, so there are no excuses for not understanding anything. It is an essential in anyone's collection of "Great Books," since not only is the unexamined life not worth living, the unexamined civilization is not worth preserving. And we can make a change in things.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Lessons of History,
This is the most important book in my extensive library. I was so impressed by it the first time I read it shortly after its publication in 1968 that I have made a tradition of rereading it every New Year's Day. I gave copies of it to each of my five children and advised them to follow in my habit of rereading it each year.
Rereading this book each year refreshes my perspective on the often perplexing issues that the media spins before me every day, allowing me to concentrate and understand better the issues most meaningful in my daily life and behavior.
I am at this website because I am ordering copies for those of my grandchildren now in high school. I can think of nothing that I can give them more valuable than the insights, perspectives, and wisdom in this book.
Litera scripta manet.
43 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A once-in-a-lifetime foundation reading, get it used,
Edit of 20 Oct 08 to use new feature to add links.
This is the first book that I discuss in my national security lecture on the literature relevant to strategy & force structure. It is a once-in-a-lifetime gem of a book that sums up their much larger ten volume collection which itself is brilliant but time consuming. This is the "executive briefing."
Geography matters. Inequality is natural. Famine, pestilence, and war are Nature's way of balancing the population.
Birth control (or not) has *strategic* implications (e.g. see Catholic strategy versus US and Russian neglect of its replenishment among the higher social and economic classes).
History is color-blind. Morality is strength. Worth saying again: morality is strength.
They end with "the only lasting revolution is in the mind of man." In other words, technology is not a substitute for thinking by humans.
See my various lists. Other books I recommend:
The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past
Clock Of The Long Now: Time And Responsibility: The Ideas Behind The World's Slowest Computer
Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography
Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin
The Age of Missing Information (Plume)
Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge
Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution
Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century
Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration
Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace
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The Lessons of History by Will Durant (Paperback - February 16, 2010)