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The Terror of History: On the Uncertainties of Life in Western Civilization Hardcover – September 26, 2011


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; 1St Edition edition (September 26, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691124132
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691124131
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #253,182 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"The tone of this book is more ruminative than pedagogic. Ruiz sprinkles his text with personal anecdotes and observations but never advocates one approach over the other. This is not, he stresses, a self-help manual. Although religious in his youth, Ruiz is now a genially tolerant, dark-humored atheist. . . . The comfort--even delight--of this book is that it doesn't scold or trivialize people's often pathetic attempts to escape their own mortality. It simply wishes them to be aware of possibilities. 'In truth, I am as clueless about the world in my advanced years as I was early in life,' Ruiz confesses. He is a seeker, too."--Edward Morris, ForeWord Reviews

"This is an attempt by the erudite Ruiz (history, Spanish & Portuguese, UCLA; Spain's Centuries of Crisis: 1300-1474) to use his knowledge and experience to make sense of our messy lives and our desires to bury a future we cannot control. . . . In separate chapters, he discusses three forms of escape from history: religion, materialism, and estheticism. But the book isn't meant to be history as much as an intensely personal meditation on how we deal with our worries about the world, stuffing inside ourselves our fear of impending extinction. Ruiz uses his own experiences to illustrate points, even including a piece of fiction he wrote when young. More personal than Annaliste history, with which it's best compared . . . serious readers will find it worthwhile for its author's attempt to embrace elusive questions about our personal lives."--Library Journal

"You can't judge a book by its cover, as the old saw goes, but every so often the cover art may stun you into long contemplation. Or horror, in the case of Teofilo R. Ruiz's The Terror of History: On the Uncertainties of Life in Western Civilization (Princeton University Press), which greets the prospective reader by way of Goya's 'Saturn Devouring His Son.' Drawing on the great Dutch medievalist Johan Huizinga's work, Ruiz organizes his musings around three grand strategies for finding happiness, or at least mitigating total dread: 'through belief (in a whole variety of orthodox and heterodox forms), [through] the life of the senses, and/or through culture and the pursuit of the beautiful.' Under each of these headings, he arrays quotations from and reflections on a kaleidoscopic array of ancient and modern authors and phenomena: Sophocles, Proust, utopian communes, witch-burning crazes, The Decameron, an insurrection in Brazil in the 1890s, the Marquis de Sade, and The Epic of Gilgamesh, to give a representative sampling. Plus there are memoiristic bits. He mentions teaching 'a class on world history from the Big Bang to around 400 C.E.' The book seems more ambitious still. . . . [A] short book displaying enormous erudition."--Scott McLemee, Inside Higher Ed

"Ruiz is, first and foremost, a man of letters. His references to literature, film and art, from homer to Goya to Tolkien, will be refreshing to those who crave something more than archival material and footnotes from their history books. . . . There is much to admire about this book. It is the product of a lifetime of hard work and serious thought about life's fundamental questions. Above all, Ruiz does not shy away from the consequences of atheism, a position he has held for four decades since losing the Catholic faith."--America Magazine

"The Terror of History is an absorbing book that will not let the reader skip pages. It challenges the intellect while launching arguments in the mind over content."--R. Balashankar, Organiser

"The Terror of History is an enjoyable book, though disturbing at the same time. As said, it is not an academic book; it covers largely personal reflections and considerations. I would recommend it to any curious reader keen to investigate some of the most dark and challenging moments in the history of humankind and see if and how we coped with them."--Luca Guariento, Kelvingrove Review

"Combining astonishing historical breadth with a personal and accessible narrative style, The Terror of History is a moving testimony to the incredibly diverse ways humans have sought to cope with their frightening history."--World Book Industry

From the Inside Flap

"This is a beautifully written and deeply personal meditation on the horrors of Western history. A senior historian with an existential sensibility, Ruiz is keenly attuned to the terrors lurking in our awareness of time's relentless passing. Reflecting on our individual and collective reactions to disaster, disease, war, and death, Ruiz explores the different ways humans respond to the abysses of history by finding or creating meaning. The Terror of History is an enlightening and heartfelt work."--Iain Thomson, University of New Mexico

"Very few books dig so deeply into the feelings and experiences that really drive historians. Still less do they explore how events in distant ages, in seemingly distant cultures, can touch the modern reader. The Terror of History does this. Ruiz's voice is very much that of a teacher and scholar committed to the exploration of the human condition. This is a rich book."--Peter Brown, Princeton University

"This is a fascinating and very special book."--Jesús Rodríguez-Velasco, Columbia University


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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Mary Ellen Kruse on October 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a beautiful book! The musings of a brilliant mind in an organized logical narrative exploring the ways humankind responds to the harshness of life (history). As it is also his personal journey in search of meaning, the narrative is interspersed with his own poignant reflections, memories and comments. He has taken a difficult subject and in his conclusion has made it beautiful. This book is a keeper to be treasured and reread.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Susan on August 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover
What an incredible book. It made my head spin, wanting to break away in order to read each of the books or authors mentioned as inspiration; reading slowly and closely, trying to take in the facts and philosophy; and feeling deeply the emotion and personal history of Ruiz himself as he binds the reader to his themes. When I decided to write a review of the book, something I rarely do, I of course read the other reviews. Ruiz states in his Conclusion: "I write monographic research books that are read by four people. Three of them are my friends and agree with everything I say. The other is usually an enemy who thinks it is all wrong." I do not know Ruiz (and am not one of his students), and do not agree with everything in this book, but I can recommend ''The Terror of History" as an informative, compelling, passionate look at history and how we are all subject to its terrors, especially the terror (or relief) of our own mortality.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Peter on September 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I liked everything about the book. Although, I disagree with some of the rhetoric, it was an interesting read for sure.
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5 of 9 people found the following review helpful By uclabest on April 17, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am currently taking Dr. Teofilo Ruiz' class at UCLA. He is an amazing professor and I love this book.
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29 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Simon Barrett on October 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This book is not what it is marketed as. It's actually a confused, ramshackle, half-baked, inconsequential mess. If I start in ad hominem it is because Ruiz invites this; he cuts rather a pathetic figure, the very picture of the alienated, a Cuban exile from the sheltered pre-revolutionary bourgeoisie, a man who has lost his culture (he has a little French) presumably without family ties (he rejected his Catholic upbringing while not precisely 'rebelling') and an obscure, childless academic unwillingly sequestered in the prison of self. (No great shakes on the dancefloor either, truth to tell.) How do I know all this? Because he tells us - but he tells us very little else.

This book should properly be called My Quest for Meaning. Its meagre thesis (which is clumsy, muddled, repetitive) is that we escape from life's hardships by religion (that is, voluntary repression), pleasure (consumerism) or work (creativity), those three time-honoured forms of 'escape from history' (in Ruiz's obscure formulation) in effect providing *meaning*, a word he shies away from because he personally finds life meaningless; he does not recognise that meaninglessness is also a meaning! And of course even his categories are not watertight. There is gratification in religion and sacrifice in art; one can become a 'slave to pleasure' - though one feels Pascal's problem probably was that he wasn't getting enough of it. 'Too much of anything is bad', as my censorious grandmother would tautologically put it, but how much is *enough*?
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