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The Lessons of History Paperback – February 16, 2010
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From Library Journal
This series of 13 essays on the themes and underlying lessons of history was originally written as part of the authors' 11-volume The Story of Civilization (1935-75). The Durants begin by summarizing periods and trends in history. They examine morals and draw conclusions by looking into changes in economics, politics, military customs, and even geographic location. Russ Holcomb reads these essays in a clear, pleasant voice, bringing life and interest to this brief overview of 5000 years of history. For general collections.
Miriam Kahn, Columbus, Ohio
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
"The Durants' masterpiece belongs in any home library and occupies a shelf in many."
--Dana D. Kelley, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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