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on June 7, 2015
I have read this book three times and I keep discovering new gems in this collection of essay by the Durants. I highly recommend this surprisingly short (=concise - they don't waste a single line of paper!) work. Here are some of my favorite quotes:

- “Democracy is the most difficult of all forms of government, since it requires the widest spread of intelligence, and we forgot to make ourselves intelligent when we made ourselves sovereign. Education has spread, but intelligence is perpetually retarded by the fertility of the simple.”
- “[…] the Church dares not alter the doctrines that reason smiles at, for such changes would offend and disillusion the millions whose hopes have been tied to inspiring and consolatory imaginations.”
- “[…] the first condition of freedom is its limitation; make it absolute and it dies in chaos.”
- “History is so indifferently rich that a case for almost any conclusion from it can be made by a selection of instances.”
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on April 19, 2016
Durant packs more meaning into one sentence than many do in pages of prose. Deeply erudite yet lyrically fluid writing provides pleasure in the reading. One doesn't need a broad education in the Humanities and Social Sciences to get the best from this work, but it certainly helps if one has had it.

Durant's strategy for explaining the how and why of History's lessons make sense and helps readers understand to compartment their own world, yet maintain the connectedness among all the compartments.

A delightful work that reminded me of what I once loved about History and Historiography.
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on June 7, 2012
This is a very short book (about 100 pages) but it's worth the price.

Very interesting to see a lifetime of dedicated history study boiled down into essential lessons learned. Lots of thought-provoking ideas, such as freedom and equality being opposing goals in a society. You may not agree with everything they say but it will all get you thinking.

This kind of book is an undertaking that modern academics would maybe never dare to try. So I'm glad for "popularizers" like the Durants who are willing to give me a straight, no-nonsense explanation and analysis of history. As other reviewers have noted, it's also wonderfully non-politically correct. They are just telling it like they see it in 1968, which is refreshing. (Yes, I think the Political Correctors on "both sides of the aisle" have some good points but I resent them imposing their narrowly-focused agendas on me.)

My favorite passage:

"A youth boiling with hormones will wonder why he should not give full freedom to his sexual desires; and if he is unchecked by custom, morals, or laws, he may ruin his life before he matures sufficiently to understand that sex is a river of fire that must be banked and cooled by a hundred restraints if it is not to consume in chaos both the individual and the group." (If Durant is correct on this point the world is currently in big trouble, I think.)

Note: Other reviewers have mentioned interviews between the chapters. My book does not have these. I bought the brand new paperback version from Amazon that is currently pictured on the website: (black cover, blue title, yellow circular illustration), Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, trade paperback edition Feb 2012, ISBN-10: 143914995X. I count 117 pages including index.
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on May 26, 2012
The master work of Will and Ariel Durant is the ten volume "The Story of Civilization", which is a comprehensive and stimulating history of the evolution of Western (European) Civilization. The Durants are not typical academic historians, but more like the 18th Century encyclopedists trying to pull together information of all sorts into comprehensive books of knowledge in which fact and opinion are mixed and sweeping conclusions are reached.

All of which is to say that this slim (109 plus pages) volume of the Durants contains a summary of some observations that the Durants derived from there master work. The book has an introductory chapter and a concluding chapter (Is Progress Real") that sandwich eleven chapters that present their observations chosen to support their conclusion in the final chapter that yes progress is real, but not assured. Many of their observations in this book are cogent and represent their years of research and study. At the very least this book provides ample material for reflection on the part of its readers.

Yet compared to their master work, it is pretty thin gruel. In some respects it suggests the work of two brilliant scholars who have exhausted themselves in producing a monumental study of Western Civilization.
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on June 4, 2013
"Lessons in History" synopsizes the guts of Will and Ariel Durant's eleven volume "The Story of Civilization," also a must read, particularly for those who love historical detail delivered with brilliant prose. Published in 1965, "Lessons" is a bit dated, nevertheless the lessons are taken from events spanning thousands of years and the embedded predictions of the future are now becoming fact. This is particularly true regarding the idea that the never-ending struggle between the "haves" and "have-nots" is an aspect of the human psyche reacting to the fact that persons are not born equal in abilities. Thus, over time "the natural inequality of men soon re-creates an inequality of possessions and privileges. Face it, some people run faster than others, some are bigger and stronger, some are smarter, and so on. "This leads to cyclical episodes of violent revolution or a gradual and more peaceful political change that, over time, produces a new "elite" that enjoys days in the sun until it is up-ended in the next cycle. The Durant's provide many examples of this, including that of ancient Athens: "The poorer citizens captured control of the Assembly, and began to vote the money of the rich into the coffers of the state, for redistribution among the people through governmental enterprises and subsidies." Sound familiar? But there are more lessons that this. Better read it.
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on July 19, 2016
The Durants discuss some large themes, from their life long study of world history, in broad brush strokes. A great book to include in a syllabus for a college junior's philosophy, or western civilization, course. All the chapters are great jumping off points for various discussions about the individual, society, and the relationships between the two. Politics, economics/finance, war, science, technology, religion are all woven together for the open minded to consider in our current tempestuous world.
It's an easy read, clear flowing language with digestible chapters that leave much for further discussion(s).
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on July 17, 2016
The book is provocative and does really lend the right perspective to looking at history, and our behaviors and systems through the lens of time. Ive taken away some interesting lessons, and groundings from it.
Id give it 4.5 stars vs. 5 just for some of his personal commentary on some of the sections, which I assume is justified. I found myself mildly offended at times, but not without merit on the author's end.
I would recommend this for anyone interested in history and anthropology. A quick and insightful read.
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on April 2, 2017
Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. While I read this book in university I bought it again to enjoy the Durant essays. Highly recommend for the optimistic tone and readability. Busy citizens will find comfort in the manageable material within.
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on March 3, 2017
This book has taught me more about lessons of human history in a book than a college university. I love this book.
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on April 29, 2017
Wonderful. Revealed history that I knew perfunctorily but now see and understand fully. Have recommended it to a scholarly friend and plan to re-read it. Although it was written fifty years ago it reveals historic patterns that are in play today.
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