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Posts Tagged ‘Will Durant’

The historian always oversimplifies, and hastily selects a manageable minority of facts and faces out of a crowd of souls and events whose multitudinous complexity he can never quite embrace or comprehend.
    —    Will Durant
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On This Day In:
2019 I Think I’m Repeating Myself
It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like X-mas!
2018 No Reason To Turn
2017 Talking Knuth
Seeing It Through
2016 Hoping For The Best Come January
2015 Adaptive Security
2014 Wants
2013 Side Effects
2012 Just Trying To Earn A Living
2011 Productive Worry

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The Lessons Of History”  (1968©)  —  book review
Today’s book review is for a summation / distillation book written by Will and Ariel Durant (a married couple) which culminates a series of eleven volumes popularly titled: “The Story of Civilization“.  This book (“Lessons“) actually was written and published between volumes 10 and 11 of that main work.  The book attempts to provide extremely brief points about twelve topics: geography, biology, race, character, morals, religion, economics, socialism, government, war, growth / decay, and progress.  There is also a preface and a first chapter detailing the authors “hesitations” in presenting such a précis.  The book is barely 117 pages while the typical main volume is 900-1100 pages (over 10,000 pages in total).  Obviously, their task was daunting and, generally speaking, they only compare / contrast the two main tensions (positions) for each topic (i.e. religion vs secularism) in this slim book.  This book, like the main series, is an attempt to bring “history” to the masses (in simple, if flowery, language).
If you are a lover of words, you will enjoy the authors’ writing style.  I found the imagery almost poetic at many points.  If, however, you are a person grounded in ideas, you may be less taken by this work.  The chapters tend to be limited to the “compare and contrast” formula of only two main concepts each per topic.  Another issue: the book is dealing with racism and culture, character and morals, etc., and many times we see these topics through the prism of our modern perspective, while the authors view them over the course of human history.  Racism and slavery, for example, seem almost excused because that’s the way it (humanity) has been for the vast majority of the last 5,000 years.  It is NOT excused (by the authors), but it is detailed and in most sections comes across as “the white-man’s destiny”, until suddenly – sometimes in only a single brief paragraph, it isn’t.  And the “suddenly” paragraph represents the last 150 years which some of us have lived through a fair chunk of – in my case 65 of them, anyway.  I am not trying to be critical of the couple’s monumental work (over five decades in the writing for the main series), however, this book seems to suffer from the same European / Northern Mediterranean perspective (i.e. bias) which the main series is always criticized for.  I did not personally find this overly objectionable, but then I am a “melting-pot” American (product of the 1960’s).
Is this a good book?  Is it thought provoking?  Is it entertaining?  Yes.  Yes.  And, yes.  There is a well known expression that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.  The authors opine this is not necessarily as true as is the subtle appearance of time, leadership, government and civilization being caught up in great interweaving cycles – like a pendulum we swing back and forth between anarchy and tyranny with only brief periods of democratic liberties and freedoms.  And, they attempt to illustrate this series of cycles for each of the twelve chapters opposing extremes.  Please note:  the authors imagery is circular.  Mine is the pendulum.
Final recommendation: highly recommended!  I bought the full twelve volumes several years ago and promised myself I’d read them “eventually”.  I’m glad I’ve finally dipped my toe in the ocean.  I guess the next step is to begin the real swim…
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On This Day In:
2019 Dodgers Choke AGAIN
He Wasn’t “Just Kidding The Press”
2018 Thinking About My Hil
Remember Your Duty In November
2017 Play Well With Others
2016 Surviving And Challenging
2015 On Destroying Historic / Archaeological Sites
2014 Magical Power
2013 How Awesome Would That Be
2012 Two Views
2011 Still Looking For Examples
2010 Giants Win Away 3 – 2!!

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To say nothing, especially when speaking, is half the art of diplomacy.
    —    Will Durant
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On This Day In:
2019 Have You Planted Lately?
2018 Something / Nothing
2017 Kindness
2016 Dealing With It
2015 Too Many Choices!
2014 Vini, Vidi, Vici
2013 Heroes
Education, n.
2012 Who I Want To Be
2011 Mythic Forgetfulness

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The bitter lesson that may be drawn from this tragedy is that eternal vigilance is the price of civilization.  A nation must love peace, but keep its powder dry.
    —    Will Durant
From his book:  “The History of Civilization: Our Oriental Heritage
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On This Day In:
2018 Start By Trying
Day 4: Difficult Day
2017 Outlasting Division
2016 Said The Man Who Trained To Fight For A Living
2015 Tripping On Treasure
2014 The Flower Of Light
2013 Eye Catching
2012 The Holstee Manifesto
2011 Three Crooners For The Shower
The Soldier’s Faith
Vacation, Books And Lots Of Movies

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We have tried to show that the essential cause of the Roman conquest of Greece was the disintegration of Greek civilization from within.  No great nation is ever conquered until it has destroyed itself.
   —    Will Durant
From his book:  “The History of Civilization: The Life of Greece
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On This Day In:
2017 Or Vote Against You
2016 Cupid Must Say It Too
2015 Some Of This And A Pinch Of That
2014 Consensus Is Only One Side
2013 Not Ought
2012 If You Want To, If You Have Something To Offer
2011 I See Lots Of Fools
2010 Orange Inside!!
And The Band Played On…
Happy New Year!!

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A history of civilization shares the presumptuousness of every philosophical enterprise: it offers the ridiculous spectacle of a fragment expounding the whole.  Like philosophy, such a venture has no rational excuse, and is at best but a brave stupidity; but let us hope that, like philosophy, it will always lure some rash spirits into its fatal depths.
     —    Will Durant
From the Preface to the first volume to his series: “The Story Of Civilization: I – Our Oriental Heritage
I want to know what were the steps by which men passed from barbarism to civilization.
     —    Voltaire
[Several years ago, I purchased the book series “The Story Of Civilization” by Will (and Ariel) Durant.  I first heard about the series perhaps forty years ago, when I was first thinking (and hoping) to “become” educated and cultured by reading great books and listening to classical music.  I found the books on sale at a used book store and picked them up as a promise to myself.  Since then, they’ve been sitting on my shelf calling to me…  Recently, I pulled down the first volume and started glancing through it.  Okay, I actually started to read it.
There are twelve volumes in the series and with one exception each is at least 1,000 pages.  When I looked the series up on line, one reviewer said any serious reader should expect to spend five years of his life reading these in their entirety, because anything less would fail to give them the consideration and justice they deserved.  Talk about your intimidating review!!
I doubt if I’ll finish them in five years.  I doubt if I’ll be able to find the time to give them the consideration they probably deserve.  But if I start now, who can say…
Fortunately, I do not feel foolish enough to set a goal of understanding all of human history or even to remember most of the 12,000+ pages related in this series.  I only hope to understand a little better how I got here (in this time and place) and what my minor role is in this great river of history.     —    KMAB]
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On This Day In:
2014 To Be Greatly Good
2013 Limited Capacity
2012 Two Ear Ticklers
Justification
2011 To Avail The Nation

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But it took more than a revival of antiquity to make the Renaissance.  And first of all it took money — smelly bourgeois money: … of careful calculations, investments and loans, of interest and dividends accumulated until surplus could be spared from the pleasures of the flesh, from the purchase of senates, signories, and mistresses, to pay a Michelangelo or a Titian to transmute wealth into beauty, and perfume a fortune with the breath of art.  Money is the root of all civilization.
    —    Will Durant
From his book: “The History of Civilization:  The Renaissance
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On This Day In:
2014 Hard Evidence
2013 Full Participation
2012 Roving (Again)
Ooops, Again
2011 Why Not?

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The new generation, having inherited world mastery, had no time or inclination to defend it; that readiness for war which had characterized the Roman landowner disappeared now that ownership was concentrated in a few families and a proletariat without stake in the country filled the slums of Rome.
     —    Will Durant
From his book: “The History of Civilization:  Caesar and Christ
[A cautionary note to the 1%…    —    KMAB]
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On This Day In:
2014 Always More Productive
2013 Is Not
2012 Loosely Translated
2011 Your Opinions Are Not My Facts

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[On China in 1935…]  No victory of arms, or tyranny of alien finance, can long suppress a nation so rich in resources and vitality.  The invader will lose funds or patience before the loins of China will lose virility; within a century China will have absorbed and civilized her conquerors, and will have learned all the technique of what transiently bears the name of modern industry; roads and communications will give her unity, economy and thrift will give her funds, and a strong government will give her order and peace.
    —   Will Durant
From his book: “The History of Civilization:  Our Oriental Heritage
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On This Day In:
2014 Relax And Lead
2013 Location, Location, Location
2012 Are You Really Good?
2011 Relatively Objective, Anyway

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If Rome had not engulfed so many men of alien blood in so brief a time, if she had passed all these newcomers through her schools instead of her slums, if she had treated them as men with a hundred potential excellences, if she had occasionally closed her gates to let assimilation catch up with infiltration, she might have gained new racial and literary vitality from the infusion, and might have remained a Roman Rome, the voice and citadel of the West.
    —    Will Durant
From his book: “The History of Civilization:  Caesar and Christ
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On This Day In:
2014 Hmmm
2013 What’s A Motto With You?
2012 Worthy Companions
2011 Bourne Again
Which Ten Are You In?

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For barbarism is always around civilization, amid it and beneath it, ready to engulf it by arms, or mass migration, or unchecked fertility.  Barbarism is like the jungle; it never admits its defeat; it waits patiently for centuries to recover the territory it has lost.
     —   Will Durant
From his book: “The History of Civilization:  Our Oriental Heritage
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On This Day In:
2014 Unknown
2013 Explaining Love?
2012 Echoes of 1%
2011 Salaam, Egypt!!
Where Do You Learn?

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I wish to tell as much as I can, in as little space as I can, of the contributions that genius and labor have made to the cultural heritage of mankind – to chronicle and contemplate, in their causes, character and effects, the advances of invention, the varieties of economic organization, the experiments in government, the aspirations of religion, the mutations of morals and manners, the masterpieces of literature, the development of science, the wisdom of philosophy, and the achievements of art.  I do not need to be told how absurd this enterprise is, nor how immodest is its very conception …  Nevertheless I have dreamed that despite the many errors inevitable in this undertaking, it may be of some use to those upon whom the passion for philosophy has laid the compulsion to try to see things whole, to pursue perspective, unity and time, as well as to seek them through science in space. …  Like philosophy, such a venture [as the creation of these 11 volumes] has no rational excuse, and is at best but a brave stupidity; but let us hope that, like philosophy, it will always lure some rash spirits into its fatal depths.
     —    Will Durant
From the preface of his book:  “The History of Civilization:  Our Oriental Heritage
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On This Day In:
2014 Wearing Down?
2013 Labouring Under A Curse
2012 Listen To Yourself
2011 Career Tips (Part 1)
No Captain Dunsel

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Perhaps man, having remade his environment, will turn around at last and begin to remake himself.
   —    Will Durant
[More likely, having destroyed the environment, man will be replaced by a new “dominant” species on Earth.   —   KMAB]
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On This Day In:
2013 Enjoyed The Desolation
Watching Faux News
2012 Speaking Of Products
2011 Ready To Be Immortal?

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What shall we know of our death?  Either the soul is immortal and we shall not die, or it perishes with the flesh and we shall not know that we are dead.  Live, then, as if you were eternal, and do not believe that your life has changed merely because it seems proved that the Earth is empty.  You do not live in the Earth, you live in yourself.
   —  André Maurois
Quoted by Will Durant
From his book: “On the Meaning of Life
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On This Day In:
2012 Still Trying
2011 Not Deserving

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