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The Lessons of History

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Book Overview

This description may be from another edition of this product. A concise survey of the culture and civilization of mankind, The Lessons of History is the result of a lifetime of research from Pulitzer Prize-winning historians Will and Ariel Durant. With their...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Lessons of History Mentions in Our Blog

The Lessons of History in How Do Books Make Life Better? Let Us Count the Ways...
How Do Books Make Life Better? Let Us Count the Ways...
Published by Beth Clark • January 07, 2019

Aside from the obvious self-help category, books make life better in so many ways that it's hard to imagine existing without them...so we won'! Thankfully, we don't have to. Here are just some of the ways that reading books is as essential as, oh, breathing.

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