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The Lessons of History by Will Durant
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The Lessons of History (1968)

by Will Durant, Ariel Durant

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Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
A very condensed version of the authors' writing. Has some insights that I found interesting, but overall the summary format doesn't work that well to be very informative or interesting. ( )
  deldevries | Apr 15, 2017 |
I’d give this 10 stars. It is that good! ( )
  jasonbraganza | Dec 21, 2016 |
The premise of this book is based on the idea that we can develop a worldview from looking back on history. I don't agree that this is the case. Our worldview rests on our experiences and our values. History is like the future; it contains an infinite number of possibilities. When we weave history into a comprehensible narrative, we're selecting fodder to support or refute a worldview. But history just is. Ultimately, it's not a willing party in each of our schemes.

To get specific, Durant claims that history is the story of competition. And yet it is just as much the story of cooperation. Or maybe even of indifference. It's all based on the values of the historian.

Just as stock traders say, past performance has little relationship with future returns. Things happened a certain way in the past [most of which isn't recorded or known]. They will happen similarly and differently in the future, in ways we can't predict.

History does have utility. If you work in finance, learning about the history of finance can help you understand the present arrangement of things. But history can't decide our values for us, and determining our values might be the most important aspect of our lives. ( )
  willszal | Jan 3, 2016 |
The Lessons of History is a kind of grand overview of what the Durant's learned about history while writing their Story of Civilization. Early chapters, particularly on biology and history, have some extremely insightful and thought-provoking material, but unfortunately, it goes downhill from there. The final chapters on the roles of religion, economics, government, and war throughout history have some very bad analysis that finds Durant in his old age reversing some of his better ideas from his earlier years.

This audio edition also includes some brief interview snippets with the Durants interspersed between the chapters, which only serve to highlight the problems. Even Ariel occasionally calls Will out on his inconsistencies. In the chapter on economics (and in the interview afterwards), for example, Durant rejects a Marxist view of history but explicitly embraces a Hegelian one, saying the problem with Marx is not his deterministic view that economic forces shape the course of history, but that he didn't take the Hegelian premise to its logical conclusion in saying that Communism would supplant Capitalism. Rather, says Durant, we are moving toward a Hegelian Synthesis of the two. As this suggests, Durant has also by this time moved away from his earlier view that innovative individuals move history, and more toward the view that they are merely products of their times.

He had also come to be much less critical of religion, viewing Christian morality as the basis of Western civilization without which our other achievements would fall. This is extremely dubious, and he of all people ought to know better, given everything he had previously written on the subject!

Perhaps worst of all is the dichotomy he sets up between "freedom" and "order", saying they are antitheses but equally desirable. The problem with modern society, he says, is that we have too much freedom, and not enough order. This leads him to conclude that the government should impose various totalitarian controls, up to and including full-blown eugenics, with government approval necessary to determine who is physically and mentally fit to be allowed to reproduce. Did he learn nothing from the Nazi and fascist experiments of the mid-twentieth century?!

The only excuse I can make for him is that he is writing at one of the most volatile times in our history at the end of the 1960s, with all the extremes of the social revolution and the outbreak of the Vietnam war. And somewhat to his credit, while his optimism is clearly gone and he talks blithely of the imminent destruction of the human race, he still hasn't swung fully toward pessimism and notes, for instance, the then recent developments in agriculture in synthetic fertilizers and Norman Borlaug's high-yield wheat strains that allowed the unprecedented feeding of Asia.

So on the whole I had rather mixed feelings about this. It had some very good material, but interspersed with much more that was very bad, for the Durants. I'd recommend reading The Story of Philosophy or The Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time instead.

http://www.amazon.com/review/R170N0QWXXXH4S ( )
  AshRyan | Jan 5, 2015 |
How remarkable to stumble across this slim volume; it made the day perfect. This is the final volume, a commentary (so to speak) of the truly remarkable work of Will and Ariel Durant. I'm grateful to have found it.

No matter how small the bookshelf, this is a book that belongs on it. ( )
  Lyndatrue | Feb 17, 2014 |
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Durant, Arielmain authorall editionsconfirmed
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As his studies come to a close the historian faces the challenge: Of what use have your studies been?
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0671413333, Hardcover)

In this illuminating and thoughtful book, Will and Ariel Durant have succeeded in distilling for the reader the accumulated store of knowledge and experience from their four decades of work on the ten monumental volumes of "The Story of Civilization." The result is a survey of human history, full of dazzling insights into the nature of human experience, the evolution of civilization, the culture of man. With the completion of their life's work they look back and ask what history has to say about the nature, the conduct and the prospects of man, seeking in the great lives, the great ideas, the great events of the past for the meaning of man's long journey through war, conquest and creation - and for the great themes that can help us to understand our own era.

To the Durants, history is "not merely a warning reminder of man's follies and crimes, but also an encouraging remembrance of generative souls ... a spacious country of the mind wherein a thousand saints, statesman, inventors, scientists, poets, artists, musicians, lovers, and philosophers still live and speak, teach and carve and sing..."

Designed to accompany the ten-volume set of "The Story of Civilization, The Lessons of History" is, in its own right, a profound and original work of history and philosophy.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:18 -0400)

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Includes material on the influence of biology, race, character, morals, religion, economics, socialism, government, and war on history.

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