An Intimate History of Humanity
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An Intimate History of Humanity

4.16 of 5 stars 4.16  ·  rating details  ·  584 ratings  ·  67 reviews
This extraordinarily wide-ranging study looks at the dilemmas of life today and shows how they need not have arisen. Portraits of living people and historical figures are placed alongside each other as Zeldin discusses how men and women have lost and regained hope; how they have learnt to have interesting conversations; how some have acquired an immunity to loneliness; how...more
Paperback, 496 pages
Published September 25th 1998 by Vintage (first published January 1st 1994)
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Feb 27, 2009 Wayne rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: all human beings
Recommended to Wayne by: the titles of the chapters!!!
This was a rich and astonishing read.
For years after I read it I could not put it back on a bookshelf.
To do so was like admitting that the reading was OVER, whereas I just wanted to keep exploring everything this book offered and opened up.

The title was enough to excite.
Then with chapter headings such as these...
*How new forms of love have been invented.
*Why there has been more progress in cooking than in sex.
*How men and women have slowly learned to have interesting convers...more
Zeldin's work, despite the name, isn't really historical scholarship. Instead it's far closer to philosophy, and his use of history is kin to Foucault's - by picking and choosing key moments in the global past, what do we learn that might help us navigate our present?

It's a fascinating text, if so broad and expansive that sometimes it feels too much to take in. Zeldin tries to pinpoint the things that make us human, tries to find our commonalities instead of focusing on differences, and asks wha...more
I could not figure out why reading this book made me feel enraged. I wondered if it had something to do with the way it says everything about nothing and nothing about Everything. Zeldin shares 1st person narratives from people who were weirdly philosophical about themselves and their lives. Is it because many of them are French. C'est l 'absurd. This book got rave reviews and the truth is that I was too annoyed to finish it. It was like eating food made of air.
Theodore Zeldin premise is that people have never been able to have a new vision of the future without first revising their idea of the past. "History did not have to happen the way it did, and what exists today is not its logical conclusion."

Zeldin sees humanity "as a family that has hardly met. I see the meeting of people, their bodies, thoughts, emotions or actions as the start of more change." The author maintains that up to now individuals have spent more time trying to understand themselv...more
It's taken me some time (Goodreads informs me 3 months), but I have finally finished reading Theodore Zeldin's ambitious book, 'An Intimate History of Humanity.'

Zeldin's stated objective is to provide us with a history of humanity that surpasses stale cataloging of kingdoms epochs, and ages. Instead, he turns his attention to some of the most important and defining dynamics of human society. He takes our fixed assumptions about the nature of humanity, and, through an exposition of engaging histo...more
Alexia Bullard
This book is perfect for those who enjoy reading about history, but dislike history books. Zeldin takes us through different aspects of history, combining them with aspects of mankind. He uses examples to illustrate each of his points, and has a tone and wit that makes this anything but dry.

At times, the book reads much like a self-help book, but it does not give solutions or guidelines. Instead, it brings to the surface facets of ourselves, as humans, that we may not have noticed before. Zeldi...more
An amazing book that I just came across on my shelves having read it in 1994ish. Each chapter takes a contemporary French woman from many layers of society and uses it to weave the history of humanity. Really interesting different take on history. Intriguing.
If you've ever wanted to read the history of some of our most common dreams, desires, and fears this is a good place to start. Well-written, and occasionally poetic.
Al Bità
This book was first published in 1994, and I must admit I had never heard of it until alerted to it by my good friend Wayne, who gave me a copy, and for which I am extremely grateful. This is a truly wonderful work, and one which should grace the personal library of anyone interested in a history which differs from the usual run of history books. It uses a very readable technique which is immediately charming (the list of chapter titles in the Table of Contents will be enough to intrigue even th...more
Jan 12, 2008 Kevin rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: lost hungry souls (everyone!)
This is not a typical history book. It's perfect for someone hungry for knowledge but put off by history written as a succession of dates and wars by a detached, passionless author. Sometimes it almost reads like a self-help book-- but don't worry, cynics! It offers no quick solutions, only useful questions. Fluffy and condescending? Nay! Encouraging and inspiring? Yay!

Divided into chapters like "How humans have repeatedly lost hope, and how new encounters, and a new pair of spectacles, revive t...more
Yasmina Elhayane
A fascinating read about our attempts as humans to escape from loneliness and the intense pull we feel to connect with one another as lovers and friends. Makes you feel excited to be human and not a stone.
I was impressed by the first 40 pages, with the author's promise of delving into the psyche and emotional history of humanity. Evidently erudite, this author alluded to references to historic events but promised to interpret them "intimately" and classic theoretic ideas but would use them "relevantly" so we don't get drowned in the details. The idea of starting with a particular person's life story held attraction as well -- till a point (page 40 onward) which becomes a mediocre collection of sn...more
Ferda Nihat Köksoy
Kitaptan Alıntılar ve Sentezler:
-SEFALETİN DORUĞU, BAŞKALARININ MÜLKÜ gibi olduğunun fark edilmesidir.

-KARMAŞA arttıkça, içinden geçilebilecek ÇATLAKLAR da artar.



-İnsanların EŞİT olmaya başlaması, KARŞILIKLI KONUŞMA ve DİNLEMEYİ öğrenebilmeleri ile olabilir.

-Çağdaş insan, Çinli gibi doğayı anlayan, Moğo...more
Mark Nelson
Each chapter in this book is split into two distinct parts. First there's one or more pen portraits of people, all of whom are French women. Second there's an attempt by Zeldin to link parts of the portraits to history. For me the portraits were the most consistent part of each chapter. This is a book that will make you think more deeply about your life and the life of others?
M.d. Lachlan
One of my favourite books and a real eye opener. One of the few books I read again periodically. It's the history of love but touches on many other aspects of philosophy. A page turner, which isn't something you often say about a philosophical novel. Like Alain De Botton but without the descents into banality.
Hock Tjoa
Brilliant and fascinating even though one can legitimately wonder what connects all the stories told other than the author's (powerful) imagination. It ranges through much of recent (post 1700) Western history.
The critical-minded humanities major in me cringed at a lot of the sweeping generalizations and unsupported conclusions in this book. Still, there were some original, inspiring ideas.
Robin Segal
One of the best books I have ever read, and definitely the book I have sent most often to others. It simply added a dimension to my world. It gave me license to think of things that I had never imagined were even topics, such as understanding the relationships among fear, curiosity, and freedom. Never had I imagined that one person could conceptualize these things, and so much more. You know that question, who would you want to have dinner with if you could choose one person in history? I would...more
Nov 18, 2009 Kelly marked it as to-read
Despite the sexysexy nipple-tastic cover, this is supposed to be a legit fascinating book.
Feb 19, 2014 Victoria is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
In the process of reading.
The chapter "Why toleration has never been enough" blows me away.
"Toleration is not the modern medicine it is made out to be, bu and old folk remedy, with only short-term effects. Though some civilizations have enabled different races to live peaceably side by side, anger against foreigners and minorities has flared up again and again, often with a suddenness with catches them unawares. And even after so many centuries of experience, the tolerant are still liable to b...more
I've had this book for over a decade now; it's one of my perennials. It's the first book of history that I fell in love with. Still in love!

Theodore Zeldin does something so original here that the book is fresh every time I open it. He begins each chapter with a person's story -- often related as though a conversation is in process. The individual story is expanded to encompass all of humanity, across all (recorded) history, and across all cultures. History is all of us; we all impact the larger...more

An interesting and intellectually challenging read. Arranged in short chapters making it convenient to read randomly from anywhere in the book. Great for busy times or when on the move. Catchy and memorable chapter titles such as " Why compassion has flowered even in stony ground", " Why even the rich and successful are somewhat gloomy about life" " How men and women have learnt to have interesting conversations". However, not always entirely convinced by the prescriptions given (which are proba...more
Nicholas Whyte[return][return]I got this ages ago, as it promised to be an interesting investigation of the history of how humans relate to each other. Unfortunately it isn't; it is a series of conversations with French women, one by one, with an attempt by the author to draw universal conclusions from each one individually. I got through less than a tenth of it before I reached my "Tonstant Weader fwowed up" moment, when one of the interviewees confided that[return][retu...more
Mary Hui
I've never read anything quite like this before. Not really history, not really philosophy, not at all a commercialized self-help book, I can't quite pinpoint what I got out of this book. Enjoyment and stimulation were definitely there for sure, but also a realisation that 'humanity', though such a broad word, is actually very much a physical thing that we can all appreciate, if we know where and how to look...

At times I really did not fully understand what Zeldin was saying, largely because the...more
I don't agree with everything the book posits, but I think the beauty in this book is that it proposes a new way of thinking about history, and even our current personal relationships.
Kuldip S Attalia
Read this approximately 7-8yrs ago. This book is very a Zeldin point of view, and how he captivates History from an angle which differs from history writers. I read the book on chapters bases, which intrigued me at the time. There are some chapters In the book, particularly in the way it lays out so many contradictory opinions on how one should live one's life. Zeldin very cleverly leaves you with food for thought, at the end of each chapter he leaves a sample of his sources, a suggested reading...more
A book by turns illuminating and frustrating, insightful, banal, and tedious. Zeldin drives at the important details of life and has wonderful insights into human existence through history, but the book's format is tiresome. The details from individual women's lives at the beginning of each chapter wore me down over time and took away from his cleverness and wit. In the end I fear I am not generous enough to this book, which is ambitious and attempts to be so all encompassing, but his dismissal...more
Pat Falkner
This is one of the most original ideas for a book I have ever encountered. So, clearly, it's not easy for me to describe. Take the title literally - the book is about people's interior lives, using real life ordinary individuals along with all kinds of material on earlier cultures. It sounds like something that could be a complete waste of time, and it might be if you're not curious or, possibly, if you try it before you've had a chance to read very broadly.
Sep 06, 2008 Emily rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: humans. all of them.
Recommended to Emily by: miriam t.
refreshing. catalytic. i knew i was going to love it when miriam left her copy sitting on the table at common grounds and i read the chapter titles (i.e. "why friendships between men and women have been so fragile", "what becomes possible when soulmates meet"). a passionate anthropological review of the last thousand+ years as lived by people who create and cook and eat and forget and hate and obsess and adore and despair and regain hope. us, in other words.
A very clever and empathic book about how our current intimate sentiments of work, of faith, of love, of authority, of parenthood, and of much more have come about. And how they are still changing.

It is a very good and convincing argument that very little of our emotional expectations and norms are set in stone, but are constantly evolving with each passing generation. And that it is up to us to make an effort to be aware of this.
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Theodore Zeldin CBE, President of the Oxford Muse Foundation, is an English philosopher, sociologist, historian, writer and public speaker. Zeldin was first known as a historian of France but is today probably most famous internationally as the author of An Intimate History of Humanity (1994), a book which probes the personal preoccupations of people in many different civilisations, both in the pa...more
More about Theodore Zeldin...
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“...literature must always be about gloom of one sort or another, on the principal that there is nothing interesting to be said about happy people.” 5 likes
“Each civilization, each nation, each family, each profession, each sex and each class has its own history. Humans have so far been interested mainly in their own private roots, and have therefore never claimed the whole of the inheritance into which they were born, the legacy of everybody’s past experience. Each generation searches only for what it thinks it lacks, and recognizes only what it knows already.” 4 likes
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