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The Lessons of History

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  9,309 ratings  ·  869 reviews
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 ci ...more
Hardcover, 119 pages
Published July 1st 1997 by Fine Communications,US (first published January 1st 1968)
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Roy Lotz
I am having trouble articulating the complex mix of opinions and emotions that I’ve formed around Durant. Several times I have come away from his books disappointed; and yet I continue to read them. One reason he fascinates me is that he is a species of American which is now almost entirely extinct: a product of the ‘Great Books’ paradigm in American higher education.

As far as I can tell, this paradigm in education was first popularized in 1909, when Charles W. Eliot released his Harvard Clas
...more
Jameson
Dec 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I inherited much of my father’s library many years ago, including the entire eleven volume Story of Civilization, by Will and Ariel Durant. Included in the set was the single slim volume they wrote afterward by way of an introduction, The Lessons of History. Over the years I have frequently dipped into individual volumes of the main text for research, but I never read any entire volume until my wife came bouncing into my office one evening and thrust The Lessons of History under my nose and said ...more
Danger Kallisti
Feb 12, 2008 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: people looking for a few scattered clever quotes
Recommended to Danger by: Kevin, I think.
Shelves: crap-just-crap
The first thing to understand about this book is that it was written by old people. By this, I don’t even mean that they were chronologically enhanced; more that they were trapped by that inflexible mindset which places tradition and an intense desire for belonging above a natural exploration of reality.

The Durants were either intelligent people trying to reconcile their minds to the demands of the culture in which they were raised, or abject liars attempting to politick their way onto the books
...more
Lori Tian Sailiata
The audio version is delightful. It enhances the original text with interviews that are relevant to each section. The intimacy between Will and Ariel is a treat. Their playful arm wrestling over ideas and concepts makes for a better interview. Sure, their world view is older...although he was a radical of his time. But even for the faults, it's a delight to linger in his mind. And an honor to be in the presence of Ariel's spirit.
Ashok Krishna
Oct 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
History repeats itself’, ‘Those who don’t learn from history are forced to repeat it’ – these are two of the quips about which I had been curious for so long. Is it possible that we humans are living a cycle all through our lives? Are we repeating the same things, events and experiences that our ancestors once went through? Are we humans, so-called most intelligent species of this planet, so inept at learning from our past that we go through the same pains and pleasures, events and experiences ...more
Heather Campbell
Aug 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
I'm giving this book a high rating no because I agree with it. But it is important to see where historiography was at in the 60's. Durants' main point is that the strong,tenacious, breeding society will win the day and that the world will only unite as one when aliens attack us. This is the antithesis of what Jesus taught. Also Gandhi. They also say the monarchy is the most stable successful form of government and that the church is important only because it serve as a personal behavior moderato ...more
Wayne
Feb 25, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: those intrigued by humanity's journey
Recommended to Wayne by: Mistress History
Shelves: history, americana
A Curiosity.

I liked it, not because I agreed with it, but because
it is such a rarity and an oddity.

How often are historians brave enough or rash enough to
take on the job/challenge of offering "a survey of human experience"
as Will and Ariel Durant say in their preface.
Even if you disagree with or query their views, it makes you wonder what you yourself believe and think and whether you can justify it with facts and figures.
You may not agree with much of this book, or then you may.
But you will be
...more
Roger
Oct 18, 2015 rated it did not like it
What a thoroughly disagreeable book. Filled with conclusory opinionated claptrap unsupported by historical evidence. Racist and homophobic.

For example, "only the man who is below the average in economic ability desires equality" or "All strong characters and peoples are race conscious, and are instinctively averse to marriage outside their own racial group." or "...sin had flourished in every age...Even our generation has not yet rivaled the popularity of homosexualism in ancient Greece or Rome.
...more
Adam Meade
May 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Brilliant! The Durant's offer a bird's-eye view of human civilization and distill for us the principles and common threads that bind different peoples separated chronologically by thousands of years yet whom differ little to none in the passions and desires that motivate them. I can't recall reading any other book that had such a low length-to-substance ratio. It weighs in at only around 120 pages, but nearly every sentence seems pregnant with deep insights and wisdom that is as relevant today a ...more
Daniel Clausen
May 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-of-2020
This book is over 50 years old. In some ways, the book now lives in the shadows of more recent classics, such as Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs, and Steel" and Yuval Noah Harari's "21 Lessons for the 21st Century." In these more contemporary books, we are also called to look at the lessons of history. In these books, too, we are called on to be skeptical and hesitant in making sense out of the often nonsense of history. "History is so indifferently rich that a case for almost any conclusion from i ...more
Nabilah Firdaus
Pultizer Prize-winning historians Will and Ariel Durant spent their entire lives studying and writing about history. The Lessons of History is a distillation of all of their works and lessons learned in one, short 120-pages book. They presented a crux on how history events are affected/related by/with several factors/themes. The factors/themes include biology, race, morals, religion, economics, government and war and several examples were quoted to support their conclusion. It's short, concise, ...more
Andy
Apr 11, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a bizarre little audiobook with short chapters followed by longish interviews that were apparently done while walking around outside with the authors. The attitudes are quaint if not antiquated, but I guess that's another lesson of history. As pointed out in other reviews, there is much to disagree with, but the Durants made some points I found very interesting, e.g. the value of the bureaucracy/conservative system in not letting upstarts keep turning the world upside down willy-nilly. T ...more
〰️Beth〰️
Dec 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lifetime, c1960s
Interesting summation of a lifetime of work.

After you re-adjust your 21st century thinking and look past some of the 19th and 20th Century prejudices of the Durants you can see the care they put into 40+ years of research. The audio book also provides interviews with the book.

For the most part the Durants, who spent so much time looking back at western civilization were forward thinking for their time. I wonder what Will’s thoughts would be regarding civilization today, 40 years after his death.
...more
Lowell
Jun 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
I first heard of Will and Ariel Durant in 2004 when reading a message by Jeffrey R. Holland, then President of Brigham Young University:

No one man, however brilliant or well-informed, can come in one lifetime to such fullness of understanding as to safely judge and dismiss the customs or institutions of his society, for these are the wisdom of generations after centuries of experiment in the laboratory of history. A youth boiling with hormones will wonder why he should not give full freedom to h
...more
Zora
Sep 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I started reading this book a few years ago and only made it through about the first 15 pages before shelving it for another day.

I picked it up again today, and while thumbing through, a couple of passages caught my eye and I ended up finishing the book. It turns out, much of it was really interesting.

It’s a little dry in parts, and at only 102 pages, doesn’t go into any depth. It briefly summarizes the history of biology, race, character, morals, religion, economics, socialism, government, war
...more
Jeff
Jan 22, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When visiting my dad's house in Arizona I always pull something off the right-wing bookshelf. This visit I picked The Lessons of History, written in 1968. It was a short, fun read! And it wasn't *really* right wing. Unbeknownst to me, authors Will and Ariel Durant wrote a monumental series of ten books called The Story of Civilization. The Durants were historians and philosophers, as well as prolific authors, and both died in 1981. This book is actually a distilling down of what was in the ten v ...more
Sense Of  History
This is a very remarkable book. Will Durant, an American philosopher and historian, together with his wife Ariel wrote a world history in 11 volumes, published between 1935 and 1975. This booklet is an attempt to summarize what they learned from this experience.

In the introduction Durant warns that it is a very subjective view, and above all departing from the doubt whether we really can learn something from history: "only a fool would try to compress a hundred centuries into a hundred pages of
...more
Simon Eskildsen
Mar 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reread
What a fantastic book. Will presents a, for me, novel perspective on how we have yet to replace the strong moral code from religion, which may eventually backfire (or be superseded by communism). Another point, among many, that resonated strongly with me is that liberty comes from order, but with too much you may undermine the order that created it in the first place (anarchy). It's the uncanny valley of freedom, or tipping point. This booked is packed with useful observations concerning history ...more
Nishant Chandra
Apr 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Short and insightful.
Clearly worth multiple quick reads over time.
Erwin
Mar 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: educate-kids
Excellent concise summary the authors distilled after writing their eleven volume The Story of Civilization. This was written in the late 1960's, so if you require everything you read to be reinterpreted through the politically correct lens of the current moment, you'll be offended by this and almost everything else written more than 50 years ago... Personally, I thought this was quick and fun, and made a nice companion to Asimov's summaries The Greeks: A Great Adventure and his 30009, also writ ...more
Aviral
Jun 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Very high insight / page. Half the book is bibliography. It is the most accessible book by Will Durant. Pity he never explored Indian history.

One line takeaway: everything is cyclical, so chill.

History alternates between private plunder (capitalism) and public graft(socialism). Across cycles of monarchy > aristocracy > democracy > dictatorship > monarchy. Across cycles of equality (socialism) and freedom (capitalism). The transitions between the stages of the cycle are sudden through revolution
...more
Huan
Dec 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
In about ten sections, Mr. and Mrs. Durant cover an amazing amount of ground, examining some of the biggest or most currently popular ideas in the world through the lens of history. Just a few of the sections are:

History and the Earth
Race and History
Character and History
Religion and History
Economics and History
Socialism and History
History and War

The Durants examine these ideas (war, socialism, democracy and Communism) by calling forth an impressive array of examples and peoples, both successful
...more
John
Sep 12, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is an old, well-known text, so I’ll keep my review brief. I find especially valuable chapter III “Biology and History,” and chapter VIII “Economics and History.” Yes, BIOLOGICALLY it’s helpful to remember that a.) life is competition, b.) life is selection, and c.) life must breed. ECONOMICALLY, it’s good to know that a.) every economic system must sooner or later rely upon some form of the profit motive to stir individuals and groups to productivity, b.) the majority of productive ability ...more
Atul Sabnis
This is the right book to read, to get a context of history. For an amateur historian like me, it provides the appropriate context to understand history beyond the chronology of events and people.

The Lessons of History, by Will & Ariel Durant is a collection of twelve essays of history in different contexts. Race, earth, religion, war, economics, and such. Each essay looks at the role and impact of these context on history, in a relatively simple way, which, however, is not simplistic.

It has in
...more
Judith
May 08, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: politics-etc
The premise and the introduction sounded interesting, but soon I could not take it anymore: almost every second page asserts that Whites, Teutons or Catholics are the stronger group and therefore rule in all parts of the world or will soon rule (e.g. Catholics soon dominating Protestants in America due to greater virtue). Also, contraceptives, vaccinations and public schools are of the devil because they hinder evolution / the dominance of the strongest, and countries that have too much of the a ...more
Helene
Dec 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
I agree with some of the reviews already posted: this book has a very 'bleak' view of contemporary art and its meaning, reducing it to something that middle-class wants to buy because they are impressed by auctioneers (this is from the book). I do not agree with this at all, yet some of the chapters in this book are so well written. Personally I enjoyed the last chapter the most, which questions whether progress is real. I would recommend this book but please bear in mind it's from 1968.
Sotiris Makrygiannis
Nov 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio-book, internet
A summary of the previous work of the Durant family. Is rather good summary worth reading
Enzo Altamiranda
Nov 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: perspective, wisdom
Reading a good history book gives double pleasure. First, provided it's a great book, the author's writing style will be compelling and entertaining which will make learning about history a pleasurable thing to do. Second, by going through the pages one will become enlightened with perspectives that in many cases allow for the better understanding of the world. Through this understanding, it is even possible to get to know oneself better, because each individual is influenced by her surroundings ...more
Jason Pettus
Goodreads 2019 Summer Reading Challenge
16. No place like home: Read a book that appears in your Goodreads newsfeed

It was only recently that I learned for the first time about historian Will Durant, who along with his wife Ariel remarkably over the course of forty years wrote a 10,000-page overview of the entirety of human civilization (and even then still managing to only get to Napoleon, before dying in his nineties with the series incomplete). I also learned that in 1968, after completion of t
...more
Mehrsa
May 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a really fascinating, wise, but at times repulsive view of human history. One of the most compelling insights was at the end when Durant says that man has not evolved at all in history, but that the pedestal has gotten higher. Civilization has progressed (in tolerance, manners, expectations), but human greed and desire has not changed. He also talks about the necessary conflict between order and freedom in society and that perhaps we are in need of more order. The repulsive aspects of th ...more
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William James Durant was a prolific American writer, historian, and philosopher. He is best known for the 11-volume The Story of Civilization, written in collaboration with his wife Ariel and published between 1935 and 1975. He was earlier noted for his book, The Story of Philosophy, written in 1926, which was considered "a groundbreaking work that helped to popularize philosophy."

They were awarde
...more

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