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An Intimate History of Humanity

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  1,414 ratings  ·  145 reviews
A provocative work that explores the evolution of emotions and personal relationships through diverse cultures and time. "An intellectually dazzling view of our past and future."--Time magazine

1. How humans have repeatedly lost hope, and how new encounters, and a new pair of spectacles, revive them
2. How men and women have slowly learned to have interesting convers
Paperback, 496 pages
Published December 1st 1995 by Harper Perennial (first published 1994)
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 ·  1,414 ratings  ·  145 reviews

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Feb 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all human beings
Recommended to Wayne by: the titles of the chapters!!!
14 YEARS LATER:ie December 14th 2015
I thought I may have read this book about 6 or 7 years ago...that is how much THIS BOOK is STILL with me.
..and it is August 2001 that I finished reading it..can't believe it is that long ago!!!
This is a book of which I so often think:"I MUST read that book again."

I am still searching out copies to give to friends.
I often glance in its direction where it sits with many other books in my bedroom.
MUST be time to read it AGAIN!!

This is not a history book at all, although Zeldin makes extensive use of historical examples. No, this rather is a philosophical work, but in a very original way. Zeldin focuses on existential questions: the difficult relationship between men and women, the determining role of fear in a human life, the question of loneliness, the asymmetry in the relationship between parents and children, the difference between tolerance and generosity, and so on. He looks into a total of 25 such ‘intimate’ iss ...more
Oct 24, 2012 rated it it was ok
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. ...more
Nov 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fp, natania, 2008
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
May 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Sense of History
Perhaps I'm not doing justice to Theodore Zeldin (° 1933) by approaching this book from a historian's point of view, but a pompous title such as "An intimate history of humanity" really asks for it. Let me start by emphasizing that Zeldin's knowledge of human history is quite impressive: he goes very broad, both in space and time; he draws his historical examples from western classical antiquity, the ancient history of India, China and Africa, as well as the more recent global world where the Am ...more
Nick Davies
Mar 07, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
Bought cheaply from a clearance table in an Oxfam bookshop three or so years ago, on the strength of an unusual cover and a title which piqued my interest, this turned out to be very interesting indeed.

Zeldin writes of human nature - the book is part sociology, part philosophy, part cultural history in discussing a number of statements which are explored in the context of interviews with French women, and are then challenged with reference to cultural norms throughout the ancient and modern worl
Mar 24, 2009 rated it liked it
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. ...more
Dec 25, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
M.D. Lachlan
Jul 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
May 25, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: society
i had really high expectations of this book and didn't like it as much as i expected in the end. the problem for me was that the personal stories of french women at the beginning of each section was really nice and enjoyable but in most chapters i found it hard to relate their stories to the historical events and customs author picked. and the lack of connection between them made most of the book seem like a common "fun historical facts" blog. the other problem is that i find history or traditio ...more
Oct 10, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Oct 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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.
Hock Tjoa
Feb 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Al Bità
Oct 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Tom Baxter
Oct 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A book that stays with you through the years - extraordinary.
John Cross
Jun 08, 2019 rated it liked it
Interesting perspective on people as the true component of history. People, not nations and institutions. But it jumps around quite a bit and needed clearer and more unifying themes.
Jun 20, 2015 rated it it was ok
I finished this book at the third try; on my first two attempts, made some years ago, I didn't even get to page 50. And though I finished it this time, I really, really disliked it.

Prof. Zeldin, like many European intellectuals, appears to have been greatly influenced by Karl Marx at some point in his youth. The influence shows, not so much in his political and economic views, as in his prose. Like Marx, he is fond of giant intuitive leaps, dialectical arguments and dogmatic statements couched a
Nov 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What an incredible book! There have been similar books (e.g. popular Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind) written before / after this, however when you see the amount of footnotes, references and connected-dots you understand how Theodore Zeldin thinks, researches and elaborates the concepts which directly mean a lot for social, daily and business life today. Anyone who wants to find answers to 'why's and 'how's about human behaviour should read this masterpiece periodically.
Right before fini
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
Jan 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing

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
Jan 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A great book for those skeptically hopeful ones, who get joy out of life by trying to change something while understanding the smallness of it...
The book provides you with many, many different examples from different times in human history of how they have tried to organise themselves better, to love in so many different forms and shapes, to learn to talk to each other, to be better, more alive, more something. The constant urge for change and the many forms that different civilisations have tri
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
Apr 30, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mark Nelson
Sep 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
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? ...more
Nov 18, 2009 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Despite the sexysexy nipple-tastic cover, this is supposed to be a legit fascinating book.
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.
Taloot S.
Dec 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Extraordinary and marvellous history of how men and women lost and gaine hope through building trust and making life more liveable through human experience.
Jeremy Yuille
Feb 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
If there were a book that lives in both 'read' & 'to read' states, this is it. ...more
Prooost Davis
Nov 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This, to me, seems like a very eccentric sort of book. I've never read anything quite like it. Maybe I don't read enough history, or enough in the way of social sciences. At first, An Intimate History of Humanity struck me as a self-help book disguised as history, but it has a broader purpose than self-help. Zeldin would like to help as many people as possible break out of the habits of thought that hold them back.

What I found eccentric was the structure of the book: each chapter begins with one
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Theodore Zeldin CBE, President of the Oxford Muse Foundation, is a Palestinean 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 ...more

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