Brett Williams's Reviews > Fallen Leaves: Last Words on Life, Love, War, and God

Fallen Leaves by Will Durant
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Reflections after 70 years of scholarship

Sometimes brilliant, sometimes too formal. A few chapters without relevance. Saving “The Insights of History” for last. Periodically, Durant provides wisdom only an alert, observant 94 year old can. His stages of life chapters were delightful and provided some comfort. Regrets of my youth were little different from the standard adolescent. His summary chart of age by column, with rows of single word descriptions was fun to score where I reside intellectually / spiritually / characteristically between young and old (firmly in “middle age 2” at 2.02).

Durant highlights an evolution in morality that undid a onetime reference to it: “…the ethics of Christ have made it impossible for developed minds to believe that a ‘grim beard of a God’ freighted our forbearers into decency,” writes Durant. “It was Christ who killed Jehovah.” Though Durant maintains this is not the root of moral decay. That belongs to the Industrial Age, as he lists its toxins. He sees modernity as a perilous investigation, having departed ways fit for agricultural society, uncertain of just how far individualism can be pressed before chaos. Like Plato and Brooks Adams, he expects cycles of license and severity. Each movement a response to its progenitor and the dual nature of humans.

He takes a pleasant, sometimes humorous squat on Freud, modern art as “idolatry of the new becomes worship of the bazaar,” and Herbert Spencer’s crusade for “trade school” universities shelling out employable cogs (for Durant, a mere first order goal of education), not vital humans. The inverse of this treatment is saved for history, “as a laboratory rich in a hundred thousand experiments.” Where we see the initial conditions, gauge atmospherics of the people’s emotional temperature, their intellectual weight. Then watch the test run over pages unfolded in the petri dish of time.
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Reading Progress

May 10, 2018 – Started Reading
May 10, 2018 – Shelved
May 22, 2018 – Finished Reading

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