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A Study of History: Abridgement of Volumes I-VI Paperback – Dec 1 1987

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (Dec 1 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195050800
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195050806
  • Product Dimensions: 20.3 x 3.1 x 13.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 830 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #172,264 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"Of all the books published so far in this century, the one most assured of being read a hundred years from now is A Study of History."--Clifton Fadiman

"Somervell has performed his chosen task--a labor of love--extremely well....A remarkable achievement."--The New York Times Book Review

"Somervell's abridgement is an amazingly accurate version of the original."--New York Herald Tribune

"If...[you] have time for only one book during this year--and the next and the next--Somervell's abridgement of Toynbee's Study of History should be that book."--The Nation

"A veritable masterpiece of erudition and one of the most suggestive, stimulating and inspiring studies of this age."--Los Angeles Times

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Inside This Book

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First Sentence
HISTORIANS generally illustrate rather than correct the ideas of the communities within which they live and work, and the development in the last few centuries, and more particularly in the last few generations, of the would-be self-sufficient national sovereign state has led historians to choose nations as the normal fields of historical study. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Milton P. Jones, Jr. on March 4 2004
Format: Paperback
Toynbee has three major theories of the rise and fall of civilizations.
1. Challange and response. There must be a challange to the population in order for a civilization to rise. The challange must be just right. Too little and the civilization does not rise. Too great a challange and the civilization is destroyed before it gets a chance or rise or is destroyed soon thereafter.
2. Withdrawl and change. An element of the civilization withdraws in some manner from the central civilization and undergoes some sort of creative transformation which it then introduces to the greater body of the civilization. This is a mechanism for maintaining the civilization.
3. The Nemesis of Creativity: There is within a civilization a creative minority. If the creative minority lacks the opportunity to create, the civilization will die or stagnate. This can happen in two ways: The majority group, lacking the talent to create, gains enough power to create, but the creativity is second rate and the civilization dies or stagnates. On the other hand, an exogenous group may gain power over the avenues of creativity and the creativity produced is destructive to the civiliation.
Of the three basic ideas the Nemesis of Creativity notion seems the most insightful. The challange and response seems little more than the golden mean. Withdrawl and change seems more relevant. As far as the Nemesis of creativity is concerned, this can be visualized in a simple microcosm. Suppose, for example, government action were taken which prevented the highly talented minority from obtaining either an education or given a good education, this minority were prevented from getting prime jobs. If, say, the space program were afflicted with this sort of thing, second-rate engineers, managers, scientists and such would be in positions of responsibility. Their positions would promote failure. It would be better to give these people jobs with good pay and no decision-making powers.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Bob G. - author, investor, entrepreneur on June 22 1998
Format: Paperback
A Study of History is an excellent, lifetime study of how and why civilization progresses through time. Written in 1939, Toynbee predicts the rise of nationalism, the fall of the USSR, and victory of capitalism, and the enormous growth of Western culture. His central theme is simple yet true: civilizations advance by overcoming outside challenges and internal stagnation. Read this once per lifetime.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Kendall on July 29 2002
Format: Paperback
I don't normally go after other reviewers, but the dolts submitting their thoughts about this author are uninformed in the extreme. If ever there were a "desert island" author and a book that I would want to have with me on said island it is this one (though not the abridged version). Toynbee is a true polymath and one of the progenitors of Jacob Burckhardt, Daniel J. Boorstin, Jacques Barzun, et al. He delivers in concise, exquisitely rendered prose, an overview of western culture that has never been matched in terms of scope and economy - two terms that are not always congruous. For insights into the development of western civilization, its driving forces, main events, greatest influences, etc. , one need look no further than Toynbee. To compare it to Wells' work is to compare persimmons to oranges. One leaves a slightly bitter, puckery taste, the other slakes one's thirst.
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Format: Paperback
I first became acquainted with the name of Arnold Toynbee through reading the science fiction of Arthur C. Clarke. Later, I saw references to him in Heinlein and Poul Anderson, and decided to see what it was all about. This book was worth reading. Toynbee's thesis is that all societies rise and fall through a process of "challenge and response."
As long as a society is growing, encountering new challenges, overcoming them, and moving on to other challenges, it is healthy. He also describes the "dominant minority," "external proletariat," and "internal proletariat" groups that make up societies. For instance, to take the example of Rome, the Romans themselves were the dominant minority, whose traditions sustained the Republic and then the Empire. The internal proletariat of Rome was the Christian religion, which came to inherit the prestige of the Romans. The external minorities were the Slavic and Germanic tribes on the northern borders, which were kept at bay until the dominant minority lost its will to expand.
Toynbee does not see empires (such as the Roman Empire) or "universal states" as triumphs of a society's strength, but rather as a sign of weakness. A healthy society expands, develops creative arts, and encourages social mobility; an empire has rigid rules of conduct, laws, and social hierarchy. Toynbee's thesis is an excellent primer for understanding history, and can easily be applied to today's societies, including ours. He offers many different examples of growing, static, and declining societies, and shows an incredible mastery of his subject.
Now the bad news: This is dry, tough reading. There are no maps, no visuals, and few "helps" for people unfamiliar with world history.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 26 1999
Format: Paperback
Toynbee's comparative analysis of the birth life and decline of civilizations is an enlightening masterwork. The corrolations we can draw from history and apply to our own individual development are mind-blowing. A must have in hardback for any library. Takes awhile to work through, but high value added from the experience.
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