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on December 23, 2001
Will and Ariel Durant were to history what Carl Sagan was to science: They breathed life into a subject considered lifeless by too many, and clothed the skeleton of recorded history in a garment rich in colorful detail and vast in perspective. "Lessons Of History" is, in my opinion, the finest 100 page non-fiction book ever written, and represents the capstone and encapsulating work of two authors who gave the world their ten thousand page "Story Of Civilization" over a period of 50 years.
Within this delightful book, one can view the enormous panorama of human civilization as it developed from, and was formed by, the matrices of geography, religion, science, war, and a host of other factors. The Durant's, in a writing style that should have been copyrighted, provide the reader with an engaging view of humanity that few readers will come away from without being touched and awed. To be sure, the Durant's works have had a few (very few) detractors, but they were almost entirely high-browed academics in narrow research areas who most likely envied them their commercial success. If I could give this synopsis of 100 centuries of history more than 5 stars I'd do it in a nanosecond.
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on March 9, 2002
For the person in a hurry, but who is also curious about history, I would recommend this book. It is the culmination of a survey of history that Will and Ariel Durrant did in the 1960's. I realize that some of the conclusions have been dated, such as concern about the Soviet Union, but that does not destroy the value of the work. Indeed, who is to say that the Soviet Union, or some neo-Tsarist regime, could not rise again?
Moreover, this book covers other topics, all of them revolving around the "Human Predicament," which is basically a choice between freedom and security. Or better yet, actual freedom, and claimed security, since if you chose security over freedom, you will lose both freedom and security.
This book is an easy read, written on the high-school level, so there are no excuses for not understanding anything. It is an essential in anyone's collection of "Great Books," since not only is the unexamined life not worth living, the unexamined civilization is not worth preserving. And we can make a change in things.
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on January 13, 2004
This is the first book that I discuss in my national security lecture on the literature relevant to strategy & force structure. It is a once-in-a-lifetime gem of a book that sums up their much larger ten volume collection which itself is brilliant but time consuming. This is the "executive briefing."
Geography matters. Inequality is natural. Famine, pestilence, and war are Nature's way of balancing the population.
Birth control (or not) has *strategic* implications (e.g. see Catholic strategy versus US and Russian neglect of its replenishment among the higher social and economic classes).
History is color-blind. Morality is strength. Worth saying again: morality is strength.
See my various lists. This book, John Lewis Gaddis on "The Landscape of History", and Stewart Brand "The Clock of the Long Now" are among my "top ten of all time".
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on December 1, 2002
Will and Ariel Durant wrote a massive eleven-volume history, The Story of Civilization. After they finished volume ten -- which was to be the last - they came out with this brief work. (In 1975 they produced the final volume in the series, The Age of Napoleon). Although this series is not considered by professional historians to be a great work of history, the Durants' love of history is evident on every page. I read most of them in high school and college, and they help inspire a life-long interest history.
The Lessons of History consists of a number of short chapters, in which the Durants summarize what their study of history revealed on various themes, such as war, morals, government, religion, etc. Although certainly not a profound work, it contains a number of insights. For example, the discussion of the lineage of communism is quite interesting. On the other hand, the Durants strike me as having been moderately left of center, and some of their arguments in favor of government regulation of the economy don't convince me. They appear somewhat more conservative on morals, and there is a good discussion on how war negatively impacts traditional morality. The discussion of religion is somewhat ambiguous, perhaps reflecting Will Durant, who studied for the priesthood, became an atheist, and died an agnostic.
This work came out in 1968, and the Durants make a couple of predictions which didn't exactly come true. They argue that by 2000 the Roman Catholic Church will be politically dominant in the US. In addition, they expressed the commonplace idea in the 60s that the Soviet Union and the United States were coming closer together and would eventually meet in the middle.
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Will and Ariel Durant have taken 3500 years of history, and withdrawn some of civilizations greatest lessons. How they kept this book to one hundred pages, is quite the accomplishment.

The Durant team make it very clear, that the same issues that bedeviled previous generations, are the exact same set of current contentions. This is what makes the book a great read. The reader is introduced to timeless themes, that every society will sooner or later confront.

The book is written is a straight forward and easy to read format. The Durant duo provide an outstanding introduction, to the events of world history. I give this book my highest endorsement.
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on December 13, 1998
This book was assigned reading for an MBA program I took in 1983.For the first time I was presented with the ideas that described how we fit in the universe along with why we behave as we do.I was in my late 30's , an engineer by trade.I knew the historical behavior patterns of our numerous societies over the spectrum of recorded history, yet had failed to reduce these observations to a lowest common denominator.
Will and Ariel Durant segment our history and nature into basic, simple to read chapters, that explain in simple terms how societies have strived to achieve the Utopias we all dream of.
I was stunned at how history repeats itself and humbled at the fact that "the foibles of mans dreams" are the same today as they were a thousand years ago.
If your ego has convinced you that solutions to the challenges of society are within the grasp of our lives today,don't read this book!
On the other hand,if you are prepared to recognize that our species is nothing more than 4000 years of recorded history compared with 14,000,000 years of evolutionary development,sit back and enjoy!
This is not a book for individuals who have "new PC ideas as to the nature of mankind".They will find that their ideas are same-o,same-o.
Will and Ariel summerize a huge work in one volume that can be read in a day.
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on October 15, 2015
great book, but i'm left a bit confused at times since it references a whole bunch of different events in history to make their points without explaining the events in detail. I had to look them up to see what the durants are talking about. Great book nonetheless.
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on September 12, 1999
My teacher played us the tapes of "The Lessons of History" by Will Durant. At first my classmates and I did not enjoy listening and taking notes because we didn't completely understand it....but then mmy teacher would stop the tape and we would go over our notes and discuss it. This really made me understand what Durant was talking about and I agree with alot of the inferences that he made. Durant's essay's are a great way to provoke discussions at the begining of the year to get your class ready to share their ideas with the class all year.
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on October 29, 1998
Will and Ariel Durant tried to bring Philosophy and an understanding of History to the common man and woman. They succeeded admirably, and some thirty years after reading this book I still turn to it in order to understand events occurring around me. This is no scholarly tome, but an invaluable manual for those seeking a better understanding of the world around us. It should be compulsory reading for all those aspiring to public office.
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on March 2, 2015
It's a relatively short volume. I found some interesting generalizations and ideas in it. One peculiar feature of this book, is that being written awhile ago, it was not as constrained by demands of political correctness. At the same time, it does not leave an impression of rigorous scientific work. It's certainly good for non-specialists, and requires very little prior historical knowledge.
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