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Some lessons learned
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.