Will Durant

Heroes of History: A Brief History of Civilization From Ancient Times to the Dawn of the Modern Age

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In the tradition of his own bestselling masterpieces The Story of Civilization and The Lessons of History, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Will Durant here traces the lives and ideas of those who have helped to define civilization, from its dawn to the beginning of the modern world. Four years before his death, Will Durant began work on an abbreviated version of his highly acclaimed eleven-volume series, The Story of Civilization. The project was conceived as a series of audio lectures, but Durant soon realized that the dialogues could be developed into a book that would serve as a wonderfully readable introduction to the subject of history. Durant completed twenty-one of a proposed twenty-three chapters before his death in 1981, at the age of ninety-six. Those chapters span thousands of years of human history – from Confucius to Shakespeare, from the Roman Empire to the Reformation, finally ending in the eighteenth century. The manuscript was recently found by Will Durant scholar John Little – twenty years after Durant finished it – and its discovery is a major event, not only for lovers of his prose, but for students of history and philosophy the world over. Heroes of History is a book of life-enhancing wisdom and optimism, complete with Durant's wit, knowledge, and unique ability to explain events and ideas in simple, exciting terms. It is the lessons of our heritage passed on for the edification and benefit of future generations – a fitting legacy from America's most beloved historian and philosopher. Will Durant's popularity as America's favorite teacher of history and philosophy remains undiminished by time. His books are accessible to readers of every kind, and his unique ability to compress complicated ideas and events into a few pages without ever “talking down” to the reader, enhanced by his memorable wit and a razor-sharp judgment about men and their motives, made all of his books huge bestsellers.
Amazon.com ReviewIn this collection of biographical and historical sketches drawn from an unfinished manuscript discovered two decades after his death, Will Durant celebrates historical figures whose examples demonstrate that humans can, “when sufficiently inspired, rise to levels of greatness with the gods themselves.”
Durant (1885–1981), the principal author of The Story of Civilization, saw history as a branch of philosophy, and he peppered his stories of great historical actors and events with moral lessons and observed patterns («One of the most regular sequences in history is that a period of pagan license is followed by an age of puritan restraint and moral discipline”). These brief lectures, touching on leaders and innovators, such as Buddha, Marcus Aurelius, Leonardo da Vinci, and Martin Luther, afford him plenty of opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the past and to offer models for his readers to study and emulate.
Like Durant's other work, this book has an old-fashioned air about it: it is Eurocentric to the core, and it makes almost no mention of women, who surely contributed to the rise of civilizations. Still, fans of Durant's brand of sweeping narrative history will enjoy having these final words from the master. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers WeeklyThis posthumous collection of essays by a Pulitzer Prize winner targets those who don't know much about history. Durant, who died in 1981 at the age of 96, is best known for the multivolume history of the world, The Story of Civilization, he wrote with his wife, Ariel. In these recently discovered essays, he again displays his talents for popularizing history, most notably a remarkable ability to summarize complicated thoughts and events in a few succinct words: this book of “heroes” covers figures ranging from Nero to Shakespeare and spans more than 2,000 years. After the first three essays, on Confucius, Buddha and Egypt's Ikhnaton, Durant turns his attention to Greece, Rome and the rise of the West. He devotes several chapters to Jesus and his followers over the centuries, asserting that the study of religion “sheds more light upon the nature and possibilities of man and government than the study of almost any other subject or institution open to human inquiry.” Moreover, Durant derives moral and aesthetic satisfaction from religious expression: “To have conceived and adored [Mary], and raised a thousand temples in her honor, is one of the redeeming features of the human race.” And Jesus's “presence and his faith were themselves a tonic; at his optimistic touch the weak grew strong.” After a discussion of the medieval Church's crackdown on heretics, Durant observes simply, “Freedom is a luxury of security.” This book is likely to find a wide audience among those looking for an introduction to world history, but the absence of a bibliography and source notes may denote to scholars a certain lack of rigor. Agent, John Little.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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478 printed pages

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Quotes

    Kazi Afzalhas quoted6 years ago
    Man is woman's last domestic animal, only partially and reluctantly civilized.
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