I’m reading The Story of Civilization: all of it

I’ve written about why I find Will Durant’s work so fascinating before. As I’ve tip-toed more and more into his books, I haven’t been let down. For example, in Lessons of History Durant makes similar points as Thomas Piketty does in Capital, but he does it in fewer than 6 pages with no numbers. It takes Piketty over 600 pages and a boatload of numbers.1 Neither author is safe from criticisms because the issue of income inequality is such a controversial one. But it’s undeniable that Durant’s writing is powerful and his wisdom is spellbinding.

Of course, although he made a legendary contribution to us, he was but one man. He had his own attitudes, but I like to think the sheer breadth of his perspective minimizes those attitudes to inconsequence. Also, the guy wrote as a labor of love—he had plenty of money from the runaway sales of Story of Philosophy and didn’t need to worry about upsetting powerful people. He just wrote, as honestly as a man can write, telling things as he saw them from his own endless research, travels, and thinking.

This thinking is a huge reason Story is so special. All historians research and travel. But Durant was a doctorate philosopher before he started writing history, and so his version of history is essentially an unrelenting search for truth. Merely recounting events is not good enough for him. Durant justifies them.

The last piece: his writing. All the research, perspective, and thinking in the world is moot unless its purveyor can effectively purvey it. Durant was a master of words. Unlike most philosophers, who drown their readers in hopelessly complicated seas of words, and most historians, who I find relatively shallow, Durant weaves stories and meaning together like art. His most profound insights are usually simple sentences with no more than 10 simple words.

So why am I deciding to read this tower of tomes of past times? Aside from it being an intellectual joyride, I think a broad, opinionated survey of history is practically useful for anyone looking to flip current culture into lasting value. That happens to be my goal. And anything of lasting value, through the requirements of existence, must change the course of history. But mustn’t one know history in order to make it?

Let’s see where it takes me.

And for an array of other reasons, I will record my reflections here. I hope to make them more extensions of the work than summaries of the work, but in truth, my perspective is microscopic compared to the lifetime of contemplation this series reflects. I’ll do my best.


 

1 Not trying to put Piketty’s work down here. It’s significant in its own right.

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