Thursday, October 3, 2013

Reflections: The Lessons of History

Adam C. Zern opines on Will and Ariel Durants' The Lessons of History:

"I love finding diamonds in the rough.  There are hundreds of thousands of books published every year.  Most people will only read a handful each year and leave all the rest on store shelves (and now neglected in cloud databases).  And that's to say nothing of the myriad of books from years gone by which are definitely worth reading, but no longer demand an audience in any substantial or consequential way.  The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant is a great little book, which I would have known nothing about if I hadn't come across a speech from an ecclesiastical leader several years ago that included a quote from it.  The book is worth reading, pondering, and debating; I'm glad I read it.

Even though the book was written in 1965 it still feels surprisingly topical.  And that's one of the 'lessons' of history the Durants would point to; to wit, history repeats itself and the course of history is much more cyclical than we realize.  The points made by the Durants in this little book are almost always poignant and interesting.  The authors do a fine job of culling from their vast knowledge of history (they wrote an eleven-volume Story of Civilization) to highlight the salient points, not an easy task by any means.  There was plenty in the book I could reasonably disagree with, but those conclusions, arrived at by the Durants, were always worth investigating.

The book's greatest strength, its brevity, is also its greatest weakness.  Without a doubt, the average reader would be much more willing to read a small book like The Lessons of History before they would ever attempt the Durants' ten-volume opus.  Having said that, its terseness sometimes leaves much to be desired in terms of supporting their arguments.  Although I would agree that a book like Guns, Germs, and Steel can be overwhelming and at times feel a bit redundant in stating its conclusions, it definitely gives a lot more time for those conclusions to sink in. 

The Lessons of History is a great addition to any library.  Its accessibility is one of the main reasons to recommend it, but it doesn't mean it has little academic value.  I enjoyed The Lessons of History quite a bit and am glad it has a place on my shelf."

Other Topics of Interest:
Guns, Germs, and Steel
Ideas have Consequences
Writing History I Can't Forget: Leon Uris
Thousander Books of the Month

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