A walk through the “Story of Civilization”

Often someone will talk about a book that has had a significant impact on their lives. I don’t have one particular book, but an entire series that influenced my life: Will and Ariel Durant’s eleven volume Story of Civilization.

All eleven books in the seriesThe Durants’ passion and commitment to documenting and celebrating the origins and traditions of the Western experience transcends other books about the topic. The language is slightly chauvinistic and very politically incorrect to our ears, but the sincerity and spirit of the project still shines through.

The other quality of this labour of love is the urgency of the enterprise. Begun in 1935, the early volumes were Will and Ariel Durant’s attempt to reconnect with the grand civilizing experiment of the West in the face of the irrationality of Nazism and Fascism, and the impending darkness of the Second World War.

Over the years I stumbled upon volume 3, Caesar and Christ, then volume 2, The life of Greece, and finally The age of faith. Every random encounter was an adventure as I got ‘lost’ and ‘found’ in each book. Although the series wasn’t completed until 1975, the pinnacle of this labour of love was reached in the tenth volume, Rousseau and revolution, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1968.

What I loved most about the ‘walk’ were the contradictions, including many examples of the Dark Ages being not so dark and the Age of Enlightenment not so enlightened. Yet the history this series describes is worthy of praise. As this was my introduction to Cervantes, Rabelais, Milton, Voltaire, the Gracchi family, and more, I will always hold many fond memories of my random stroll through Will and Ariel Durant’s epic series.


3 responses to “A walk through the “Story of Civilization”

  1. S Sloawnrivalka

    It’s remarkable that the Reader’s Salon would feature a project spanning forty years from the first book in 1935 until the last book in the series was brought out in 1975. There are so many wonderful books to read and so few opportune moments to dig into this vast enterprise and improve one’s abysmal ignorance, and maybe learn something to hold one in good stead as one treks through life. Let’s not forget the fascinating Egyptian civilization uncovered and made clear by the discovery of the Rosetta stone. Wishing all your readers the very best of quietly delighting in seeing what our ancestors were up to, and how despite the passing of numerous generations they were not so different from us after all. Cheers.

  2. I was incredibly pleased to find this website. I want to thank you for your time for this great read! I categorically enjoying every bit of it, and I have bookmarked your blog for your new stuff.

  3. I didn’t know that.

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