Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Review of The Lessons of History by Will Durant, and Ariel Durant

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Genre = History
Book Club Event = Book List (05/11/2024)
Intriguing Connections = 1) Get To Know The Peoples Of The World (World History), 

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“History has a good word to say for all of them, and for government in general.  Since men love freedom, and the freedom of individuals in society requires some regulation of conduct, the first condition of freedom is its limitation; make it absolute and it dies in chaos.  So the prime task of government is to establish order; organized central force is the sole alternative to incalculable and disruptive force in private hands.” – Will Durant, and Ariel Durant, Chapter X: Government and History, Page 61

“So the services of aristocracy did not save it when it monopolized privilege and power too narrowly, when it oppressed the people with selfish and myopic exploitation, when it retarded the growth of the nation by a blind addiction to ancestral ways, when it consumed the men and resources of the state in the lordly sport of dynastic or territorial wars.  Then the excluded banded together in wild revolt; the new rich combined with the poor against obstruction and stagnation; the guillotine cut off a thousand noble heads; and democracy took its turn in the misgovernment of mankind.” – Will Durant, and Ariel Durant, Chapter X: Government and History, Page 63

“If education is the transmission of civilization, we are unquestionably progressing.  Civilization is not inherited; it has to be learned and earned by each generation anew; if the transmission should be interrupted for one century, civilization would die, and we should be savages again.  So our finest contemporary achievement is our unprecedented expenditure of wealth and toil in the provision of higher education for all.” – Will Durant, and Ariel Durant, Chapter XIII: Is Progress Real?, Page 93


Is This An Overview?

Human behavior is affected by many factors.  The values of the factors change, but the methods in history repeat, just with different details.  Not much has changed in the character of people, as the desires are the same but expressed differently.  Same strategies used but with different associations.  Humans are evolutionary trained to be competitive for resources, for even cooperation is a tool and form of competition.  Climate, geography, and nature can limit human capacity, but the limits were overcome by human ingenuity.  Knowledge can be used to improve society, or decimate it.  Making those who resist change as important as those who inspire change.  Religion and government have been used to enable cooperation between people.  Religion provides a moral code that is above even the most powerful people.  Government enforces laws that provide freedom by restricting absolute freedom’s destructive capacity.  Civilization is dependent on education, for civilization is not inherited.


What Are Some More Lessons Of History?

All historians are partial, for even those who think they are not, choose material and subjects based on their partiality.  What normally makes history are the exceptional events, rather than most of history which is more mundane.

Moral laxity is not a sign of moral decay, but of a transitioning moral code.  Religions rise and fall, only to be resurrected.  Moral life used to be aided by religion, but contemporary society does not use religion.

War is the norm, and it part of the competitive process.  The individual is restrained by morals and laws, but the state does not have such restraints. 

Inequality is cyclical.  An inevitable concentration of wealth, which can become intolerable that inspires the redistribution of wealth using various means.  Dictators rise when wealth distribution is inappropriate.  It was because power has been abused that lead to revolution that gave rise to democracy, which has taken its turn in misgovernance. 



The focus is on broad categories, and describing their trends over the course of history.  There is a lack of information on any specific society or era.  This book prompts the reader to search for that information, and provides a way to interpret the events.  

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•What are the lessons of history?
•Is progress made?
•Did human behavior change?
•How does evolution effect humanity?
•How does climate, geography, and nature effect humanity?
•How does knowledge effect humanity?
•What is the effect of religion?
•What are moral codes?
•What is the effect of government?
•What is the purpose of education? 
•What are the trends in inequality?
•What gave rise to democracy? 
•What is the purpose of war? 
•How does reproduction effect power? 
•How does race effect civilization? 
•What theology is appears to be most effective? 

Book Details
Publisher:               Simon & Schuster Paperbacks [Simon & Schuster]
Edition ISBN:         9781439170199
Pages to read:          91
Publication:             2012
1st Edition:              1968
Format:                    eBook 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall          5