Heroes of History : A Brief History of Civilization from Ancient Times to the Dawn of the Modern Age
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. Heroes of History carries on this tradition of making scholarship and philosophy understandable to the general reader, and making them good reading, as well.
At the dawn of a new millennium and the beginning of a new century, nothing could be more appropriate than this brilliant book that examines the meaning of human civilization and history and draws from the experience of the past the lessons we need to know to put the future into context and live in confidence, rather than fear and ignorance.
Will Durant's work is marked by his own special quality as a writer -- he is tough-minded, optimistic, courageous, and convinced that without a knowledge of the past there is no wisdom to guide us to the future. Heroes of History was his last word on the subject, and much of it has been aimed directly at the doubts and fears of people today. It is a major, and unexpected, literary and historical event.
This book is also available on audio tape and CD format, read by Will and Ariel Durant. If you would like more information on this and other products featuring Will Durant's life-enhancing philosophy, we encourage you to visit the web site at www.willdurant.com.
This 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. (Nov. 13) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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Simon & Schuster
May 31, 2003
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Excerpt from Heroes of History by Will Durant
Human history is a fragment of biology. Man is one of countless millions of species and, like all the rest, is subject to the struggle for existence and the competition of the fittest to survive. All psychology, philosophy, statesmanship, and utopias must make their peace with these biological laws. Man can be traced to about a million years before Christ. Agriculture can be traced no farther back than to 25,000 B.C. Man has lived forty times longer as a hunter than as a tiller of the soil in a settled life. In those 975,000 years his basic nature was formed and remains to challenge civilization every day.
In that hunting stage man was eagerly and greedily acquisitive, because he had to be. His food supply was uncertain, and when he caught his prey, he might, as like as not, eat it to the cubic capacity of his stomach, for the carcass would soon spoil; in many cases he ate it raw -- "rare," as we say when he returns to the hunting stage in our profoundly masculine restaurants. Furthermore, in those thousand times a thousand years, man had to be pugnacious, always ready to fight -- for his food, his mate, or his life. If he could, he took more mates than one, for hunting and fighting were mortally dangerous and left a surplus of women over men; so the male is still polygamous [or polygamous] by nature. He had little reason to contracept, for children became assets in the hut and later in the hunting pack. For these and other reasons acquisitiveness, pugnacity, and ready sexuality were virtues in the hunting stage -- that is, they were qualities that made for survival.
They still form the basic character of the male. Even in civilization the chief function of the male is to go out and hunt for food for his family, or for something that might, in need, be exchanged for food. Brilliant though he may be, he is basically tributary to the female, who is the womb and mainstream of the race.