A wise and witty compendium of the greatest thoughts, greatest minds, and greatest books of all time -- listed in accessible and succinct form -- by one of the world's greatest scholars.
From the "Hundred Best Books" to the "Ten Greatest Thinkers" to the "Ten Greatest Poets," here is a concise collection of the world's most significant knowledge. For the better part of a century, Will Durant dwelled upon -- and wrote about -- the most significant eras, individuals, and achievements of human history. His selections have finally been brought together in a single, compact volume. Durant eloquently defends his choices of the greatest minds and ideas, but he also stimulates readers into forming their own opinions, encouraging them to shed their surroundings and biases and enter "The Country of the Mind," a timeless realm where the heroes of our species dwell.
From a thinker who always chose to exalt the positive in the human species, The Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time stays true to Durant's optimism. This is a book containing the absolute best of our heritage, passed on for the benefit of future generations. Filled with Durant's renowned wit, knowledge, and unique ability to explain events and ideas in simple and exciting terms, this is a pocket-size liberal arts and humanist curriculum in one volume.
This engaging, accessible book of essays from Pulitzer Prize-winning philosopher and historian Durant, author of the authoritative 11-volume Story of Civilization, should be essential reading for anyone interested in the evolution of thought. Little, the founder and director of The Will Durant Foundation, includes in his slim compendium such works as "The One Hundred 'Best' Books For an Education" and "Twelve Vital Dates in World History." Durant's "The Ten 'Greatest' Thinkers" details minds as enlightening as Confucius and as influential as Darwin, whom Durant says "reduced man to an animal fighting for his transient mastery of the globe." "The Ten 'Greatest' Poets," charts a course from Homer's brilliance to Dante's haunted heart to Whitman's "frank and lusty" originality, in prose peppered with biographical bon mots and excerpts of the world's loveliest poems. Lay folks especially will find this a delightful introduction to Durant's irrepressible style. What else would one expect from Durant, an intellect who, when asked, "Whom [in all of history] would you most like to have known?" drolly replied, "Madame de Pompadour." (Nov.) Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
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Simon & Schuster
October 28, 2002
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Excerpt from The Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time by Will Durant
In 1968, shortly after winning the Pulitzer Prize for literature, Will Durant and his wife, Ariel, consented to a television interview to be conducted in their home in Los Angeles, California. The interviewer, who fancied himself something of an intellectual, posed to Durant the following question:
If I were to ask you to name the person who has most influenced our century (the 20th century) would it be Karl Marx?
Durant paused for a moment and then replied:
Well, if you use the word in its largest sense, we would have to give the greatest share of influence to the technical inventors, to men like Edison. Doubtless the development of electricity has transformed the world even more than any Marxian propaganda. Then, if you think in terms of ideas, I think the influence of Darwin is still greater than the influence of Marx, but in a different field. The basic phenomenon of our time is not Communism; it's the decline of religious belief, which has all sorts of effects on morals and even on politics because religion has been a tool of politics. But today in Europe it ceases to be a tool, it has very little influence in determining political decisions -- whereas 500 years ago, the pope was superior in influence to any civil ruler on earth.
Later, during the same interview, the interviewer turned to his subject and asked:
Dr. Durant, of all the characters populating The Story of Civilization, whom would you have most liked to have known?
Durant contemplated the question seriously and then, poker-faced, replied, "Madame De Pompadour."
The interviewer was dumbfounded.
"Why is that?" he asked.
A twinkle came to Durant's eyes as he answered, "Well, she was beautiful, she was charming, she was luscious -- what else do you want?"
I cite these two anecdotes not simply to reveal Durant's views on the influence of inventors and biologists on human history, nor even his tendency to use wit to disarm journalists who took themselves or their vocations too seriously (he once noted that humor is akin to philosophy for they are both viewpoints born of a large perspective of life), but rather to show that his opinion on assessing the significance of individuals and events from human history was something that was constantly sought after -- sometimes twice in the same interview.
It is entirely understandable that Durant should find himself asked to answer such questions. Any time a man spends over half a century researching and writing an eleven-volume integral history of civilization, it is natural that people are going to want to know what conclusions he has drawn from the enterprise; to know what eras, individuals, and achievements stood out in his mind as being the greatest or most significant. Who, for example, would Durant rate on his Roll of Honor of human thought as the greatest thinkers in human history? Who would he rate as the truly great poets; the ones that plucked notes upon heartstrings that continue to resonate hundreds and thousands of years after their passing? And what would be the absolute best books one should read in order to receive a meaningful -- and useful -- education? Over the course of Durant's career, he responded to the increasing public demand for such qualified assessments by putting pen to paper and crafting a series of essays containing his personal ranking of "The Ten Greatest Thinkers," "The Ten Greatest Poets," "The One Hundred Best Books for an Education," "The Ten Peaks of Human Progress," and "Twelve Vital Dates in World History." Certain of these essays were published in periodicals; others were presented as lectures to standing-room-only attendees. However, unless you happened to purchase those magazines, or were fortunate enough to attend one of those lectures, it would not have been possible to learn of his conclusions in these matters. Fortunately, all of these essays have been brought together in The Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time.