The Story of Civilization: The Project

…that these volumes may help some of our children to understand and enjoy the infinite riches of their inheritance.
Will and Ariel Durant, ”The Story of Civilization – Volume 1“, Preface, page X.

I “met” Will Durant when looking for a book that presented the history of philosophy in a concise and not-too-complex way. His first book (and big bestseller), “The Story of Philosophy“, gave me just that. “Reading” it from a masterfully narrated audiobook by Grover Gardner greatly boosted my enthusiasm. So much so that it was looking for other narrations by Grover – not books by Durant – that I came across his “The Story of Civilization“, and I was simply flabbergasted.

His original plan was to narrate a five-volume “integrated history” of civilization. As “integrated” he meant a complete presentation of the life of a people in a given period. He was not content with longitudinal exercises based on a single subject, such as political, economical, or art history. Today, in 2019, more holistic approaches like his are rather common, but at that time, the specialist was much more in vogue than the generalist, and integrated approaches much rarer. Will Durant and his wife, Ariel Durant, spent fifty years (from 1922 to 1972) devoting themselves – together – to this one project, in times when personal computers and the Internet were still a distant dream. Amazingly, their audacious endeavor ended up comprising eleven volumes, and two were still left undone when they died. Their achievement will always serve me as an example of human tenacity – and as a source of inspiration.

It is moved by this inspiration, but tempered by my condition today, that I start here a project far below what I would prefer. My original idea was to write one post for each sub-chapter of their collection. The problem is that their eleven books comprise 340 chapters and a total of almost 10,000 pages: my plan would mean thousands of posts. How to contain my megalomania?

My solution is to make a test. I will write about one post per sub-title (very small sections may eventually be allocated under one single post), but I will do it just for the Introduction. That is a quick (but sensational) 110-page survey dealing with the origin of civilization, which demonstrates the witty side of Will Durant with memorable remarks. It is worth reading, understanding, and even memorizing the fantastic concatenation of facts and ideas that, providing the foundations for civilization, have led us to this day.

To do so, I will follow a pattern. First, I want to make it clear that the posts will be almost like mere selections of the innumerable genius comments that permeate his prose, my own words being little more than “glue” to maintain grammatical cohesion. Secondly, to facilitate memorization, I will start all posts with a brief summary of about one sentence, and I will conclude them with a series of questions that, I hope, will be helpful for fixating the subject-matter. As always, I will also try to add a relevant figure with a caption that will present a quote from the text and a brief associated comment.

Nothing more than a simple homage from a grateful student.

 

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