The Story of Civilization
Posted by Dave
For most people who love history, the fifth of November brings to mind Gunpowder and Guy Fawkes. For me, it’s Will Durant.
You possibly don’t know who Will Durant was, but if you have listened to my show for more than a day, you have certainly heard his influence and even most likely, something that I learned from his writing. Will, along with his wife Ariel, are the authors of what many consider to be one of the finest works of history, “The Story of Civilization.”
Once during an annual review of my work as a Pastor, my supervisor was concerned that I didn’t seem to have many friends or much of an “exterior life.” He asked me what I did for fun. “I read,” was my reply. When he asked me what I read, I reached back on my desk and handed him a volume of “The Story of Civilization.” “You read Durant for fun?” he asked with raised eyebrows.
Yes. I do.
Durant’s work is notable for several reasons, not the least of which is it’s ease of reading. You don’t have to be a history major or master to understand his points. The layout of the Story of Civilization is different as well, allowing you to concentrate on the areas that matter most to you, although I will say that many days I have wandered off of my expected path to learn things that I never imagined before. There was the night when my youngest daughter asked me what I knew about Rousseau, and together we read from Durant the same story that I was inspired to share on the show for Constitution Thursday a few days later.
Yes, Durant has even been on Constitution Thursday.
He was born on November 5, 1885 and is one of the most prolific American history writers ever, winning the Pulitzer in 1968 and the Medal of freedom for his work in 1977.
Like me, Durant forsook a life in ministry for a life in history. We are kindred spirits separated by the years. It was a sad day when, in the middle of Basic Training in 1981, I learned that he had passed away, and now my hope of ever meeting him in person was forever gone.
I once had a teacher who used to refer to certain authors as his “friends” even though he had never met them. Then one day he accidently found himself in a conversation about a book, and referred to the author as one of those “friends.” The other man was surprised and confused, then slowly a smile grew across his face. It was then that my teacher realized that the man was the author of the book. He was embarrassed, but the author assured him that he knew exactly what he meant and appreciated the compliment. Since that day, I have referred to my favorite authors as friends, because they were there when things were good, and when things were not so good. Some, like Durant, were there when things were at their worst. There are nights in my past when there was simply nothing else left, and I would cling to a book, finding solace and healing in The Story of Civilization. Durant is one of my closest and oldest friends.
The books are available in kindle format and even html, and yes, I have them that way. But I also have all of the hardback books, which I have lugged with me across the country and back countless times. They are dear to me beyond financial costs and I would be devastated to lose them, to not be able to highlight and underline and bend pages and make my own notes in the margins of them.
Will Durant spent his life attempting to bring philosophy to the common man. Like him, I have a mission to bring to others the philosophy of liberty, and to do that I must be steeped in history.
And thanks to Will Durant, I am.