The Lessons of History Cover

The Lessons of History

byWill Durant, Ariel Durant
Rating 6.5 /10 Readability
Read Time 3 hrs Readible On
Published: 2010Read: March 17, 2015Pages: 128
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by Juvoni Beckford@juvoni

History is beautiful and sad. It's the story of humans and the civilizations we form. The Lessons of History is a survey of human history by Will and Ariel Durant, with great insights into the nature of human experience, the evolution of civilization, the culture of man. History is a messy area as those who write and summarize history sometimes inject their opinions and biases into the story. I found some parts to be very closed minded, and I was left wanting more from the book.

Motivations to Read

I'm looking for a condensed package of wisdom from the various lessons across history. This would serve as a complement for when I read more history books and want to cross reference repeated patterns I find on my own.

3 Reasons to Read

  • Find out what history has to say about the nature of the human experience.
  • An analysis of how society and cultures evolve.
  • Learn about the many aspects of history and the philosophy behind organizing history.

Notable Quotes

In the last 3,421 years of recorded history only 268 have seen no war. - Will Durant The present is the past rolled up for action, and the past is the present unrolled for understanding. - Ariel Durant We must operate with partial knowledge, and be provisionally content with probabilities. - Ariel Durant It is not the race that makes the civilization, it is the civilization that makes the people: circumstances geographical, economic, and political create a culture, and the culture creates a human type. - Will Durant

The Lessons of History Notes & Summary


History is not science. It is an industry, art, and a philosophy.

Industry by digging out the facts.

Art by establishing meaningful order in the chaos of materials.

Philosophy by seeking perspective and enlightenment.

"History smiles at all attempts to force its flow into theoretical patterns or logical grooves; it plays havoc with our generalizations, breaks all our rules; history is baroque."

"When the universe has crushed him man will still be nobler than that which kills him, because he knows that he is dying, and of its victory the universe knows nothing."

History is subject to geology. Seas cover land, Mountains rise and push, valleys become desserts.

The influence of geographic factors diminishes as technology grows; it preserves history.

Man, not the earth, makes civilization.

We are subject to the processes and trials of evolution, to the struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest to survive.

Three Biological Lessons of History

  1. Life is competition.
  2. Life is selection.
  3. Life must breed.

History will teach us that civilization is a co-operative product, that nearly all peoples (cultures) have contributed to it; it is our common heritage and dent; and the civilized soul will reveal itself in treating every man or woman, however lowly, as a representative of one of these creative and contributory groups.

Society is founded not on it's ideals, but on the nature of man, and the constitution of man rewards the constitution of states.

Evolution in man during recorded time has been social rather than biological: it has proceeded not by heritable variations in the species, but mostly by economic, political, intellectual, and moral innovation transmitted to individuals and generations by imitation, custom, or education.

Moral codes different because they adjust themselves to historical and environmental conditions.

Probably every vice was once a virtue, a quality making for the survival of the individual, the family, or the group. an's sins may be the relics of his rise rather than the stigmata of his fall.

Remember that history written is quite different from history live: the historian records the exceptional because it is interesting.

Even the skeptical historian develops a humble respect for religion. To the unhappy, the suffering, the bereaved, the old, it has brought supernatural comforts valued by millions of souls as more precious than any natural aid.

If history supports any theology this would be a dualism like the Zoroastrian or Manichaen: a good spirit and an evil spirit battling for control of the universe and men's souls.

The growing awareness of man's minuscule place in the cosmos has furthered the impairment of religious belief.

One lesson of history is that religion has many lives, and a habit of resurrection.

History, according to Karl Marx, is economics in action - the contest, among individuals, groups, classes, and states, for food, fuel, materials, and economic power.

History shows that the concentration of wealth is natural and inevitable, and is periodically alleviated by violent or peaceable partial redistribution.

The struggle of socialism against capitalism is part of the historic rhythm in the concentration and dispersion of wealth.

Most governments in history have been oligarchies - ruled by a minority, chosen either by birth, as in aristocracies, or by a religious organization, as in theocracies, or by wealth, as in democracies.

Democracy has existed only in modern times, for the most part since the French Revolution.

Democracy is the most difficult of all forms of government since it requires the widest spread of intelligence.

If equality of educational opportunity can be established democracy will be real and justified.

War is one of the constants of history and has not diminished with civilization or democracy.

In the last 3,421 years of recorded history only 268 have seen no war.

History repeats itself, but only in outline and in the large.

History repeats itself in he large because human nature changes with geological leisureliness and man is equipped to respond in stereotyped ways to frequently occurring situations and stimuli like hunger, danger, and sex.

Civilizations begin, flourish, decline, and disappear - or linger on as stagnant pools left by once life-giving streams.

Most states took form through the conquest of one group by another, and the establishment of a continuing force over the conquered by the conqueror; his decrees were their first laws; and these, added to the customs of the people, created a new social order.

The tension between the ruled and the rules sparked intellectual and emotional activities that progressed society over time.

A civilization declines through failures of it's political or intellectual leaders to meet the challenges of change.

As education spreads, theologies lose credence, and receive an external conformity without influence upon conduct or hope. Life and ideas become increasingly secular, ignoring supernatural explanations and fears. The moral codes loses aura and force as its human origin is revealed, and as divine surveillance and sanctions are removed.

Science is neutral: it will kill for us as readily as it will heal, and will destroy for us more readily than it can build.

Consider education not as the painful accumulation of facts and dates and reigns, nor merely the necessary preparation of the individual to earn his keep in the world, but as the transmission of our mental, moral, technical, and aesthetic heritage as fully as possible to as many as possible for the enlargement of main's understanding, control, embellishment, and enjoyment of life.

The historian will not mourn because he can see no meaning in human existence except that which man puts into it; let it be our pride that we ourselves may put meaning into our lives, and sometimes a significance that transcends death.

posted May 1, 2016

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