by Durant, Will
Publisher:Simon & Schuster
In this collection of biographical and historical sketches drawn from an unfinished manuscript discovered two decades after his death, Will Durant celebrates historical figures whose examples demonstrate that humans can, "when sufficiently inspired, rise to levels of greatness with the gods themselves."
Durant (1885-1981), the principal author of The Story of Civilization, saw history as a branch of philosophy, and he peppered his stories of great historical actors and events with moral lessons and observed patterns ("One of the most regular sequences in history is that a period of pagan license is followed by an age of puritan restraint and moral discipline"). These brief lectures, touching on leaders and innovators, such as Buddha, Marcus Aurelius, Leonardo da Vinci, and Martin Luther, afford him plenty of opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the past and to offer models for his readers to study and emulate.
Like Durant's other work, this book has an old-fashioned air about it: it is Eurocentric to the core, and it makes almost no mention of women, who surely contributed to the rise of civilizations. Still, fans of Durant's brand of sweeping narrative history will enjoy having these final words from the master. --Gregory McNamee