The Story of Civilization on my bookshelf.
When I was 16 years old my father gave me the complete set, which at that time was 9 volumes, of Will and Ariel Durant’s The Story of Civilization. I was both thrilled with and overwhelmed by the gift. I love history, as did my Dad, but 9 volumes (soon to be 10, and then eventually 11) with fine print just overwhelmed me. Although I’ve used them like an encyclopedia, looking up information needed, in all this time I’ve never read them cover to cover, although they have traveled with me through every move and have survived every purge of books in my lifetime, thus far.
You will understand, then, when I tell you why I am extremely proud of my son. In the last few years, our son, Dan, has had a long commute to work. He has made that time spent in the car both productive and bearable by listening to audiobooks. He has just completed a huge project listening to the complete unabridged set of the 11 volumes of The Story of Civilization! If I added correctly, that’s over 424 hours of listening time! But it’s more than that because along the way on his historical journey, he took many “side roads” and listened to much of the classic literature of the time period he was immersed in.
We have had the most wonderful and fascinating long talks with him about the different historical time periods, about the amazing people involved, about human nature and culture, and about the writing of this epic life’s work by Will Durant and his wife, Ariel. What an amazing education Dan is giving himself over the miles! I know my college professor Dad would have been incredibly proud of him, too, and they would have had amazing discussions about all that Dan has learned. The pleasure of learning is certainly a powerful gene in our family, and I’m so very proud of the self-education Dan is giving himself through his reading.
“Perhaps the cause of our contemporary pessimism is our tendency to view history as a turbulent stream of conflicts – between individuals in economic life, between groups in politics, between creeds in religion, between states in war. This is the more dramatic side of history; it captures the eye of the historian and the interest of the reader. But if we turn from that Mississippi of strife, hot with hate and dark with blood, to look upon the banks of the stream, we find quieter but more inspiring scenes: women rearing children, men building homes, peasants drawing food from the soil, artisans making the conveniences of life, statesmen sometimes organizing peace instead of war, teachers forming savages into citizens, musicians taming our hearts with harmony and rhythm, scientists patiently accumulating knowledge, philosophers groping for truth, saints suggesting the wisdom of love. History has been too often a picture of the bloody stream. The history of civilization is a record of what happened on the banks.”
— Will Durant
Our son, Dan, reading to his son…