All roads lead to Rome, but this is the scenic route
Published by Thriftbooks.com User , 20 years ago
Only 40 years ago, Will Durant (whose wife, Ariel, was co-author of the later books) was among the most celebrated popular historians for the multi-volume Story of Civilization. Today, he is all but obscure. (I "Googled" his name and found only a single web site where he is mentioned -- and that's the site of the foundation administered by his estate).Wherefore has his reputation dimmed so suddenly? I imagine that even when he was alive and publishing, academic historians dismissed him with their favorite put-down, that he was a mere "synthesizer." As if that wasn't bad enough, he was widely read by non-historians!In today's academic Dark Ages, he is no doubt beneath contempt, since he doesn't see history as defined by economic, class and gender issues (although in fact he has plenty to say about all those -- he just doesn't focus on them as though they are the beginning and end of what makes the past important). Moreover, Durant assumes the currently unthinkable on our politically correct campuses: that western civilization and Dead White Males actually have given us a great deal that has timeless value.But, if you have shaken off (or not been subjected to) the ideology of the PC drones of academia, Durant is just the writer to make history what it was meant to be: colorful, literate, mind-stretching. This is no sugar-coated account; he discusses the ugly, cruel and unjust aspects of the Roman Republic and Empire, but balances that by examining what was good and enduring. Of the Story of Civilization books, I have read completely only this volume on the Roman world (I'm currently reading the previous volume on Greece), but have no hesitation in saying that Caesar and Christ is the best piece of historical writing I have ever encountered, and I suspect that the whole series has many of its virtues. Although he may be a "synthesist," Durant has obviously read deeply in the ancient writers, and has seen and pondered the art and artifacts of the Roman era. The result is prose that sings, and encompasses both the "big picture" and fascinating, out-of-the-way detail. Durant gives you a survey of the personalities, the politics, the social world, the ideas, the literature and the arts of this period that shaped the western world. Far from being a piece of bone-dry "historiography," Caesar and Christ is a grand essay in the great tradition of Gibbon. The elegance and wisdom of the writing are something to marvel at. If you are interested in the Roman era, you will find Caesar and Christ to be enormously rewarding.
How History Was Meant to Be Written
Published by Thriftbooks.com User , 21 years ago
Durant is a master of the English language. His prose is always delightful, and often remarkable. On nearly every page, one can find a turn of phrase, or an insight, that makes one stop and say, "wow." The words Durant uses to describe Cicero's writing apply equally well to his own: "How pleasant [Durant's English] is, how easy to read, how smoothly and clearly the stream of language flows! When he narrates events he catches some of the vivacity that made his speeches chain attention; . . . when he lets himself go he flowers into the balanced clauses and crashing periods which he had learned from Isocrates, and with which he had made the Forum resound." "Stream of language." "Crashing periods." Brilliant. Better than even Gibbon, for Durant had mastered the ability to be concise as well as prosaic.With his skill, Durant could make even a book about paint drying interesting. That his subject matter is one of the most fascinating periods in history is but icing on the cake. Durant provides a fascinating overview, laced with insights. Every page is both a pleasure and informative. The book is not for those of small attention spans, however; it's length may be daunting. Prepare to devote a large amount of time to reading it, but be assured that it will be time well-spent.
A compelling history..
Published by Thriftbooks.com User , 22 years ago
Will Durant's fascination with Rome was no secret, and in this, the third installment of his "Story Of Civilization" series, he captivates the reader with not only the complete history of Rome, but also its crucial link to christianity.. Durant correctly points out the fact that christianity traveled along the roads that Rome built, and that she gave her maternal blood in the organization and perpetuation of the church. Indeed, his description of christianity as the "last great creation of the ancient pagan world" is one of the outstanding insights of history, and within this context Durant develops one of the most cogent of all his many perspectives on the interactions between the state and religion.Unlike some scholars, Durant is convinced as to the historicity, if not the divinity, of Jesus, which reflects the majority opinion of historians---that he was not the fictive product of overactive imaginations as to his having been a real human being. Additionally, he goes into detail about the apostles and how Paul's theology of grace would eventually triumph over the messages of both Peter and Christ. He thus concludes: "Protestantism was the triumph of Paul over Peter; Fundamentalism is the triumph of Paul over Christ."Add to the above Durant's moving accounts of Rome's outstanding statesmen, generals, poets, writers and leading ladies, and you have one of the outstanding works of history written in a middle-brow fashion that makes it accessable to the general reader. Such is Durant's trademark, and it explains why his writings continue to sell in large numbers well beyond his and his wife's passing.
Fascinating and Detailed
Published by Thriftbooks.com User , 23 years ago
What a wonderful book! The history of the Roman empire has always fascinated me but I never found a good overview that was detailed enough without being boring. Finally, I found the Will Durant series and began working my way through the volumes. This has been one of the best.It is amazing the level of detail that the author is able to incorporate into the book. You not only get a sense of the historical events but also what it was actually like to live during this time period. Literature and art are covered in detailed. The background on the founding of the Christian church was the most comprehensive and interesting that I have ever read.I strongly recommend this book for anyone wanting to understand the early beginnings of the Christian church within the context of the time. I look forward to reading the future volumes.
Pearls before swine
Published by Thriftbooks.com User , 24 years ago
It's too bad so few people have taken the trouble to read or even review Durant. "The Story of Philosophy" was a best-seller in 1929. Tom Clancy & Patricia Cornwell (sic) get listings as long as the day is long, but Durant just gets in left in the corner ignored. It's a shame.
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