Fallen Leaves: Last Words on Life, Love, War and God by Will Durant

Summary
  1. The personal, distilled wisdom and beliefs of Will Durant on life’s important topics. Answered clearly, simply and imperfectly
Key Takeaways
  1. Man is always steeped in the ways and views of his youth and is almost constantly constitutionally incapable of understanding the changing world that assails him
  2. We love children because they are extensions of ourselves and because they embody unlimited potential. They are what we cannot be – uninhibited, transparently selfish, un hypocritical, spontaneous. Children and fools speak the truth and somehow find happiness in their sincerity. They learn by imitation and teach us what we really are by how they behave
  3. Childhood could be called the age of play and therefore some children are never young and some adults never old. Never give up play as this will speed up aging and lower quality of life.
  4. Every philosopher should also be an athlete. If he is not, let us examine the philosophy
  5. Health lies in action and to be busy is the secret of grace and half the secret of content. Let us ask God not for possessions but for things to do for happiness lies in making things rather than consuming them
  6. The tragedy of life is that it only gives us wisdom once it has stolen youth. If the young but knew how and the old but could
  7. Nothing learned in a book is of any use until it is used and verified in life. It is life which educates
  8. At the same time as children transition to youth and begin examining themselves, they also begin examining the world. They become afraid at learning their species’ true nature – cooperation within the family but competition with society
  9. If youth were wise they would put love above all else and not fall into the trap that so many do of trading it for money, fame or other external recognition. Making all else subordinate to it until the end. How can it matter what price we pay for love
  10. Life seems brutal because we think we are individuals when in fact we are temporary organs of the species. The individual fails but life succeeds
  11. Logic is an invention of man and may be ignored by the universe
  12. Only one thing is certain in history, decade. Only one thing is certain in life, death
  13. Death, like style, is the removal of the superfluous
  14. One recounting of history may be recounted by the avatars of God. The replacing of one deity for another by an overtaking tribe is seen time and again and a list of the changing gods would make quite a directory for the changing of the guard
  15. Heaven and hell are not located in another world, they are simply states of mind
  16. Religions are not made by the intellect or else they would never touch the soul, reach the masses or have any longevity. The imagination must be moved and inspire courage, compassion and moral development
  17. It can be argued that morality and civilization are one. Durant defines morality as the consistency of private conduct with public interest as understood by the group
  18. Moral self-restraint is one of the surest guarantees to advancement and self-fulfillment
  19. We must respect differing opinions. Intolerance is the door to violence, brutality and dictatorship and the realization of human interdependence and solidarity is the best protection of civilization.
  20. Women generally acquire by instinct all that men acquire by intellect
  21. “I admire the architecture of woman…Her movement is poetry become flesh.”
  22. The art which has most obviously and visibly made progress over the last thousand years is the art of war
  23. The state is the soul of man enlarged under the microscope of history
  24. Greed and wealth originally arose as a hedge against starvation but later became vices as abundance and social norms no longer made them necessary for survival
  25. Prejudice is deadly to religion but vital to civilization
  26. The first law of government is self preservation, the second is self extension
  27. Peace is war by other means
  28. Humankind has waited for centuries for a cease to war through a raising of consciousness but there is no broad, humankind consciousness
  29. Character – a rational harmony and hierarchy of desires in coordination with capacity
  30. Wisdom – an application of experience to present problems
  31. Education is the perfection of life and there should be 3 tenets on which to base education and its goals:
    1. The control of life through health, character, intelligence and technology
    2. The enjoyment of life through friendship, literature, nature and art
    3. The understanding of life through history, science, religion and philosophy
  32. There is nothing Epicurean about desiring a healthy and strong body as this allows us the possibility for a happy and long life and to pursue our goals. He would have dietitians teach students an hour per day on the basics and benefits of a healthy diet and exercise
  33. The point of education is not to create scholars but to form people
  34. There is a big difference between intellect and intelligence. Intellect is the capacity for acquiring and using ideas. Intelligence is the ability to use experience, even the experience of other’s, for the clarification and attainment of one’s ends. Intelligence is garnered from experience, action, reading
  35. An intimate knowledge and experience with nature and sports should not be undervalued
  36. Learning language and culture is most natural and easiest when living and immersing yourself in it
  37. Psychology is a theory of human behavior. Philosophy is too often an ideal of human behavior. History is occasionally a record of human behavior
  38. No man is fit to lead if he cannot see his time in perspective of history
  39. Travel, if too varied and hurried, makes the mind superficial and can confirm stereotypes
  40. Much of history is bunk. However, there is an alternate view to history. History is man’s rise from savagery to civilization. History is the record of the lasting contributions made to man’s knowledge, wisdom, arts, morals, manners, skills. History is a laboratory rich in a hundred thousand experiments in economics, religion, literature, science and government. History is our roots and our illumination as the road by which we came and the only light that can clarify our present and future. This history is not bunk and can even be considered the only true philosophy and the only true psychology
  41. The present is merely the past rolled up and concentrated into this moment of time
  42. We are choked with news and starved of history
  43. History is philosophy teaching by example
  44. A constant lesson from history is that revolutionists soon come to act like the men they overthrew
  45. You cannot make men equal simply by passing laws
What I got out of it
  1. At times a bit outdated, patronizing and patriarchal but chock full of wisdom and worth reading and re-reading