The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant

Summary

  1. Will and Ariel Durant provide an unparalleled multi-disciplinary recount of history, covering major themes, events and people. This 100 page book is an incredible summary of their 10,000+ page series, The Story of Civilization.
Key Takeaways
  1. History captures how man has behaved for 6,000 years and learning this will help protect you and avoid poor decisions
  2. Through much war and tragedy man has survived and prospered – one of the main lessons to take from studying history
  3. Man competes with each other and pushed himself, others and groups as a whole to become better. This competition helps man reach new heights and learn new things. Life needs to breed in order to pass down these competitive advantages to future generations. Competition is inevitable and necessary as only the fittest survive
  4. History is only a fraction of biology
  5. History is a humorist
  6. Throughout the ages man has changed his behavior but cannot change human nature, his instincts
  7. The role of having character developed in people so they could rise to the occasion
  8. Moral codes adjust and adapt to the prevailing social conditions
  9. At one point, every vice was a virtue. Sexual promiscuity secured survival but today seen as a vice, etc.
  10. There are many more things that should enter a man’s thoughts and decisions than just reason – sentiment, tenderness, mystery, affection. Reason is just a tool but character is based on instincts and intuition and reason can therefore not be the sole defining characteristic of man
  11. Freedom is a trial, it is a terrific test. When we made ourselves free (through reason) we forgot to make ourselves intelligent
  12. Nature does not agree with man’s definition of good and bad. For nature, that which is good is what survived and that which is bad goes under
  13. Morality is dependent upon religion and religion gives man hope that he can survive life, that he can bear reality
  14. Insanity is the loss of memory
  15. God is a creative force in any way He appears. God is love too, but love is only one of many creative forces
  16. “Economics is history in motion” – Karl Marx
  17. Socialist states have been around for thousands of years – the Incas and the Chinese being the most successful
  18. The essence of beauty is order. Must balance order and liberty to have a successful state
  19. Peace is not unrealistic but you are fighting an uphill battle against history. War doesn’t really solve anything but replaces one set of problems for another
  20. Civilization is social order leading to cultural creation – human relationships, trade and commerce, art, government, etc.
  21. History repeats itself at large, but not in detail. All civilizations decay either from internal strife or lack of trade and commerce
  22. Durant is not an optimist and not a pessimist but a realist about the future. Hard to say if progressing or regressing – simply changing
  23. Progress is glacially slow and human nature has hardly changed in thousands of years. Progress means attaining the same ends (sex, wealth and health) through more efficient means
  24. If humans are different today than 50,000 years ago it is because our accumulated social culture is stronger and more refined than before, not because our biological nature has changed
  25. History is philosophy teaching by examples
  26. The excess of anything leads to its opposite reaction. (e.g., the excess of liberty leads to slavery)
  27. Every generation rebels against the preceding one
  28. If youth but knew and old age but could
Summary
  1. Pound for pound may have the most wisdom of any book. An amazing summary of history’s major events and themes. Social order leading to cultural creation is one of man’s defining accomplishments and without it we might still be living in caves. Also, the idea of history being philosophy in motion I thought was a great way to think about it