The first volume of Will Durant's Pulitzer Prize-winning series, Our Oriental Heritage: The Story of Civilization, Volume I chronicles the early history of Egypt, the Middle East, and Asia. In this masterful work, readers will encounter:
I focus on fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, politics and read a lot. I try to review everything I read.
I read this series years ago, then listened to them on cassette tape, and have begged for them on Audible for many years. Finally, the first two have appeared. No history is perfect, and history written in the forties cannot help but be dated, yet the authors’ presentation, tone, and focus seem surprisingly up to date. I really like the authors’ quirky sense of humor and matter of fact tone. This series is eleven big volumes totaling something like 500 hours. This history is very easy to listen to and it is hard for me to imagine anyone who would not find a lot of it interesting. Some people dislike the somewhat thematic instead of chronological approach, but I found it engaged me more than most histories. Persians and Chinese may be rightfully chagrined at the short shrift given their influential cultures and I agree with those who argue that the authors focus on exceptional individuals and deemphasize the importance of randomness in history. Nevertheless this is a series that I would recommend to anyone over twelve that wants to learn about western history. For me this was hundreds and hundreds of hours of fun and I did a little dance when I saw these were now available on Audible. Frankly none of the narration is perfect, but Robin Field does a good job in this volume. This volume covers pre-history and the invention of language and art up to the ancient eastern influences on western civilization. Selfishly I want to encourage people to listen to these first two so Audible will get the rest of the series.
Two caveats. This first volume was written in the 1930’s so some of its information is inevitably dated. Secondly, this book is really more about giving the Eastern context necessary for understanding Western civilization than a comprehensive guide to Eastern civilization.
That being said, it is a beautifully written history, alive with detail, with generous amounts of quoted literature giving the testimony and mindset of the people who lived through these times. One thing I like about Durant’s approach is that while he is always lively and opinionated, he doesn’t create strawmen. He is always sure to present the best case for differing points of view. It would be nice to see more of that quality in these polarized times.
This was thoroughly enjoyable to listen to.
Letting the rest of the world go by
One of the great books on Eastern Civilizations. This book is a perfect listen for those who don't like history with all of its dates since he tells the story functionally not chronologically. The book looks at history by each civilization and by function (philosophy, poetry, prose, people's language, government and so on). The author seems to excel when he's talking about a country's philosophy and uses it to describe the country's culture. The section on Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism are the best I have ever read.
It's hard to condense 2000 or more years into a digestible understandable format, but the author does it and the listener really gets to understand our place in the universe a little bit better because of it. The author magically takes random events, turns it into information, processes it into knowledge by giving it narrative and then gives the listener wisdom he didn't have before. I did smile out loud when we were told about Akbar the "illiterate intellectual". He would have the great works of his time read aloud to him. After having listened to this work, I too feel like the illiterate intellectual (since reading puts me to sleep and listening does not. Thank you Audible for making this book available!).
I will give a bit of advice to any potential listener that I know I wouldn't follow myself (my favorite kind of free advice). Don't listen to the first eight hours or so of the book on prehistoric man and early prehistory. He's just wrong and full of prejudices of the time. I did listen to it because I have a linear personality and just can't bring myself to not listen to it all, but the only value I got is that how little they knew about that period of man in 1935 and how they would extrapolate falsely and a boatload of the author's Western prejudices sneaked through.
I would be amiss to not comment on some of the incredibly absurd statements that permeate the book (meat eaters stink, "the average Japanese man today has the sensitivity and shrewdness of the Jew", Hindus are a superstitious people, and so on). I would recommend just ignore such statements and take the book as the masterpiece it is. I have yet to find any other book that covers Eastern Civilizations better and I definitely will read the other volumes in the series.
An enlightened ascetic who loves language and learning.
I am no historian, though I aspire to be a competent student of this distinguished discipline. Despite my self-declared dilettante status, I will defend my declaration that Durant’s opus is among the richest contributions to historical literature that has ever been offered to humankind. I have heard, read, and thoroughly enjoyed Thucydides, Herodotus, Gibbon, Volney, Van Sertima, Zinn, Diop, Massey, and more. Durant surpasses all these scholars in form, content, clarity of exposition, breadth and depth of knowledge, and (even more poignantly than Plutarch) his persistent emphasis on extracting from history ideas inclining us to mental edification and moral elevation. Admittedly, errors abound in the author’s exposition on ancient Egypt. However, I can claim some competence in this area and, confessedly, persons possessed of uncommon competence are often inclined to unjustly overemphasize the errors of less learned individuals. I therefore urge interested readers to overlook such minor matters, for they do not mar the magnificence of Durant’s masterpiece. Analogously, Durant’s work cannot be compared to Lord Russell’s monumental “History of Western Philosophy”. Russell’s work is an expert analysis of seminal philosophical systems and ideas emerging over the course of history and assiduously undertaken by a professional philosopher of the first rank. Durant’s opus encompasses aspects and epochs of universal history having had an indelible influence upon the ideational and material evolution of the Western World. In this respect his research stands alone. Though this review pertains particularly to “Our Oriental Heritage”, I would be surprised if the subsequent segments are not similarly superb. I look forward to finding out. Only ten more to go! (If indeed Audible can be persuaded to produce the complete corpus.)
Dr. Nun Sava-Siva Amen-Ra
This is the only book in the series I've had time to read, so listening was a review for me. That being said, I loved it as much the second time as the first. Durant is my favorite author because of the lyrical way he writes history. Some of the many highlights for me are his explanation of Japanese poetry, the gruesome and barbaric ways people have tortured and killed one another (death by boats!), the plunder of India, how civilization creates and morphs religions, and random historical mistakes that travel through time and are a part of our current speech. (jehovah) It's a joy to be able to listen to this series because I will never have the time to read it, but can listen all day long at work. If you love history, this is the gold standard.
50yrs old / audible member for 5 yrs library. 75% nonfiction, 15% classics and 10% fiction. History/Science/biography/Eng.18th cent fiction
This 11 vol. World history is without peer- and is one of the greatest works by any measure In history - and on history. I had asked audible to get it when I saw it became available and it wasn't anywhere on their radar. I assumed they (the one who just released the first book-recorded books I think) would either use the one that was around on tape - that had already been done by the incomparable Grover Gardener or at least use someone else of his caliber and suitability for the material as well as being appropriate for such a stunningly important work. What we got was a huge disappointment. The narrator was not suited to the material-at all, and I should know seeing as( very roughly) 300 of my 900 books are history.
Ive been after this series in audible format for 5yrs and while I sincerely thank audible for their efforts in bringing these titles on board It has been a huge let down. Its not audibles fault though.
Audible has really been great, not just for getting this(despite it being a disaster) but also other things Ive requested like the 2 missing books from Robert Caro's years of lyndon johnson biography which by the way was done marvelously by them. If you havnt read that multi-volume biography your life is incompleate!
Audible if your listening-this 11 vol masterpiece is out there on tape by grover gardiner(though he uses anouther name- Alex Alexander or something like that) Just waiting for you to pick it up re-master it and put it out there. Tongues are hanging out in anticipation of someone doing this!
Primarily my problem was the book's approach to prehistory and history, as a synthesis rather than a linear timeline. Kudos for looking at things from a big picture - but for me, it didn't add anything other than supposition. Maybe if I hadn't read so much history and archeology already I would have had a different response. Maybe if this had been updated to include current findings I would have been more engaged. I found the first several chapters sounded antiquated in information. The language in several cases came across as opinionated and unbalanced to my ears.The author does strive for balance overall. I understand he is writing with the mind-set of 1935, and from that point of view, you could say his verbiage was practically liberal; instead my overall impression was 'stop with the lists already!' I needed more citations for things that sounded like guesses and loose assumptions. In essence the effect of the first 6 chapters accumulated into my stopping the book and going on to another audio book. With that in mind, I would say my review is unfair, based on incomplete information.
The performance was even, but lacked energy. I've 'read' more complex books with narrators that have kept me very engaged.
This book was written in the 1930's and it needs to be updated. Other than that, this book is one of the best history books ever written.
Yes, because of its depth, comprehensiveness, and beautifully constructed narrative. 99% of this book is a masterpiece.
Whatever the content the narrator is not pleasing enough to allow any more that a few minutes of the story.
"Hopelessly out of date"
I was bitterly disappointed, on starting to listen to this, to discover that it was published in 1935. The advances in the world of scholarship in this field since then have made this book irrelevant. Had the blurb made clear just how old this book is I would never have bought it
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