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The Life of Greece

The Story of Civilization, Volume 2
Narrated by: Stefan Rudnicki
Length: 32 hrs and 36 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (645 ratings)

Regular price: $39.95

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Publisher's Summary

The second volume of Will Durant's Pulitzer Prize - winning series The Story of Civilization. Volume 2 chronicles the history of ancient Greek civilization. Here Durant tells the whole story of Greece from the days of Crete's vast Aegean empire to the final extirpation of the last remnants of Greek liberty, crushed under the heel of an implacably forward-marching Rome. The dry minutiae of battles and sieges, of tortuous statecraft of tyrant and king, get minor emphasis in what is preeminently a vivid recreation of Greek culture, brought to the listener through the medium of supple, vigorous prose.

In this masterful work, listeners will learn about:

  • The siege of Troy
  • The great city-states of Athens and Sparta
  • The heroes of Homer's epics
  • The gods and lesser deities of Mount Olympus
  • The teachings of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle
  • The empire of Alexander the Great

©1966 Will Durant (P)2013 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

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Great Series Don’t be Intimidated by 500 hours

I hope many people listen to these first two in the series to encourage Audible to get the rest. This is the second of The Story of Civilization series covering the history of Greece. I had read this in hardback and listened to it on cassette many years ago but enjoyed it every bit as much this third time. The narration annoyed me a bit when I started to listen, it seemed way too slow, but as the book gathered steam and ideas were flying at my head faster than I could cope, I came to appreciate the slower pace. The narration is still slightly dry for my tastes, but after an hour or so I really found the writing came through nicely.

The author’s tone is really pleasant, making the history human and approachable, ribald, and interesting. This material is perhaps a bit better known that almost every other volume in the series, but I (re)learned more on this third go through than I learn from most books. The material comes from a very western perspective and was written in the forties thus is sometime dated both in research and in political correctness. Nevertheless this is worthwhile reading for almost any adult reader. At over 32 hours this book seemed unbelievably short. This is a sit in your car in the parking lot to finish the chapter good book. After just finishing the first two at over 80 hours, one might think I would be ready for a break from history, but instead I am in a funk at having to wait for the next volume not yet in Audible format.

Some dislike the thematic instead of chronological approach to history, but I much prefer it. This story follows the trails of events and ideas and blood through time, then jumps back to another trail seeing some of the same events and characters again from another perspective.

Many might hesitate from taking on a 500+ hour series, but I would encourage any adult to give these a try. This series helps put every other book you read, and every news story you hear, in context. It shows both how little, and how much, has changed over the millennia.

46 of 47 people found this review helpful

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Studying the parts gives us the whole

Durant is history for those who do not like history. He covers the topic mostly by using a thematic approach tied with an overriding narrative.

It takes the author a while to get into his own voice, but when he does the book comes alive and the history and the wisdom of the Greeks will live within the listener. He muddles his way through the first six chapters by speculating about pre-Homeric Greece and than using Homer as an authoritative source for history. It's worth wading through those eight or so hours to get to the real story.

At about 700 BCE, he starts talking about Sparta and contrasting that with Athens, and the author develops his real theme, "individualism leads to the destruction of the group, but gives creativity and progress". This is when the book comes alive! Sparta gives perfect order, Athens gives birth to the individual's growth at some expense to the whole. This story is worth telling. The story of Greece is a metaphor for this dichotomy (Plato and the Cave verse Aristotle's knowledge through observation and the values from the individual).

In two different spots in the narrative the author clues you into this dichotomy. When he talks about the Book of Ezra and how the question of evil is answered by stating that a part of the universe can never understand the whole universe and the question should never even be asked. The second time within the book he delves into Epicurean thought and explains that for the Epicurean the individual is only part of the whole and the group must be made of the parts as contrasted with a Stoic Philosophy that the group is understandable by the individual.

The book is not without flaws. The first 8 or so hours is muddled and can easily be skipped. He spends way too much detail telling me about the Greek Plays. He makes weird statements like, "even the Jew, the least superstitious of all people uses the word Mazel tov when greeting people".

When the author writes in his own voice and ties the pieces together through his narrative, nobody covers history better. In the end, Greece with it's individual city states gave us our heritage of valuing individual thought and the Romans will give us their structure for appreciating social order. I'll be looking forward to listening to Durant's spin on the Romans and their History.

14 of 14 people found this review helpful

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Audible needs to have the entire 11 volume series!

I'm loving the series and haven't even always listened in order. Audible needs to finish out making the whole series available. Many of us would commit to purchase them.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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Best western history series ever written

I've read the whole series over several years and am now going back to listen to them. The author is insightful, humorous and eloquent. I cannot recommend the series highly enough. It would not be an overstatement to say this broad sketch of the history of western civilization contributed to a change of my worldview. (This title is one of eleven.)Durant is a joy to read.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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A must

If you want a true philosophical view of history written in Professor Durant's brilliant style, this series is a MUST. And this particular volume is a can't miss. Enjoy. My only regret is that Grover Gardner cannot narrate the entire series. I do hope he narrates the next in the series, The Age of Voltaire. I anxiously await its release.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Stefan Rudnicki brings history to life

This grand and epic history was originally published in 1939, but surprisingly the pages are still filled with insights, even if a few areas and ideas are dated. Overall, you can see why the book is still a classic. Stefan Rudnicki does an excellent reading of this very long work, infusing it with emotion and interest without overdoing it. His intelligence comes through and combines with that of the author. Pronunciations of all sorts of challenging names and words are accurate and graceful.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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EXCELLENT ANCIENT GREEK PERSPECTIVE

Would you consider the audio edition of The Life of Greece to be better than the print version?

That's hard to say. Having listened and read both each have their own posistives. With reading, you may want to pause while you look up locations on the map to know exactly where the topic is taking place. For comprehension though, and this is according to your ability to listen, the audiobooks are superior to the written word. I will say I own both when I feel the book is that important, i.e., everything by David McCullough, James Lee Burke (brilliant prose), Cormac McCarthy (again, brilliant prose).

Who was your favorite character and why?

Wow, that is a tough question. But Pythagoras started the ball rolling from a polytheistic culture to one more based on closer examination of everyday occurences.

What about Stefan Rudnicki’s performance did you like?

His vocal presence and topic intelligence! Brilliant!

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes, but too long to do so!

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Glad I got through it

I knew a fair amount of these stories but what I did learn was well worth it. Some of the lengthy descriptions of statues and art was frankly agonizing. I was also surprised at how little was spent on Alexander. However, overall I left with a much better understanding of how the foundations of western culture evolved as well as why the mediterranean looks like it does today. I'm looking forward to book three.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Civilization is always older than we think.

"Civilization does not die, it migrates; it changes its habitat and its dress, but it lives on. The decay of one civilization, as of one individual, makes room for the growth of another; life sheds the old skin, and surprises death with fresh youth."
- Will Durant, The Life of Greece

Will Durant, during his strongest moments in book 2, transfers his love of Greek history, philosophy, art, and civilization elegantly to the reader. He captures the history of Greece, but also places Greece firmly within the greater context Western Civilization, history, and our current philosophy, science, and art. He is weakest when he aggregating and acting as an art historian or literary critic; he both tries to summarize the work AND the artist and excels at neither.

Durant's approach (and with Hellenic Civilization it is difficult to find a perfect approach) takes the reader from city-state to city-state (which often yo-yos the reader in time). Like with Book 1, I loved Durant's imagry, metaphors, and well-formed lines. Here is just a sample from Book 1 of the Story of Civilization 2: The Life of Greece:

"It is as difficult to begin a civilization without robbery as it is to maintain it without slaves" (10).
"But we must not mistake our guessing for history" (15).
"...the patient perfecting of litttle things" (16).
"...a nation is born stoic and dies epicurean" (21).
"By a hundered channels the old civilization emptied itself out into the new" (23).
"Civilization is always older than we think" (27);
"...but faith survives every desolation" (33).
"We shall assume that the major leggends are true in essence, imaginitive in detail" (38).
"A myth is often a bit of popular wisdom personified in poetic figures...legend is often a fragment of history swelling with new fictions as it folls down the years" (43-44).
"society is a rumbling cart that travels an uneven road; and no matter how carefully the cart is constituted, some of the varied objects in it will sink to the bottom, and others will rise to the top" (47).
"Precedent dominates law because precedent is custom, and custom is the jealous older brother of law" (54).
"Art (to vary Aristotle) may make even terror beautiful -- and so purify it--by giving it significance and form" (56).

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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We Are All Greek

How is it possible that reading a 'dry old history tome' can make me feel so invigorated? Maybe it's because there is nothing dry nor old about Will Durant.

After reading the first volume of his 10 (TEN) volume history, I had been pleased, but this was even better. I feel proud to be descended from the Greeks.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Anfisa
  • 10-06-16

Excellent introduction to Greek civilisation

Following on from volume 1 of the series where Durant gave an overview of the earliest days of mankind, here we finally makes it to the first "Great Civilisation" that we encounter in schools - ancient Greece. So why read this book and not the hundreds of others dedicated to the subject?

Continuing his systematic approach and endeavour to give everything its place in the world context, Durant sandwiches Greece between the Minoan period that preceded her rise and the emergence of Rome that led to her ultimate downfall.

His actual approach to Greece is a mixture of chronology and themes. So he starts with Homer's Greece and divides the period into arts, military conquests, mythology, politics, etc. Then he moves on to a later period and does the same thing again. The great benefit of this system, particularly for the audio format, is that if you space out and don't pay much attention at some point, that period will be re-visited later, albeit at a different angle.

Greece can be approached from many sides - philosophy, architecture, poetry - and this book is an excellent primer that provides solid foundations for whatever branch of ancient Greece a curious reader might want to pursue in the future. I had to study the Peloponnesian War at university, and it was nice to finally put that episode into the greater historic context. Having read four volumes of this series so far, I believe that Durant's greatest achievement is tying up together the myriad of narratives that a history buff will come across in their reading, but won't necessarily be able to piece together.

My only quibble with the text is that Durant sometimes goes into just a little too much detail. Perhaps it is his own preferences coming through (or my trauma of dealing with Thucydides), but I could have done with fewer names of various generals and minor military skirmishes. Durant's description of Hannibal in the next volume of the series is breathtaking, but some of the battles and politicians afforded space in this book, feel rather inconsequential to the greater picture.

I am assuming that the written version of this text is illustrated, and the audio format does suffer when Durant goes into abundant detail describing various columns and other technicalities of the Greek art world.

Stefan Rudnicki provides a great narration. His delivery is sharp and - as far as I could tell - he pronounces everything properly. His timing is impeccable - he doesn't rush, and gives enough time to absorb the flood of information, but neither does he drag his feet, which some narrators unfortunately do when presented with a "big narrative".

Overall, this is a commendable second installment in this wonderful series.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Ras
  • 12-04-18

A Masterpiece

This book has an impressive coverage and authorship. It is remarkably enjoyable as well as informative. I am aware that it can be dated but its depth is still invaluable.

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  • Manish
  • 11-10-18

Majestic

Be prepared. I can now see why this series won the Pulitzer prize. It is majestic in its sweep. A full history of Greek civilisation from Minoan to Alexander and beyond. It encompasses everything - art geography science war etc etc. Unless you have a degree in Ancient Greek history be ready with the pause button and Wikipedia as there are so many characters mentioned it can be a little difficult to keep up. Can't wait for the next one.

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  • Daniel
  • 09-19-17

An Eclectic Introduction to Ancient Greece

Any additional comments?

This is a great book for anyone wanting some serious exposure to the ancient Greek world and the ascension and depths of that civilisation and its role as progenitor to occidental culture and society.