cover image Arnold J. Toynbee: A Life

Arnold J. Toynbee: A Life

William H. McNeill. Oxford University Press, USA, $30 (368pp) ISBN 978-0-19-505863-5

During the 1950s, Arnold Joseph Toynbee (1889-1975) was perhaps the world's best-known living historian; his crowning achievement was the Study of History , which in condensed form became a bestseller. As this sympathetic critical biography shows, Toynbee was a man of many contradictions: he favored a U.N. but believed peace was more likely to be achieved under a world empire. Although his global and prophetic vision was widely and vigorously attacked, Toynbee continued his scholarly activities and in lectures cast doubt on the viability of democracy, reproached Americans for their affluence, endorsed revolutions in Latin America and deplored Christianity's arrogance and intolerance. A shy man, with an almost pathological fear of running out of money, Toynbee endured the suicide of his son Anthony and saw his last years marred by difficulties with his first wife and his oldest son, Philip. According to McNeill ( Rise of the West ), Toynbee extended knowledge beyond the limits set by other historians, but his work is poetic in essence and ought to be evaluated as such. By weaving together Toynbee's thought and times this clear-sighted book may help restore the historian's reputation. Photos. (Apr.)