HEROES OF HISTORY: A Brief History of Civilization from Ancient Times to the Dawn of the Modern Age

Will Durant, Author . Simon & Schuster $27.50 (352p) ISBN 978-0-7432-2612-7

This posthumous collection of essays by a Pulitzer Prize winner targets those who don't know much about history. Durant, who died in 1981 at the age of 96, is best known for the multivolume history of the world, The Story of Civilization, he wrote with his wife, Ariel. In these recently discovered essays, he again displays his talents for popularizing history, most notably a remarkable ability to summarize complicated thoughts and events in a few succinct words: this book of "heroes" covers figures ranging from Nero to Shakespeare and spans more than 2,000 years. After the first three essays, on Confucius, Buddha and Egypt's Ikhnaton, Durant turns his attention to Greece, Rome and the rise of the West. He devotes several chapters to Jesus and his followers over the centuries, asserting that the study of religion "sheds more light upon the nature and possibilities of man and government than the study of almost any other subject or institution open to human inquiry." Moreover, Durant derives moral and aesthetic satisfaction from religious expression: "To have conceived and adored [Mary], and raised a thousand temples in her honor, is one of the redeeming features of the human race." And Jesus's "presence and his faith were themselves a tonic; at his optimistic touch the weak grew strong." After a discussion of the medieval Church's crackdown on heretics, Durant observes simply, "Freedom is a luxury of security." This book is likely to find a wide audience among those looking for an introduction to world history, but the absence of a bibliography and source notes may denote to scholars a certain lack of rigor. Agent, John Little.(Nov. 13)

Reviewed on: 10/29/2001
Release date: 11/01/2001
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