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Heroes of History: A Brief History of Civilization from Ancient Times to the Dawn of the Modern Age

Durant, Will Author

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At Will Durant's death at 96, in 1981, his personal papers were dispersed among relatives, collectors, and archive houses. Twenty years later, scholar John Little discovered the previously unknown manuscript of Heroes of History in Durant's granddaughter's garage. Written shortly before he died, these 21 essays serve as an abbreviated version of Durant's best-selling, 11-volume series, The Story of Civilization. Durant traces the lives and ideas of those who have helped to define civilization - from Confucius to Shakespeare, from the Roman Empire to the Reformation - spanning thousands of years of human history. A volume of life-enhancing wit and wisdom, Heroes of History draws upon Durant's expansive knowledge and singular ability to translate distant events and complex ideas into easily accessible principles.

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Review:

In this collection of biographical and historical sketches drawn from an unfinished manuscript discovered two decades after his death, Will Durant celebrates historical figures whose examples demonstrate that humans can, "when sufficiently inspired, rise to levels of greatness with the gods themselves."

Durant (1885-1981), the principal author of The Story of Civilization, saw history as a branch of philosophy, and he peppered his stories of great historical actors and events with moral lessons and observed patterns ("One of the most regular sequences in history is that a period of pagan license is followed by an age of puritan restraint and moral discipline"). These brief lectures, touching on leaders and innovators, such as Buddha, Marcus Aurelius, Leonardo da Vinci, and Martin Luther, afford him plenty of opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the past and to offer models for his readers to study and emulate.

Like Durant's other work, this book has an old-fashioned air about it: it is Eurocentric to the core, and it makes almost no mention of women, who surely contributed to the rise of civilizations. Still, fans of Durant's brand of sweeping narrative history will enjoy having these final words from the master. --Gregory McNamee

About the Author:

WILL DURANT (1885-1981) was awarded the Pulitzer Prize (1968) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1977). He spent over fifty years writing his critically acclaimed eleven-volume series, The Story of Civilization (the later volumes written in conjunction with his wife, Ariel). A champion of human rights issues such as the brotherhood of man and social reform long before such issues were popular, Durant, through his writings, continues to educate and entertain readers the world over. 

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