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The Lessons of History (Anglais) CD – Livre audio, 7 juin 2004

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Extrait

Chapter 1
Hesitations
As his studies come to a close the historian faces the challenge: Of what use have your studies been? Have you found in your work only the amusement of recounting the rise and fall of nations and ideas, and retelling "sad stories of the death of kings"? Have you learned more about human nature than the man in the street can learn without so much as opening a book? Have you derived from history any illumination of our present condition, any guidance for our judgments and policies, any guard against the rebuffs of surprise or the vicissitudes of change? Have you found such regularities in the sequence of past events that you can predict the future actions of mankind or the fate of states? Is it possible that, after all, "history has no sense," that it teaches us nothing, and that the immense past was only the weary rehearsal of the mistakes that the future is destined to make on a larger stage and scale?
At times we feel so, and a multitude of doubts assail our enterprise. To begin with, do we really know what the past was, what actually happened, or is history "a fable" not quite "agreed upon"? Our knowledge of any past event is always incomplete, probably inaccurate, beclouded by ambivalent evidence and biased historians, and perhaps distorted by our own patriotic or religious partisanship. "Most history is guessing, and the rest is prejudice." Even the historian who thinks to rise above partiality for his country, race, creed, or class betrays his secret predilection in his choice of materials, and in the nuances of his adjectives. "The historian always oversimplifies, and hastily selects a manageable minority of facts and faces out of a crowd of souls and events whose multitudinous complexity he can never quite embrace or comprehend." -- Again, our conclusions from the past to the future are made more hazardous than ever by the acceleration of change. In 1909 Charles Peguy thought that "the world changed less since Jesus Christ than in the last thirty years". and perhaps some young doctor of philosophy in physics would now add that his science has changed more since 1909 than in all recorded time before. Every year -- sometimes, in war, every month -- some new invention, method, or situation compels a fresh adjustment of behavior and ideas. -- Furthermore, an element of chance, perhaps of freedom, seems to enter into the conduct of metals and men. We are no longer confident that atoms, much less organisms, will respond in the future as we think they have responded in the past. The electrons, like Cowper's God, move in mysterious ways their wonders to perform, and some quirk of character or circumstance may upset national equations, as when Alexander drank himself to death and let his new empire fall apart (323 B.C.), or as when Frederick the Great was saved from disaster by the accession of a Czar infatuated with Prussian ways (1762).
Obviously historiography cannot be a science. It can only be an industry, an art, and a philosophy -- an industry by ferreting out the facts, an art by establishing a meaningful order in the chaos of materials, a philosophy by seeking perspective and enlightenment. "The present is the past rolled up for action, and the past is the present unrolled for understanding" -- or so we believe and hope. In philosophy we try to see the part in the light of the whole; in the "philosophy of history" we try to see this moment in the light of the past. We know that in both cases this is a counsel of perfection; total perspective is an optical illusion. We do not know the whole of man's history; there were probably many civilizations before the Sumerian or the Egyptian; we have just begun to dig! We must operate with partial knowledge, and be provisionally content with probabilities; in history, as in science and politics, relativity rules, and all formulas should be suspect. "History smiles at all attempts to force its flow into theoretical patterns or logical grooves; it plays havoc with our generalizations, breaks all our rules; history is baroque." Perhaps, within these limits, we can learn enough from history to bear reality patiently, and to respect one another's delusions.
Since man is a moment in astronomic time, a transient guest of the earth, a spore of his species, a scion of his race, a composite of body, character, and mind, a member of a family and a community, a believer or doubter of a faith, a unit in an economy, perhaps a citizen in a state or a soldier in an army, we may ask under the corresponding heads -- astronomy, geology, geography, biology, ethnology, psychology, morality, religion, economics, politics, and war -- what history has to say about the nature, conduct, and prospects of man. It is a precarious enterprise, and only a fool would try to compress a hundred centuries into a hundred pages of hazardous conclusions. We proceed.
Copyright © 1968 by Will and Ariel Durant --Ce texte fait référence à une édition épuisée ou non disponible de ce titre.

Revue de presse

"The Durants' masterpiece belongs in any home library and occupies a shelf in many."
--Dana D. Kelley, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette --Ce texte fait référence à une édition épuisée ou non disponible de ce titre.

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Amazon.com: 4.6 étoiles sur 5 294 commentaires
17 internautes sur 17 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Excellent, just excellent. 7 juin 2015
Par Jonas Wied Pedersen - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
I have read this book three times and I keep discovering new gems in this collection of essay by the Durants. I highly recommend this surprisingly short (=concise - they don't waste a single line of paper!) work. Here are some of my favorite quotes:

- “Democracy is the most difficult of all forms of government, since it requires the widest spread of intelligence, and we forgot to make ourselves intelligent when we made ourselves sovereign. Education has spread, but intelligence is perpetually retarded by the fertility of the simple.”
- “[…] the Church dares not alter the doctrines that reason smiles at, for such changes would offend and disillusion the millions whose hopes have been tied to inspiring and consolatory imaginations.”
- “[…] the first condition of freedom is its limitation; make it absolute and it dies in chaos.”
- “History is so indifferently rich that a case for almost any conclusion from it can be made by a selection of instances.”
3 internautes sur 3 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A refined, comprehensive and erudite conversation between reader and writer about History. 20 avril 2016
Par Paul Reinke - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
Durant packs more meaning into one sentence than many do in pages of prose. Deeply erudite yet lyrically fluid writing provides pleasure in the reading. One doesn't need a broad education in the Humanities and Social Sciences to get the best from this work, but it certainly helps if one has had it.

Durant's strategy for explaining the how and why of History's lessons make sense and helps readers understand to compartment their own world, yet maintain the connectedness among all the compartments.

A delightful work that reminded me of what I once loved about History and Historiography.
6 internautes sur 6 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Short but good 7 juin 2012
Par Learner - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
This is a very short book (about 100 pages) but it's worth the price.

Very interesting to see a lifetime of dedicated history study boiled down into essential lessons learned. Lots of thought-provoking ideas, such as freedom and equality being opposing goals in a society. You may not agree with everything they say but it will all get you thinking.

This kind of book is an undertaking that modern academics would maybe never dare to try. So I'm glad for "popularizers" like the Durants who are willing to give me a straight, no-nonsense explanation and analysis of history. As other reviewers have noted, it's also wonderfully non-politically correct. They are just telling it like they see it in 1968, which is refreshing. (Yes, I think the Political Correctors on "both sides of the aisle" have some good points but I resent them imposing their narrowly-focused agendas on me.)

My favorite passage:

"A youth boiling with hormones will wonder why he should not give full freedom to his sexual desires; and if he is unchecked by custom, morals, or laws, he may ruin his life before he matures sufficiently to understand that sex is a river of fire that must be banked and cooled by a hundred restraints if it is not to consume in chaos both the individual and the group." (If Durant is correct on this point the world is currently in big trouble, I think.)

Note: Other reviewers have mentioned interviews between the chapters. My book does not have these. I bought the brand new paperback version from Amazon that is currently pictured on the website: (black cover, blue title, yellow circular illustration), Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, trade paperback edition Feb 2012, ISBN-10: 143914995X. I count 117 pages including index.
6 internautes sur 6 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 The Fruits of a Master Work 26 mai 2012
Par Retired Reader - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
The master work of Will and Ariel Durant is the ten volume "The Story of Civilization", which is a comprehensive and stimulating history of the evolution of Western (European) Civilization. The Durants are not typical academic historians, but more like the 18th Century encyclopedists trying to pull together information of all sorts into comprehensive books of knowledge in which fact and opinion are mixed and sweeping conclusions are reached.

All of which is to say that this slim (109 plus pages) volume of the Durants contains a summary of some observations that the Durants derived from there master work. The book has an introductory chapter and a concluding chapter (Is Progress Real") that sandwich eleven chapters that present their observations chosen to support their conclusion in the final chapter that yes progress is real, but not assured. Many of their observations in this book are cogent and represent their years of research and study. At the very least this book provides ample material for reflection on the part of its readers.

Yet compared to their master work, it is pretty thin gruel. In some respects it suggests the work of two brilliant scholars who have exhausted themselves in producing a monumental study of Western Civilization.
3 internautes sur 3 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Want to understand the modern era? Read this! 4 juin 2013
Par Robert Knotts - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
"Lessons in History" synopsizes the guts of Will and Ariel Durant's eleven volume "The Story of Civilization," also a must read, particularly for those who love historical detail delivered with brilliant prose. Published in 1965, "Lessons" is a bit dated, nevertheless the lessons are taken from events spanning thousands of years and the embedded predictions of the future are now becoming fact. This is particularly true regarding the idea that the never-ending struggle between the "haves" and "have-nots" is an aspect of the human psyche reacting to the fact that persons are not born equal in abilities. Thus, over time "the natural inequality of men soon re-creates an inequality of possessions and privileges. Face it, some people run faster than others, some are bigger and stronger, some are smarter, and so on. "This leads to cyclical episodes of violent revolution or a gradual and more peaceful political change that, over time, produces a new "elite" that enjoys days in the sun until it is up-ended in the next cycle. The Durant's provide many examples of this, including that of ancient Athens: "The poorer citizens captured control of the Assembly, and began to vote the money of the rich into the coffers of the state, for redistribution among the people through governmental enterprises and subsidies." Sound familiar? But there are more lessons that this. Better read it.
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