Introduction to the
One Hundred Best Books for an Education
Long ago and far away Will Durant asked his readers to take a journey with him on mankind’s common cultural highway—a highway of the mind, the Road to Freedom! He asked us for the price of but a few hours a week to travel into unknown regions and unfamiliar zones, off the beaten track which he said led through to that wonderful Country of the Mind. Now the great Will is dust and nothing survives him but his perfect prose, but his ideal to make everyman educated lives on in this website with the updated and revised One Hundred Best Books for an Education.
If one were rich one would have many books, and would pamper oneself with bindings bright to the eye and soft to the touch, paper generously opaque, and type such as men designed when printing was very young. One would dress these works in leather, gold, and silver and burn midnight candles before them trying to extract as much mental sustenance from them as possible. One would have a library spacious, yet cozy, dark and cool in summers and warm and lit in winters, safe from alien sights and sounds, with slender casements opening on quiet fields, voluptuous chairs inviting communion and reverie, shaded lamps illuminating sanctuaries here and there, and with every centimeter of the walls concealed with the mental heritage of humankind. There at any hour, one’s hand or spirit would welcome one’s friends, if their souls were hungry and their hands were clean.
In the center of that temple of books we would gather the One Best of all the educative literature of the world. Picture to yourself a massive redwood table, worked out in loving detail by the artists who carved the wood for Henry VIII’s chapel at Westminster Abbey, on which we can lay our tomes, or rest lovingly our precious books. Picture again that along the center of the table a glass case stands protecting and yet revealing the One Best. One is amongst friends seated comfortably, occasional hours of every week, passing from volume to volume with loving leisureliness.
Won’t you sit down next to us and begin your journey? Perhaps you are a college graduate, and are ready, then to begin your education. Perhaps you never had a chance to go to college . . . you studied with life rather than with courses, it may be as well; the rough tutelage of reality has ripened you into some readiness to know the world and its great works. We shall offer you membership in the “International of the Mind” wherein brings with it acquintance of the great minds of History. Minds like Confucius who taught the Chinese and Plato who lectured the Greeks, Caesar who conquered the world and Christ who tried to do so peacefully. Muhammad the apostle of God and Leonardo the disciple of art; Montaigne the creator of the informal essay and Bacon the creator of a formal utopia (as well as the formal essay); Voltaire who wielded a wicked pen and Lincoln who controlled an elequent tongue; and the unmatched Edison, the inventor of the modern world and its myriad technologies. After mingling with such minds how can one not be prepared to reform oneself and the surrounding world?
In these days of rush and bother, hurry and telephone tag who has the time? Does reading any or all of these books add one cent to one’s net worth, or allow lucre to flow more readily one’s way? Perhaps not—or perhaps so! The study of the best books for an education allows one to attain wisdom, a lofty goal indeed. One may attain material gain after conquering Wisdom’s Citadel or one may placidly pass on from the fever of gain and value something other than material wealth.
And make no mistake—this is a conquest of Wisdom’s Citadel! And as with any conquest of anything worth having it does not come easily. We shall ask you to plow (or is it plod?) through many a volume that oppresses the heart and stifles the joy. No matter, remember that we are not making a list of the absolutely most enjoyable books, no list merely of the masterpieces of belle-lettres; we are choosing those volumes that will do the most to make a person educated for the modern world, those that build character in addition to intellect.
We shall begin at the beginning as it were—with orderly minds. These first volumes are designed to provide for us an introduction to correct thinking and the universe in which we find ourselves. Let us not be deterred by their titles or be discouraged by their subject matters. No, they are a necessary rampart that must be scaled if we are to climb Wisdom’s Citadel. Once scaled, the road becomes rather more level or somewhat more plateaued, with knowledge and wisdom at every milestone, and pleasant reaches of beauty everywhere. We want here not so much entertainment as understanding—of ourselves and the universe in such order that the knowledge we win may fall into logical sequence in our memories, and give us at last that full perspective which is the source and summit of understanding.
Read actively, not passively: consider at every step whether what you read accords with your own experience, and how far it may be applied to the guidance of your life. But if you disagree with an author, or are shocked by his heresies, read on nevertheless; toleration of difference is one mark of a gentleman. Make notes of all passages that offer help towards the reconstruction of your character (not someone else’s character) or the achievements of your aims; and classify these notes in such a way that they may at any moment, and for any purpose, be ready at hand . . . skip if you will: learn the art of seizing out of every paragraph (usually near its beginning) the “topic sentence” in which the author lays down the proposition which his paragraph hopes to prove; and if this thesis falls outside your use or interest, leap on to the next topic, or the next, until you feel that the author is talking to you.
Therefore, the first books on our list—the necessary introduction to the rest—are the most terrifying of all. Before any criticisms ensue, before the thousand barbs of wit issue forth about those chosen tomes let the potential critic control himself, as he will soon see how far these introductory books are used as preparation for those that follow. At the cost of a few difficulties, or the price of a little arduousness, we must make ourselves acquainted with the current scientific description of the universe we inhabit and of humanity itself, the one time peak and summit of God’s creation. For science is our current mythology, our accompanying lore. And logic is (along with mathematics) the overarching tool used by said science. As an aside, starred books (*) are recommended for purchase for their inherent value and valuable place they will hold in any educated person’s library. Many can be purchased second hand or, if one wishes to truly pamper oneself, purchased brand new online. And so we begin. . . .
Group I - African and Asian Beginnings
Starred (*) books are recommended for purchase
2. Steven Strogatz, The Joy of X
3. Isaac Asimov, New Guide to Science, ch. 1
4. Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
3. Asimov, ch. 2
5. Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time: The Updated and Expanded Tenth Anniversary Edition
3. Asimov, chs. 3-4
6. John Reader, Africa: A Biography of the Continent, ch. 1
3. Asimov, chs. 5-6, 11-13 and 15
7. Beverly McMillan, Human Body: A Visual Guide
3. Asimov, ch. 16
6. Reader, chs. 2-11
8. Marvin Harris, Our Kind
3. Asimov, ch. 14
9. Paul W. Ewald, Plague Time*
3. Asimov, ch. 17
10. Tom Butler-Bowden, 50 Psychology Classics
6. Reader, chs. 13-18
12. Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex
6. Reader, ch. 12
14. Mario Pei, The Story of Language
15. History of Science, ed. Rene Taton, trans. A. J. Pomerans, 4v. vol. 1: Preface, The Dawn of Science: Prehistoric Beginnings
16. A History of Technology and Invention: Progress through the Ages, ed. Maurice Daumas, trans. Eileen B. Hennessy, 3v. vol. 1 chs. 1-5
19. Gilgamesh, trans., John Gardner and John Maier
16. Daumas, vol. 1 ch. 6
20. James H. Breasted, The Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt
15. Taton, vol. 1 part 1 ch. 1
16. Daumas, vol. 1 ch. 7
17. Kleiner, ch. 3
6. Reader, chs. 19-20
17. Kleiner, ch. 15
15. Taton, vol. 1 part 1 ch. 2
15. Taton, vol. 1 part 1 ch. 3
17. Kleiner, ch. 2
22. The Hindu Scriptures, ed., Dominic Goodall
15. Taton, vol. 1 part 1 ch. 4, part 3 ch. 3 and vol. 2 part 4 ch.2
16. Daumas, vol. 1 ch. 11
23. Kalidasa, Shakuntala
17. Kleiner, chs. 6 and 26
24. Laozi, Tao Te Ching, trans. Ursala K. Le Guin, with J.P. Seaton
25. Confucius, Analects, trans. Simon Leys
26. Sunzi, The Art of War: An Illustrated Edition, trans. Thomas Cleary
27. Wu Cheng'en, Monkey, trans. Arthur Waley
28. Cao Xueqin, The Dream of the Red Chamber
30. Sei Shonagon, The Pillow Book, trans. and edited by Ivan Morris
17. Kleiner, chs. 8 and 28
11. Durant, vol. 1 Envoi
Logic not only prepares us to think clearly, it allows us to recognize fallacious arguments for what they are—false. No human being in the twenty-first century need consider himself educated without a solid grounding in logic and D. Q. McInerny’s Being Logical has the added benefit of brevity. Not only does it ground one in logic but it does so on the head of a pin, which is not to say that only pinheads can enjoy and benefit from it! It is a joy to read but more importantly the reader shall find himself thinking much more clearly without being immersed in the technical jargon of the field. Logical thinking is of vital import in one’s education and life and in this odyssey of books it is the first work that must be absorbed fully in order to ground oneself in correct thinking or to assess the arguments being made by others and in our case by authors. With the words of McInerny ringing in our minds related to logical algorithms as it were, we find that we are heavily overlapping with the discipline of mathematics and like runners handing off a baton the reader shall see how seamlessly (usually) one work leads to the other on our list when we absorb every word on mathematics that Steven Strogatz has to offer us in his feast on the subject. “Math underpins everything in the cosmos, including us,” so says the book’s jacket, “yet too few of us understand this universal language well enough to revel in its wisdom, its beauty—and its joy.” Let us revel.
The wonderful Isaac Asimov, that polymath of a scholar with a twinkle in his eyes—for he loved humor—is next on our list. The New Guide to Science is a masterpiece in its field. In one volume Asimov compresses all of science and presents it to us in useable form—here is no mere reference, or compendium of facts but a magnificent tome, a readable introduction to science; and then Kuhn will shock us by telling us how scientific thinking actually occurs. Stephen Hawking will invite us to partake of strings and hidden dimensions, relativity and quantum mechanics, super-gravity and of energy and matter and their interactions, as he explains that this universe, perhaps not the best possible universe, is the way it is because of the vibration of perchance never to be seen strings as they pirouette and exchange partners in the cosmic dance. He will attempt to predict our universe’s future as well as its past, and all in the book that made cosmology a best seller. These introductory five volumes will lay the foundation for the bases of our thinking and knowledge.
And then, still introductory, we pass to ourselves. Current scientific dogma states that we first arose as a species on the African continent; let John Reader take us there and document the unique geology and unmatched natural environments that begat humankind. His narrative flow is so smooth and sharp that we will feel a yearning to witness for ourselves the sites and peoples he describes so vividly. Reader will expound superficially on the evolution of mankind but Beverly McMillan will portray the end result—the human body in all its glory. We leave it to Harris to confabulate with all the confidence of an expert on the details of our evolution, and not just the evolution of our bodies but of our cultures as well; Paul Ewald follows and we will allow him to persuade us on the true causes of the diseases that ail us—microbes! Ewald, with no other authority than his expertise in microbiology, will inform us that it is neither our genes nor our lifestyles nor even our faulty environments that cause our morbidity and eventual mortality but rather plain old germs that wield the deadly sickles that mow us down.
Ewald and his partner Cochran apply evolutionary theory with inexorable logic to the microbial world and to the macro world that we inhabit and, with all the precision of a predetermined conclusion, state their case more than persuasively; this is the future of biology and medicine and a damn good read to boot!
We have minds as well as bodies and perhaps we should try in some measure to understand ourselves before we ponder the history of mankind. Go, then, to Tom Butler-Bowdon; it is true that he writes the 50 Classics series and his 50 Psychology Classics is the masterpiece in the series. In each chapter Butler-Bowdon neatly encapsulates the author’s work in a “nutshell” where the major finding is succinctly noted in a one or two sentence box at the beginning. Fifty of the most important books in the field are summarized and every major development in psychology in the last century is epitomized. It is unfortunate that he arranges the works alphabetically, but he does list them in chronological order beginning on p. 297. Follow that order and you will obtain the best understanding of how an idea started, developed, and ultimately either stood the test of time or did not. Until you have surrounded yourself in this book you needn’t bother, to the exclusion of everything else, with such transitory psychological fashions as psychoanalysis, behaviorism, and gestalt therapy; when you have absorbed Butler-Bowdon you will be immune to these fads and will leave psychology at least holistically aware of the cogent trends in the discipline.
Take your time with these introductory books, for you must expect a long siege before you capture these obscure and lofty outworks of Wisdom’s Citadel. But they are a necessary requirement if one is to fathom our current mythology. They are arranged logically so that the reader can develop the mental tools to fully comprehend what will lay in wait for him or her further down the the road as we approach Wisdom herself and dare to stare at her visage if but only for a moment.
And one of the most vital, most precious of those tools is a voluminous vocabulary. Noah Webster published his magisterial An American Dictionary of the English Language in 1828 but today we feel that even he would be proud of the Internet equivalent dictionary.com. We here provide it for you so that when you come across a difficult word or encounter a troublesome phrase one needn’t get frustrated or risk misunderstanding what the author intended. With one click, we can now know the exact shade of meaning, the precise outline of thought that is meant by our author(s) or their translators.
But no one needed less translating than the lordly Will Durant ably assisted by his helpmate and lifelong companion Ariel. This popularizer of ideas began a scholarly history of the nineteenth century, which he later termed the synthetic or integral history that fortunately for us blossomed into eleven volumes on every civilization from before the dawn of man. The Story of Civilization, though garnering the Pulitzer Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom for its authors, is today underrated. The expansive sweep and vast erudition, the magnificent scholarship they have bequeathed all mankind stands as their triumphant opus. We shall use all its eleven thick volumes to paint the panorama of human existence these last fifty centuries or so, and finally end our journey through history by having them distill their wisdom in one final summary volume about The Lessons of History. The Durants never cease to delight whilst educating us even to the minutiae of history. We shall never stray too far from the path they set before us, seldom wander too distant from their carefully written prose. Indeed, they shall be our almost constant guide, our unvarying hosts through the visage of the human endeavor. They shall provide for us the framework from which to detour on our road. One may even go so far as to say that the Durants alone provide almost all that is needed to educate a person. Nevertheless, their ten thousand pages or so are not quite enough to carry the story down to our time. It will have to do!
But the reader may ask, why is our list historically arranged? Why rely so heavily on the Durants to provide a framework from which we may at times feel constricted? Primarily because it is well to study history as it was lived and made, taking all the activities of a civilization together—economic, social, political, scientific, philosophical, religious, literary and artistic i.e. synthetic or integral history; in this way we shall see every work of literature, philosophy, or art in its proper place, and better understand its origin and significance; perspective is all. Secondarily, this arrangement will let the most delightful and entertaining masterpieces alternate with ponderous though instructive tomes.
The feminist movement will be capably represented in one of its first manifestos by Sartre’s one time bedmate—Simone de Beauvoir, and then we will allow one of the great scholars to gather in one volume entitled The Golden Bough his lifelong researches on the origins of religion. After a few words on words by Pei we shall follow the progress of science and technology through the ages via our French guides, Rene Taton and Maurice Daumas, and finally alight on one of the best single volume conducted tours of art—Gardner’s Art through the Ages. Though first published in 1926, it has always been updated and offers a remarkably concise yet thorough introduction to the world’s art. A word may be added here on editions; generally the latest edition of a work is preferable, or a particular translation desirable, and here we have indicated the 13th edition of Gardner’s, but as regards other works on the list it is better to read the most recent edition the reader may find or in the case of a foreign language work (if finding a particular translation proves too difficult or time consuming) then any translation is always better than no translation and will suffice.
We will consent to be inculcated into the intricacies of all machinery—for we live in the Machine Age—by one of the very best founts and sources on the subject, David Macaulay. With a gleam in his eye and a smile on his lips, he draws, literally, the principles on which machinery functions. No one need consider himself educated that does not understand how machines work (or are supposed to work) or what work machines can perform. Don’t be fooled by the artwork—all drawn by the author himself—this is no mere comic book, no simple cartoon manual but a fully outlined treatise on the foundations of engineering and machinery. Skip this book at your own peril. You could even read it simultaneously with a preschooler and you’d both come out with a solid grounding in mechanics. Durant will usher us into that flowering of culture and technology known as civilization by taking us to the ancient East; after perusing the best English translation of the most ancient of stories, Gilgamesh, we will read his impeccable chapter on Egypt and be ushered away by Breasted’s still classic work on the evolution of ancient Egyptian morals and religion. Of course that book par excellence on morals and religion comes from neighboring Palestine with its unequaled simplicity and beauty, barring its genealogies—the Holy Bible. Tread carefully, but be aware that there is always more than one meaning, more than a single interpretation to any verse and even the Devil can quote scripture for his purpose. A note is in order here, for time is scarce and perhaps one does not have the energies these days to complete whole works. I have added the note esp. after several of the volumes. If one is harassed and harried enough to wish abridgements of a book it is all very well and good, and when an abridgement cannot be secured I have indicated portions of the work that should be read especially at the expense of the rest.
Durant will chaperone us through the many marvels of Asia. We shall leave him temporarily to delve deeper into Hindu religious scripture with Goodall, and return to him to amply explore that flowering of Hinduism known as Buddhism. But before we leave mother India we shall taste of a nonpareil adaptation from the Mahabharata in the Shakuntala. Finding ourselves in East Asia we will sample selected bits of wisdom with Laozi, Confucius, and Sun-tsu; after which we shall find welcome diversion in the novels that follow. We will extract as much humor as we can from the abridged yet incomparable translation of one of Asian literature’s most profound works entitled Monkey by its translator Arthur Waley; we feel Master Wu would be proud. We remain in China with what the Chinese aver is their greatest novel before passing on to Japan. Lady Murasaki Shikibu in Tale of Genji writes with a naturalness and ease that soon turn her pages into the charming gossip of a cultured friend. Arthur Waley’s free translation almost certainly improves upon the Japanese original but it is still considered one of the better English language versions. For those who prefer glimpses of non-fictional aristocratic life, whether real or embellished, we turn to Lady Murasaki’s contemporary Lady Sei Shonagon. Here is a diary of a noblewoman from Heian Japan who chose to describe the refined and scandalous life about her in casual sketches whose excellence in the original can only be guessed at by us from the charm that survives in translation. Verily, verily there is nothing new under the sun. . . .
Leaving the Orient Durant will acclaim the achievements, or laud the attainments of Non-Western man in his Envoi but he shall still manage to carry us across the Bosporus over rough seas at last to the Isles of Greece.
31. “Homer,” The Iliad, trans. Robert Fagles, and The Odyssey, trans. Robert Fitzgerald
17. Kleiner, ch. 4
15. Taton, vol. 1 part 2a ch. 1
16. Daumas, vol. 1 ch. 8
17. Kleiner, ch. 5
15. Taton, vol. 1 part 2a chs. 2 and 5
34. Aeschylus, The Oresteia, trans. Richard Lattimore
37. Herodotus, Histories
38. Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War
15. Taton, vol. 1 part 2a ch. 3
33. Copleston, vol. 1 chs. 17-26
15. Taton, vol. 1 part 2a ch. 4
33. Copleston, vol. 1 chs. 27-34
15. Taton, vol. 1 part 2b chs. 1-4
33. Copleston, vol. 1 chs. 35-38
Here is genius almost too abundant; how shall we crowd so many giants into our little list? Let us engage the amiable Durant to fully narrate the accomplishments of Greek civilization. To understand these Greeks would in itself be a sufficient education and a perusal of Durant’s history would go far to educate anyone. We shall tarry here a little to fully absorb a still living civilization. Plutarch’s biographies will flesh out the outlines sketched so admirably by Durant of many of the principle protagonists of the classical period; moreover, he will make them live on the stage of our memories.
We shall read the “Homers“ for there were two—one genius authoring the Iliad and about a century later another finishing the tale in the Odyssey. Both Homers picture the heroics and tragedy endemic in any war and manage to write lilting songs of gods and heroes, of Helen and Penelope, Achilles and Agamemnon and the universal desire to return home after a long journey. We shall then taste of one of the finest literatures ever written by sampling of its golden age: Aeschylus the mighty leaving for us the oldest extant trilogy in Greek drama drawing from the theme that a great man’s worst enemies are sometimes members of his own family. Sophocles, with a gentle wisdom borne of suffering, elucidates years before Freud the Oedipus complex and his fellow playwright Euripides “the human” mourns the misfortunes of his enemies, and at last forgives even the gods. Through our collective catharsis we shall then pass into the History of Herodotus (though not intending to produce laughter) may do so in places; after the tragedies it is a welcome diversion. Moving on to Thucydides his famous Funeral Oration, composed for Pericles in his classic style, can be found in Book II chap. 6 of his History of the Peloponnesian War.
In regards to Greek fine arts, Gardner’s lets us watch in awe as Phidias, with the patience that is genius, carves figures for the Parthenon, and Praxiteles chisels Aphrodite’s prefect grace. Here is the first and greatest period in European philosophy—let Copleston be our guide. We shall have him tell of Socrates the martyr and Plato the reformer, of Democrates the laughing philosopher and Aristotle the encyclopedia, of Zeno the stoic and Epicurus who was not an Epicurean. Plato speaks, and paints his perfect state; the immaculately reasonable Aristotle preaches the golden mean, and marries the richest girl in Greece. For those who view music as the highest philosophy, Paul Lang will introduce us to the history of western music with a chapter on Greece. Long hailed as one of the best histories of music, we start our venture here happily and follow Lang’s concise prose through millennia of western music that still manages to have a say, or strives to articulate on subjects germane to music but more grounded in general history. Life without music, as Nietzsche said, would be a mistake.
Taton and his contributors take up the tale of Greek science and how it replaced superstition slowly; how Hippocrates became, after many centuries of physicians, the “Father of Medicine," though doubtless there were legions of rational healers that preceded him. But in Western minds the first Westerner to do something must have been the first ever! Taton et al. will reveal to us how Archimedes solved his theorems while a soldier, symbolizing the eternal opposition of war and art, stabbed him to death. Lastly, the waning of Greek thought is traced by Copleston before we return to Durant who then summarizes the major Hellenic accomplishments. When shall we see such an age again?
11. Durant, vol. 3 ch. 1
17. Kleiner, ch. 9
11. Durant, vol. 3 chs. 2-8
42. Lucretius, On the Nature of the Universe, trans. Ronald E. Latham and revised by John Godwin
11. Durant, vol. 3 chs. 9-12
43. Virgil, Aeneid, trans. Robert Fitzgerald
11. Durant, vol. 3 chs. 13-16
17. Kleiner, ch. 10
11. Durant, vol. 3 chs. 17-20
33. Copleston, vol. 1 chs. 39-40
44. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations* trans. Maxwell Staniforth
11. Durant, vol. 3 chs. 21-23
33. Copleston, vol. 1 chs. 41-43
11. Durant, vol. 3 ch. 24
6. Reader, chs. 21-22
33. Copleston, vol. 1 ch. 44
15. Taton, vol. 1 part 2b chs. 4-5
16. Daumas, vol. 1 ch. 9
11. Durant, vol. 3 chs. 25-28
21. Holy Bible* esp. the Gospels, The Acts of the Apostles, and the Epistles of Paul
33. Copleston, vol. 1 ch. 45
41. Lang, ch. 3
11. Durant, vol. 3 ch. 29
33. Copleston, vol. 1 chs. 46-47
17. Kleiner, ch. 11
11. Durant, vol. 3 ch. 30
The Romans do not give us so much; for though they admirably laid the foundations of social order and political continuity for the nations of modern Europe, they lost themselves too much in laws and wars, in building roads and sewers and warding off encompassing barbarians, to snatch from their hard lives the quiet thought that flowers in philosophy, literature, and art. Yet even here there are heroes: the greatest statesmen that ever lived, perhaps, made companionable by Plutarch’s artistry; the somber Lucretius expounding in masculine verse the inescapable Nature of Things; the delicate felicity of Virgil’s weaving of his country’s legendary past into a cloth of gold nearly equaling the Homers; and that last of the Romans, Marcus Aurelius, meditating on the vanity of lust and power from the vantage point of an unequaled throne, diagnosing diseases of the soul whilst at the same court Galen does so for the physical body.
It is a tremendous and tragic story, how this great colossus bestrode the earth with its majesty, and then through corruption and slavery rotted away, until barbarian armies from without, and Oriental cults from within, brought it down to ruin. One such Oriental “cult” called themselves Christians and they were infuriated with theology and bent on revenge; one or more of their members decided to force the issue with Rome and fulfill prophecy by burning it to the ground under Nero. We shall read again from the Bible the noble tale of the Gospels and the not so noble one of the apostles, their followers and their distortion of their master’s message. It is here now that the greatest historian of all, Edward Gibbon, begins his stately recital of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and plays with his mighty organ-prose—imitated by others after him—a marche funebre of desolation. Let us read those purple pages leisurely; life is not so important that we may not spare for this philosopher writing history the unhurried calm that we must have in order to drink in the wisdom of his comments and the music of his periods.
11. Durant, vol. 4 ch. 1
45. Gibbon, chs. 22-24
11. Durant, vol. 4 chs. 2-3
33. Copleston, vol. 2 chs. 1-8
11. Durant, vol. 4 chs. 4-7
15. Taton, vol. 1 part 3 ch. 5
16. Daumas, vol. 1 ch. 13
17. Kleiner, ch. 12
41. Lang, ch. 2
11. Durant, vol. 4 chs. 8-9
47. Albert H. Hourani, A History of the Arab Peoples, chs. 1-9
11. Durant, vol. 4 chs. 10-14
47. Hourani, chs. 10-12
33. Copleston, vol. 2 ch. 19
15. Taton, vol. 1 part 3 ch. 2
16. Daumas, vol. 1 ch. 12
17. Kleiner, ch. 13
6. Reader, chs. 23-27
11. Durant, vol. 4 chs. 15-17
33. Copleston, vol. 2 ch. 20
15. Taton, vol. 1 part 3 ch. 6
17. Kleiner, chs. 7 and 27
15. Taton, vol. 1 part 1 ch. 5, part 3 ch. 4 and vol. 2 part 4 ch. 1
16. Daumas, vol. 1 ch. 10
11. Durant, vol. 4 chs. 18-19
33. Copleston, vol. 2 chs. 9-10
17. Kleiner, ch. 16
11. Durant, vol. 4 chs. 20-26
45. Gibbon, ch. 69
11. Durant, vol. 4 chs. 27-32
17. Kleiner, chs. 17-18
11. Durant, vol. 4 ch. 33
41. Lang, chs. 4-7
11. Durant, vol. 4 ch. 34
33. Copleston, vol. 2 ch. 21
11. Durant, vol. 4 ch. 35
52. James Burge, Heloise and Abelard
11. Durant, vol. 4 ch. 36
33. Copleston, vol. 2 chs. 11-18 and chs. 22-51
11. Durant, vol. 4 ch. 37
15. Taton, vol. 1 part 3 ch. 7
16. Daumas, vol. 1 chs. 15-21
11. Durant, vol. 4 chs. 38-39
Gibbon is so generous that he tells the story not of dying Rome alone, but of that infancy of northern Europe that we know as the Middle Ages. Here is the rise of the Papacy to the realization of the greatest dream of Western statesmanship—the unification of Europe; here is the conversion of Constantine, the apostasy of Julian, and the psychoanalytically frank Augustine’s Confessions; Charlemagne’s coronation will crown the early Middle Ages and begin the Holy Roman Empire, which of course we all know was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.
We now come to one of the peaks in the history of culture and Durant will detail for us its many splendid triumphs, and its overwhelming feats. Master historian Albert Hourani, who will supplement Durant here, has written the definitive history of the Arabs. Not only has this book been atop the bestseller’s list, it has been highly praised by scholars. Hourani begins with he who was highly praised (peace be upon him) and tells the tale of the unfolding Arab story as it intersects with the rest of the world. We shall see how the crumbling Byzantine and Persian empires, at war with each other, declared war on the growing faith and how their subjects chaffed under that rule and welcomed the invading Islamic liberators. How they defended themselves from the barbarous crusaders, and still managed to produce a renaissance of their own six hundred years before the Italians. How they led the world in philosophy, science and technology: we shall witness the astonishing record of Muslim accomplishments in thought, mathematics, science, medicine, astronomy, and technology, let Copleston, Taton and Daumas attest. How they produced the greatest work of secular fiction in existence, The Arabian Nights, better known to its purists as The 1001 Nights, and yet this civilization, still not finished, produced one of the finest works of poetry ever gathered, and by a mathematician nevertheless! Khayyam’s Rubaiyat is so beautiful that even in Fitzgerald’s translation its magnificence shines through. Gardner’s will show us their brilliant artworks, from the Congregational Mosques to the “minor arts” of little everyday functional items, from their unique and delicate architecture in the Alhambra at Grenada, to India’s Taj Mahal, the world’s most beautiful building and now honored as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Here is the Islamic contribution to civilization only equaled by the ancient Greeks in their golden age and the Enlightenment Europeans.
Whilst Islam was having a golden age, Europe tarried in barbarism struggling to free itself from a self-imposed dark age. Not so with the Chinese: Temple will distill the essence of Joseph Needham’s lifetime scholarship into one volume on the science and technology of China. Though it’s not quite accurate to state that all of Europe endured a dark age—the Carolingians spark a small renaissance of their own and the Byzantines maintain at least a modicum of high culture throughout the period. But finally the rest of Europe breaks through this barrier and we enter the High Middle Ages. Dante sums up the age: though at war with the medieval Church, he nevertheless lifts its theology to such splendor and dignity that we marvel at his artistry—even if much of his inspiration was derived from Islamic sources. Thomas Aquinas creates a philosophy, an encyclopedia of orthodoxy, for the period that Dante only puts into poetic form. Another philosopher of the period—Peter Abélard—doubted that theology, but very suddenly lost the manhood to stand his ground; nothing could be more pitiful and human than his weak abandonment of Héloïse and doubt. If you wish to know the details of a famous love story then read James Burge’s concise narrative of this immortal love. Gardner’s will here reveal to us the Gothic cathedrals in all their glory while Taton, Daumas and Lang fill in the lines left by Durant’s outline regarding the medieval attainments in science, technology, and that masculine-melancholy music that included the Gregorian chant that surrounds and deepens us with its flowing majesty.
11. Durant, vol. 5 ch. 1
45. Gibbon, ch. 70
17. Kleiner, ch. 19
11. Durant, vol. 5 chs. 2-6
17. Kleiner, ch. 21
11. Durant, vol. 5 chs. 7-19
15. Taton, vol. 2 part 1a chs. 1 and 3
16. Daumas, vol. 2 chs. 1-5
33. Copleston, vol. 3 chs. 13-14 and 20
54. Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince*
11. Durant, vol. 5 ch. 20
41. Lang, ch. 8
11. Durant, vol. 5 chs. 21-23
55. Benvenuto Cellini, Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, trans. J. A. Symonds
17. Kleiner, ch. 22
Then the Middle Ages melt away, and suddenly we stand before that full flowering of medieval art and thought, the Italian Renaissance. Durant devotes a full volume to those lusty Italians but those who feel a trifle more adventurous, a shade further inclined to examine the Renaissance in the land of its birth may pore over all seven volumes of John Addington Symond’s The Renaissance in Italy or if life nowadays is too hurried then perhaps the one volume of the same title by Burckhardt.
Here is a veritable marketplace of artistic and other genius. At Florence we enter the palace of the Medici, where Pico della Mirandola is burning candles before the bust of the rediscovered Plato, and a boy called Michelangelo is carving the figure of a toothless faun; at Rome we walk the marble floors of the Vatican with Julius II and Leo X, and watch them turning the wealth and poetry of the Church to the stimulation and nourishment of every art. Durant and Gardner’s opens to us the studios of Botticelli, Brunelleschi, Leonardo, Raphael and Michelangelo; also, Gardner’s rhapsodizes on this unprecedented efflorescence of painting, statutory, and ornament. Machiavelli will develop his own studio by having Caesar Borgia pose for the portrait of the ideal prince—here is a work that shows us how politics actually works as opposed to its ideals, and he amongst others renew man’s effort to understand the world with reason. Cellini abandons murder occasionally to cast his Perseus or to make a perfect vase. Additionally, Palestrina takes us aloft on the wings of song. A superlative era unfolds itself for us in every phase of its winnowed wealth.
11. Durant, vol. 6 chs. 1-7
33. Copleston, vol. 3 ch. 12
16. Daumas, vol. 2 ch. 24
11. Durant, vol. 6 chs. 8-9
11. Durant, vol. 6 chs. 10-13
15. Taton, vol. 1 part 3 ch. 1
16. Daumas, vol. 1 ch. 14 and vol. 2 ch. 16
17. Kleiner, chs. 14 and 32-33
11. Durant, vol. 6 ch. 14
33. Copleston, vol. 3 chs. 1-9 and chs. 11 and 15
11. Durant, vol. 6 chs. 15-30
15. Taton, vol. 3 part 6 ch. 4
57. Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddimah* trans. and
introduced by Franz Rosenthal, abridged and edited by N. J. Dawood
11. Durant, vol. 6 ch. 31
47. Hourani, chs. 13-15
6. Reader, chs. 28-35
11. Durant, vol. 6 chs. 32-34
41. Lang, ch. 9
11. Durant, vol. 6 ch. 35
58. Francois Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel
11. Durant, vol. 6 ch. 36
17. Kleiner, chs. 20 and 23
11. Durant, vol. 6 ch. 37
33. Copleston, vol. 3 chs. 10 and 17
15. Taton, vol. 2 part 1a ch. 2 and part 1b chs. 1-5
16. Daumas, vol. 2 chs. 6-9 and chs. 18-19
11. Durant, vol. 6 chs. 38-39
But Luther, coming down from the cold, stern North, does not like the licentious art of sunny Italy; and in a voice heard throughout the world he calls for the return of the Church to primitive asceticism and simplicity. The princes of Germany, using the religious revolt as an instrument of policy, separate their growing realms from the Papacy, establish a multitude of independent states, and inaugurate that dynastic nationalism which is the thread of European history from the Reformation to the Revolution. National consciousness replaces religious conscience, patriotism replaces piety, and every European people has for a century its own Renaissance. It is an age of political romance: Catherine de Medici and Henry VIII, who had Sir Thomas More, the man for all seasons, beheaded in the summer season; Charles V and Philip of the Armada, Elizabeth I and the earl of Essex, Mary Queen of Scots and her inextricable lovers, and Ivan the Terrible. It is an epoch of giants in literature: Chaucer’s Canterbury pilgrims, though on a pious mission, frolic with stories as earthy as Rabelais’ who himself riots with all the commandments and adjectives.
Columbus blunders across a hemisphere in search of gold, glory, and perhaps even God and “discovers” Indians who weren’t from India! These Indians however were no mere primitives; they had a mature culture of their own and Charles C. Mann itemizes their endeavors as they patiently awaited discovery by Europeans before being wholly absorbed by this alien culture from the west.The last gasp of Islam’s golden age is noted by the inclusion on our list of the first work on sociology and one of the greatest essays on historiography by Ibn Khaldun. Study it carefully for in this work a supreme scholar has distilled his wisdom on the rise, peak, and fall of every culture and of every civilization. It has been called “undoubtedly the greatest work of its kind that has ever yet been created by any mind in any time or place.” High praise indeed—this warrants a thorough reading. Suleiman the Magnificent provides excellent government for his people whilst threatening Europe and aiding the growth of the Reformation. He will henceforth represent the zenith (itself an Arabic word) of Islam’s last golden age.
11. Durants, vol. 7 chs. 1-4
59. William Shakespeare, Selected Works,* Sonnets 29, 30, 33, 55, 64, 66, 71, 97, 106, 117, 138, 144, and 147, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, Henry IV, Part 1, Henry IV Part 2, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, Hamlet, Othello, Timon of Athens, King Lear, Macbeth, Cymbeline, and The Tempest
11. Durants, vol. 7 chs. 5-7
33. Copleston, vol. 3 chs. 18-19
11. Durants, vol. 7 ch. 8
60. Charles and Mary Beard, The Rise of American Civilization, 2v. vol. 1 chs. 1-2
6. Reader, chs. 36-38
11. Durants, vol. 7 ch. 9
41. Lang, ch. 10
11. Durants, vol. 7 chs. 10-11
61. Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote* trans. John Ormsby
11. Durants, vol. 7 ch. 12
17. Kleiner, ch. 24
11. Durants, vol. 7 chs. 13-16
62. Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Essays of Montaigne* trans. Donald M. Frame, esp. Of Idleness, That to Philosophize is to Learn to Die, Of the Education of Children, Of Cannibals, Of the Custom of Wearing Clothing, Of Solitude, Of the Inequality that is Between Us, Of the Inconsistency of Our Actions, Of Giving the Lie, Of Repentence, Of Three Kinds of Association, Of Coaches, Of the Disadvantage of Greatness, Of Vanity, and Of Experience
11. Durants, vol. 7 chs. 17-18
17. Kleiner, ch. 25
11. Durants, vol. 7 chs. 19-22
15. Taton, vol. 2 part 2a chs. 1-2 and part 2b chs. 1-2
16. Daumas, vol. 2 chs. 10-11
11. Durants, vol. 7 ch. 23
33. Copleston, vol. 3 chs. 16 and 21-24 and vol. 4 chs. 1-6
63. Rene Descartes, Discourse on the Method
But the Reformation called forth its antithesis, a Counter-Reformation, precisely as Georg Hegel would predict, before settling down into a comfortable synthesis—Nationalism—in which almost every European people have for a century a golden age. In England we are ferried away by the Fairie Queen herself into England’s golden age, an age of giants in philosophy, literature, and exploration. Sir Francis Bacon, Lord Verulam, initiates modern philosophy and helps raise English prose to one of its highest reaches; the greatest literary giant of all is also one of the subjects of the Great Queen who produces for the Elizabethan stage the greatest of modern dramas. Ignore any who suggest that he was an aristocrat, hiding his literary productions to protect an ancient noble name from ignominy. He was not anything other than a middle class journeyman learning his craft a little at a time and we now believe that we can chart his development with a modicum of certainty with the wonderful tool developed by statisticians—stylometry! Not only can stylometry differentiate authors, it can predict when a work was written in an author’s career. And no one has had his work analyzed more so with it than William Shakespeare. Again ignore those who tell you that Shakespeare couldn’t write nonsense; he wrote reams of it. Therefore we shall entreat you to select only the best of it and pass on that which lacks sufficient merit. This proves that our Shakespeare was only too human and not what anti-Stratfordians want him to be—a tribal god. And yet Shakespeare is Shakespeare—pilfering plots, passages, phrases, lines anywhere, and yet the most original, distinctive, creative writer of all time.
As an ancillary to England’s greatest age of exploration her mariners chart a course for a piece of the new world and incidentally begin American history. Of course there were Americans before the English (q.v. Mann), but let us start our journey here with these lusty Elizabethans and begin our exploration into the depths of American history. We shall employ excellent guides, marvelous companions in those polymaths of American History, Charles and Mary Beard, whose two volume epic spans three hundred years of America’s presence on the world stage. Here is the acme of scholarship on early America that is both detailed yet accessible to the general reader. We shall read with the Beards all that America is and began from in The Rise of American Civilization hopefully enjoying our edification along the way.On the continent, Cervantes finds one hand sufficient for writing the greatest of all novels, and Lope de Vega composes eighteen hundred plays. A little further north Montaigne discusses affairs both public and privy in the greatest essays ever written and his fellow Frenchman begins the modern trend in epistemology by doubting everything but the doubter—cogito ergo sum. Descartes probably never intended for modern philosophy to be so embroiled in this sub-branch of philosophy to the exclusion of the other branches, but with this work for better or worse the great game of epistemology begins. However, it is far better for the reader to absorb every word of Montaigne than play with metaphysical legerdemain if one is to consider oneself truly educated. Besides these two Frenchmen, in philosophy it is the age of Giordano Bruno, that fiery Italian whose fire could not be quenched by all the snows of the Caucasus and his fellow countrymen Vanini and Campanella. In science it is the age of Galileo, Sir William Harvey—who did not discover the circulation of the blood—and Kepler, Galileo’s master. In art it the age of Rubens and Rembrandt, El Greco and Velasques, Poissin and Claude Lorrain. In summation, this is the beginning of the age of reason.
11. Durants, vol. 8 chs. 1-2
33. Copleston, vol. 4 ch. 7 and vol. 6 ch. 8
11. Durants, vol. 8 chs. 3-4
64. Moliere, Selected Plays, The School of Wives trans. Donald M. Frame, Tartuffe trans. Richard Wilbur, Don Juan, or the Stone Guest trans. Donald M. Frame, The Misanthrope trans. Richard Wilbur, The Doctor in Spite of Himself, The Miser, and The Would-be Gentleman trans. Donald M. Frame
11. Durants, vol. 8 chs. 5-8
11. Durants, vol. 8 chs. 9-11
66. Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels*
60. Beards, vol. 1 ch. 3
11. Durants, vol. 8 chs. 12-13
16. Daumas, vol. 3 part 9 ch. 1
11. Durants, vol. 8 chs. 14-15
41. Lang, ch. 11
11. Durants, vol. 8 chs. 16-18
16. Daumas, vol. 2 chs. 12-15 and 20-23
11. Durants, vol. 8 ch. 19
15. Taton, vol. 2 part 2a chs. 3-6 and part 2b chs. 3-4
33. Copleston, vol. 5 ch. 8
11. Durants, vol. 8 ch. 20
33. Copleston, vol 5 chs. 1-7 and 9-13
67. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan
11. Durants, vol. 8 ch. 21
33. Copleston, vol. 4 chs. 8-9 and vol. 6 ch. 1
11. Durants, vol. 8 ch. 22
33. Copleston, vol. 4 chs. 10-14
68. Baruch Spinoza, The Ethics
11. Durants, vol. 8 ch. 23
33. Copleston, vol. 4 chs. 15-18
11. Durants, vol. 8 ch. 24
We now pass quickly into the light of the Sun King and find ourselves illuminated by the irredescence of genius and mediocrity. Scholars are wont to say that after that brilliant coming of the age of reason Europe suffered a set-back and fell from the high level of the Renaissance. In a sense it is true: the seventeenth century is an epoch of religious conflict, the period of that Thirty Years's War which ruined Germany, and that Puritan Revolution which put an end for a century to the poetic and artistic exuberance of England. But even so consider the roster of that period. It is the time of the Three Musketeers: Richelieu and Mazarin strengthen the central government of France against the feudal barons, and bequeath a united and powerful state to Louis XIV as an organized medium of security and order for the fine flowering of French culture under Voltaire. La Rochefoucauld gives finished form to the cynicism of theaters and courts; Moliere fights with ridicule the hypocrisies and conceits of his people, and Pascal mingles, in passionate rhetoric, mathematics and piety. In England Milton writes flourishing prose and some tolerable verse, but we shall always be prepared to doubt when necessary the speeches he puts into the mouths of angels. And Jonathan Swift publishes at his leisure the most famous and savage satire ever directed at mankind—Gulliver's Travels. Read carefully here for the misanthropic Swift is writing about you, dear reader! Meanwhile, Thomas Hobbes is busy reformulating Machiavelli for the seventeenth century English, and on the continent Spinoza is completing the most precious production of modern philosophy. Read the Ethics once and then re-read it, for it will not be the same book the second time around. After you have completed the second reading, you will forever be a lover of philosophy. Leibniz writes philosophy also and contributes mightily to science too. But no one in the history of humanity did more for science than that polymath Sir Isaac Newton. His laws of motion still form the basis of the branch of physics called mechanics. See how he derives universal gravitation from his second law of motion and how we derive the principle of the jet engine from his third.
11. Durants, vol. 9 chs. 1-2
16. Daumas, vol. 2 ch. 17 and vol. 3 part 1 ch. 1
11. Durants, vol. 9 chs. 3-4
33. Copleston, vol. 5 chs. 14-18
11. Durants, vol. 9 chs. 5-6
60. Beards, vol. 1 ch. 4
11. Durants, vol. 9 chs. 7-9
17. Kleiner, ch. 29
11. Durants, vol. 9 chs. 10-11
11. Durants, vol. 9 ch. 12
33. Copleston, vol. 6 ch. 5
41. Lang, ch. 12
11. Durants, vol. 9 chs. 13-14
33. Copleston, vol. 6. ch. 9
69. Voltaire, Philosophy of History and Essay on the Manners and Spirit of Nations
11. Durants, vol. 9 chs. 15-16
16. Daumas, vol. 3 part 2 chs. 4-5
11. Durants. vol. 9 ch. 17
15. Taton, vol. 2 part 3
11. Durants, vol. 9 ch. 18
33. Copleston, vol. 6 ch. 2
11. Durants, vol. 9 chs. 19-22
11. Durants, vol. 9 ch. 23
But here we are at the eighteenth century, which scholars are wont to call the Enlightenment, and the Durants endearingly focus on Voltaire, for he was at its center and its distilled essence. We shall read selected works of the master but feel free, if you have the time or leisure, to read as much of Voltaire as you can tolerate. He is the soul of wit, and the spirit of mirth, (q.v. his Candide); a progressive thinker and a moral beacon. But he lives in an age of barbaric wars, albeit an age of advancing science and liberated philosophy; and out of that philosophy came the birth of a new nation dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal who could form and maintain a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. An age of baronial exploitation, fine manners, and such handsome dress as makes ours look like rags by comparison; Voltaire was the first to call his student Frederick II of Prussia “the Great” but he might have just as well called Maria Theresa “great” for she was one of several queens who in modern times have surpassed and shamed most kings. Together they dominate the political landscape of the age.
But above all this period is the prelude to the Industrial Revolution one of the twin pivots on which history rests; of course the first pivot was the Agricultural Revolution, but now man was finding a new sustenance from the earth, a novel approach to provision himself on this planet. With it England begins, but is followed rapidly by other nations, the major mode of production that remains with us today. The Industrial Revolution borne of a little science was stimulating science in return.
This age produces more than its share of scientific genius. In mathematics, Euler is the most versatile and prolific, while his protégé Lagrange writes the book that is the summit of the subject in the century. Lavoisier becomes the greatest chemist of all (as well as the namer of oxygen), while Laplace sums up in his observations, equations, and theories nearly all the starry science of his time. Linnaeus categorizes the trouser wearing chimpanzee as homo sapiens sapiens (wise wise man) though some members of the species are far from deserving such an appellation and his colleague Buffon becomes the greatest naturalist of the age. Priestly is the century’s most brilliant chemical experimentalist with his fruitful hypotheses and alert perceptions, however his fellow Englishmen shunned him, and being the good citizens that they were, made it clear to him that he was no longer welcome in Merrie England. England’s loss was America’s gain.
Neighboring Scotland, however, produces the Enlightenment for the British Isles in one David Hume for he was essentially all that a dozen philosophes were for France. He left behind Gibbon as his offspring in philosophy and his transcending disciple in history. He “awokened” Kant from his dogmatic slumber and died disbelieving in immortality. And yet the British people who stood in a driving rain to pay their last respects to the philosopher mourned him. Montesquieu is also a philosopher, albeit living south of the English channel, who conceives a climatic theory of history and left an influence on the framers of the American constitution to not only incorporate a separation of powers but also to exclude cabinet members from Congress; their writings were interspersed with quotations from him. His influence is far reaching, from Frederick the Great to Catherine the Great, from Gibbon to the moderate leaders of the French Revolution. At his funeral Diderot was in attendance, a man possessing a kaleidascopic mind, many virtues and every fault each taking its turn on the stage of his life. But Diderot’s stature in history seems to grow as time recedes and his shadow grows ever longer over the eighteenth century and its Enlightenment. In philosophy, he began with Locke, turned back to Leibniz and held out a hand to Kant. Meanwhile, Helvétius moves men to thought and action with his own powerful ideas and D’Holbach (who was at Helvétius’s bedside as he died) becomes the best loved of all the Enlightenment philosophes probably because he wrote the most thorough and forthright exposition of materialism and atheism in all the history of philosophy. Finally, the period includes the lonely priest Meslier, who only spoke freely to his manuscript, and encapsulated the age’s irreligiosity by recklessly, without any wide knowledge of the nature of man, pouring out his resentment in the most complete antireligious declaration that even this age would ever know. But under these elites of course, the great masses of humanity in Europe continued to believe, hope, and pray to the only God they had ever known. No amount of atheist ink swayed them from their cherished faith.
But the outstanding event in the literary history of this period is the rise of the modern novel. Samuel Richardson inaugurates the new novel, Henry Fielding (who had everything but money) established the realistic novel of manners and Tobias Smollet whose characterizations are less striking than Fielding’s but more complex completed the triumvirate of English novelists who described mid-eighteenth England more fully and graphically than any historian. In art, William Hogarth, the prolific engraver and illustrator, transforms caricature into an art form and loved his England by excoriating it in engravings. It is, however, the triumph of rococo that marks the period. The sublime gave place to the delightful, the dignified to the graceful, and the grandeur of size to the charm of elegance. Rococo was the art of an epicurean moneyed minority eager to enjoy every pleasure before the disappearance of its fragile world in an anticipated deluge of change.And in music Bach is born. Johann Sebastian Bach is one of the Olympians closest to Jove; and you must not rest until your body and soul have trembled with the rhythmic majesty of the Mass in B Minor, and the Passion According to St. Matthew. With the old organist of Arnstadt and everywhere, who had time between masterpieces to have twenty children, classical music reaches one of its twin dominating peaks; not till the mad Beethoven will it scale such a height again. The eighteenth century is full of noble melody: Handel dispenses oratorios and musicians tell us that in these neglected oratorios there is a solemn grandeur, a sublimity of feeling, a power of conception, expression, and drama, a variety and skill in compositional technique, never again reached in the literature of that form.
11. Durants, vol. 10 ch. 1
33. Copleston, vol. 6 chs. 3-4
70. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Selected Works, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality
11. Durants, vol. 10 chs. 2-7
70. Rousseau, The Social Contract
11. Durants, vol. 10 chs. 8-15
41. Lang, ch. 13
11. Durants, vol. 10 chs. 16-20
33. Copleston, vol. 6 ch. 6
11. Durants, vol. 10 ch. 21
33. Copleston, vol. 6 chs. 10-17
11. Durants, vol. 10 ch. 22
33. Copleston, vol. 6 ch. 7
11. Durants, vol. 10 chs. 23-24
71. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust*
11. Durants, vol. 10 chs. 25-27
16. Daumas, vol. 3 part 1 chs. 2-3, part 2 chs. 1-2, and part 7 chs. 1-4
11. Durants, vol. 10 chs. 28-30
41. Lang, ch. 14
11. Durants, vol. 10 chs. 31-33
72. James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson
11. Durants, vol. 10 ch. 34
60. Beards, vol. 1 chs. 5-8
33. Copleston, vol. 8 ch. 11
11. Durants, vol. 10 chs. 35-37
16. Daumas, vol. 3 part 3 ch. 5
11. Durants, vol. 10 ch. 38
15. Taton, vol. 2 part 4 ch. 3
But now revolution was in the air! “Those who have not lived before 1789,” said that brilliant piece of “mud in a silk stocking,” as Napolean called Tallyrand, “have never known the full happiness of life.” The American colonies had declared their independence in 1776 and now feudal France was collapsing. To men such as Tallyrand it must have felt as if the world had turned upside down . . . and it had. It probably began with the Seven Years’s War the results of which were immense and enduring. It “made” the British Empire, and resulted in the rise of Prussia as a first rate power. It advanced the Industrial Revolution and market capitalism and moved many to react against the religious beliefs heretofore held. One of whom was Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and we shall see how he wanders through many faiths before returning to Calvinism and develops his own distinct philosophy along the way.
For first of all, of course, he becomes the father of the Romantic movement. Some breath of the Rousseauian afflatus even reaches art. Literature surrenders almost en masse to Rousseau and the Romantic wave, and half the philosophy of the century between Rousseau’s La Nouvelle Heloise (1761) and Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859) is colored with the revolt of Rousseau against the rationalism of the Enlightenment. Religion begins by banning Rousseau, and goes on to use him as its savior. Only recently did we politically emerge from the age of Rousseau. For the success of the American Revolution raised the prestige of Rousseau’s political philosophy. The more fortunate among the philosophes died before the Revolution, comforted by a hundred signs that their ideas were approaching victory. Louis XVI, seeing the works of Voltaire and Rousseau in his prison cell, remarked: “those two men have destroyed France,” when he should have said that they destroyed despotism. But even we can forgive a king his petty mistakes. The philosophers provide the ideological preparation for the Revolutions. The causes were economic or political, the phrases were philosophical, and the operation of the basic causes was smoothed by the demolition work of the philosophers in removing such obstacles to change as belief in feudal privileges, ecclesiastical authority, and the divine right of kings.
Meanwhile, the rest of Europe was undergoing its own transformations: the Marques de Pombal becomes the greatest and most terrible minister who ever governed Portugal, and Charles III is accounted by many as, if not the greatest, certainly the most beneficent king that Spain had ever had. And Francisco de Goya y Lucientes paints the pains and griefs, the joys and loves, of Spanish life. Catherine the Great and her succession of lovers rule Russia with an iron hand but she nearly manages to equal Elizabeth I in the success of her rule and her results on history. Whilst Frederick the Great, the most thorough of skeptics, forgets for a moment to be skeptical of skepticism.
But Frederick’s Germany allows many thinkers to flourish. First amongst equals is Immanuel Kant for he offers to philosophy and psychology the most painstaking analysis of the knowledge process that history has ever known; Schiller buries himself for a while in Kant’s tomes, writes a letter of homage to their author, and, in his prose essays, achieves an almost Kantian obscurity. Herder is, by geography and Baltic mists, akin to Immanuel Kant whilst that soul of Germany, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, runs a full gamut of experience, absorbing all that life, love, and letters could give him, and returning it gratefully in wisdom and art. Goethe’s masterpiece Faust is a magnificent opus about the struggle of the soul toward understanding and beauty, the defeat of the soul by the brevity of beauty and the elusiveness of truth, and the peace obtainable by the soul through narrowing the goal and broadening the self. This work must be read carefully. It ends happily, though the source and inspiration for it did not, for modern man cannot stomach a tragedy and even his “tragedies” must conclude happily! Moses Mendelssohn is also a denizen of this period—a friend and opponent of Kant, friend and inspirer of Lessing, grandfather of Felix Mendelssohn and one of the noblest figures of the eighteenth century. When will Germany see such an age again?
But across the North Sea in England the Industrial Revolution was accelerating in earnest, for the most important secular event in the last ten millennia is still proceeding today, and it is beyond the capacity of one mind to comprehend it in all its facets, or to pass moral judgment upon its results. It has begotten new quantities and varieties of crime, and it has inspired scientists with all the heroic dedication of missionaries and nuns. It has produced ugly buildings, dismal streets, and squalid slums, but these were not derived from its essence, which is to replace human labor with mechanical power. It is already attacking its own evils, for it has found that slums cost more than education, and that the reduction of poverty enriches the rich. In summary, it has been the boon to mankind that the earlier Agricultural Revolution had been and more. We shall see when we come to read Charles Wheelan’s opus how its benefits can more fully be bestowed on all of humanity.
Amidst the creation of all this new machinery, England had a literary and artistic flowering. James Boswell makes amends for his defects by worshiping in others the excellence that he could not achieve for himself: by attending upon them humbly, by remembering their words and deeds, and, at last, with no minor artistry, placing them in an order and a light that made an unrivaled picture of a man and an age. Commonly acknowledged as the biography par excellance of all time Life of Samuel Johnson makes our list on these merits. Edward Gibbon—the finest historian of all time—writes, in Sheridan’s words, with a style as luminous as irony would, and that shed light wherever it turned, except where prejudice darkened his view. Wedgewood insists on perfection for his pottery and through Reynolds, Gainsborough, and Romney England was now in painting as well as politics and literature, in the full stream of European civilization.
In the music of this era, Hayden develops the sonata and the symphony; Gluck makes a noble accompaniment for Iphigenia’s sacrifice, and Mozart, out of his sadness and his happiness, weaves such a concourse of sweet sound as makes all later compositions seem chaotic and discordant. If you wish to know “absolute music”—music relying not on stories, or pictures, or ideas, but on its own “meaningless” beauty—turn on your DVD player and play the Andante from Mozart’s Quartet in D Major.
11. Durants, vol. 11 chs. 1-8
16. Daumas, vol. 3 part 4 chs. 1-5
11. Durants, vol. 11 chs. 9-12
17. Kleiner, ch. 30
11. Durants, vol. 11 chs. 13-14
33. Copleston, vol. 9 chs. 1-4
11. Durants, vol. 11 ch. 15
16. Daumas, vol. 3 part 2 ch. 3 and part 3 chs. 1-4
11. Durants, vol. 11 ch. 16
11. Durants, vol. 11 chs. 17-19
33. Copleston, vol. 8 ch. 1
11. Durants, vol. 11 chs. 20-28
41. Lang, ch. 15
11. Durants, vol. 11 chs. 29-30
33. Copleston, vol. 7 ch. 8
11. Durants, vol. 11 chs. 31-32
33. Copleston, vol. 7 chs. 1-7 and chs. 9-11
11. Durants. vol. 11 chs. 33-39
And finally the French Revolution comes, for the American Revolution had given added prestige to republican ideas. Aristocracy is guillotined, art and manners droop, truth replaces beauty, and science remakes the world nearer to its head’s desire. As the eighteenth century had been the age of theoretical mechanics and physics, and the next was the era of their victory in action, so the nineteenth century was the age of theoretical biology and the twentieth saw their triumphant operation from the discovery of “wonder” drugs to the advent of genetic engineering. New conceptions of the nature of development and man dominated the scientific scene, and precipitated a war of faiths that has unsettled and saddened the Western mind.
We cannot doubt but that the philosophers of this century profoundly affected the ideology and the political drama of the Revolution. They had not intended to produce violence, massacres, and the guillotine; they would have shrunk in horror from those bloody scenes. They could properly say that they had been cruelly misunderstood; but they were responsible insofar as they had underestimated the influence of religion and tradition in restraining the animal instincts of mankind. Meanwhile, under those striking pronouncements and visible events, the real revolution was proceeding, as the middle classes, using philosophy as one among a hundred instruments, took from the aristocracy and the king the control of the economy and the state.
The century that followed is one poor in sculpture, despite the unfinished Rodin, and a century full of dubious experiments in painting, from Turner’s sunsets to Whistler’s rain; but in music, strange to say (for who could have expected it in an age of machines?), it out-sang every other epoch in history. Here is Beethoven, passing with the turn of the century from the Mozartian simplicity of his early works through the power of the Eroica, the perfection of the Fifth Symphony, and the subtle delicacy of the Emperor Concerto and the Kreutzer Sonata to the mad exuberance of the later sonatas and the Choral Symphony; here is Schubert, infinite store of melody, leaving unsung masterpieces by the hundred in his attic; here is the misty-melancholy Schumann, center of one of the finest love-stories in truth or fiction; here is Johannes Brahms, looking like a butcher and composing like an angel, weaving harmonies profounder than any of Schumann, and yet so loyal to his memory that, though loving with full devotion the mad musician’s widow (the greatest woman pianist of her time), and protecting her for forty years, he never dared to ask her hand in marriage. What a dynasty of suffering—from the dying Beethoven shaking his fist at fate, through Schubert drunk and Schumann insane, through Chopin hunted by tubercle bacilli and deserted by George Sand, to Richard Wagner, genius and charlatan, who bore indignities for half a century, and then made German kings and princes pay the piper at Bayreuth! Happier was Mendelssohn, who was too kind and simple to suffer much; and Liszt who drank fame to the last drop, till all his life was intoxication with glory; and Rossini, who preferred cooking spaghetti to composing The Barber of Seville; and genial Verdi, living on his Fortunatus’s purse of melody, and putting a barrel-organ into every opera house in Europe. But when we pass to Russia it is melancholy that strums the strings again: the broken Moussorgsky sings of death, and the pathetic Tschaikowsky, breaking his heart over a Venus of the opera, ends his life with a cup of poison. (We may be sure of this, since all respectable historians deny it).Apparently beauty is born in suffering, and wisdom is the child of grief. The philosophers of the nineteenth century were almost as unhappy as the composers; they began with Schopenhauer, who wrote an encyclopedia of misery, and ended with Nietzsche, who loved life because it was a tragedy, but went insane with the thought that he might have to live again. What a pitiful sight, once more, is the invalid Buckle, who never had a healthy moment in his life, and died at forty-one before he could complete even the Introduction to his History of Civilization in England! The only sound man in all the list of nineteenth century genius was old Goethe, who differed from Shelley by growing up. The only other mind comparable to Goethe’s in this age was that of Napoleon, powerful instrument of imagination, energy and will; let the Durants detail his story in one full volume for which they came out of retirement to pen. Along the way we shall entreat you to read the opening volley in the Feminist Manifestos by such a woman as Mary Wollstonecraft, who insisted that women could be the equal of men and were not inferior to them in anything save their lack of educational opportunities, before the Durant Story meanders to an end.
74. Eduard Fueter, World History, 1815-1920, chs. 1-3
16. Daumas, vol. 3 part 6 chs. 1-4
74. Fueter, chs. 4-23
60. Beards, vol. 1 chs. 9-16
75. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emerson: Essays and Lectures*
33. Copleston, vol. 7 chs. 12-20, vol. 8 chs. 2-7, and vol. 9 chs. 5-8
16. Daumas, vol. 3 part 8 chs. 1-3
74. Fueter, ch. 24
60. Beards, vol. 2 chs. 1-2
74. Fueter, chs. 25-28
78. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
41. Lang, chs. 16-18
74. Fueter, chs. 29-33
33. Copleston, vol. 7 chs. 21-23
33. Copleston, vol. 8 chs. 8-10 and vol. 9 chs. 11-13
15. Taton, vol. 3 parts 1-5 and part 6 chs. 1-2
16. Daumas, vol. 3 part 5 chs. 1-2
17. Kleiner, ch. 31
41. Lang, ch. 19
47. Hourani, chs. 16-18
6. Reader, chs. 39-49
80. Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart
17. Kleiner, ch. 34
60. Beards, vol. 2 chs. 3-11
81. Vine Deloria, Jr., Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto
33. Copleston, vol. 8 chs. 12-16
82. Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams*
3. Asimov, ch. 9
15. Taton, vol. 3 part 6 ch. 3 and vol. 4 part 2 ch. 8
16. Daumas, vol. 3 part 9 ch. 2 and part 3 ch. 6
83. Matthew Josephson, Edison*
But as runners passing a baton the Durants here “cease to say their permitted say” and hand off to Edward Fueter, the Swiss historian, who will conduct us through the history of the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with all the impartial neutrality of the Swiss. It is not artistry here that we receive but a documentation of an era; we shall miss the humor of the Durants from this point on, the sharp turn of phrase, the summation of complex data in a paragraph, and erudition—in short the wisdom—but we shall continue albeit with substitute guides from here on in our journey.
Does the list slight America? But remember our youth; we have but lately passed from pioneering to commercialism, and are just beginning to emerge from commercialism into art. Thoreau is a stage in every full life, voice of that Return-to-Nature fever which burns in the blood of every youth who protests against being too quickly civilized. Emerson is a trifle thin today, and there is almost as little meat in him as in Thoreau; but those who study style must stay with him for a time.
But the master of nineteenth century American style, however, was Abraham Lincoln. With a rough hewn wisdom borne of suffering, possessed of an eloquent turn of phrase, and a depth of wisdom that the ages can revere, here was the greatest American to ever live or who ever will live. It is the glory of America that he (like Truman after him) was a common man in the best sense of the term. They were neither inheritors of a noble title nor holders of a family estate; rather they had to earn their daily bread by serving their fellow citizens. America allowed a man to rise to his full capacity regardless of the achievements of his ancestors or lack thereof; men such as these rubbed elbows with their fellow citizens and knew America from the ground up. And Lincoln became the linchpin holding these United States together at a time that a lesser man would have accepted the fate decreed for the young union of tearing itself apart in sectional conflict. Lincoln, through sheer force of character and will, held it together. His visage suffered through these war years and wrote lines across his face that reflected the grief his country was going through—witness his portraits through the war for yourself to see the changes. Perhaps the ugliest man in America at the time of his election to its highest office, he had its most beautiful soul. Laozi says somewhere that before the hour of the great man has sounded on the clock of fate he is hampered in all he attempts; but once the hour has struck he rises to his destiny and fulfills his greatness. Before 1860 he was a moderately successful lawyer and one term congressman from Illinois who lost his seat due to his opposition to the “wicked” Mexican war; after 1860 the hour had struck—for both him and his wounded nation . . . the rest is history.
The Beards due more than an adequate job detailing the Civil War, and Fueter narrates the same war in his volume as well as what was happening outside the United States. With him we cross over to Russia and wander without hurry to the peak of the mountain range of Russian literature. Here we shall entreat you to read the greatest novel ever written: Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. It is in Dostoyevsky that we find our secret hearts revealed, and our secret longing understood. Leaving Russia we shall ask you to summon the will to power through Nietzsche’s best works before returning back to America again. But before doing so, we shall sample of the archetypal African novel in English Things Fall Apart, and partake of a taste of late nineteenth century African culture.
But before leaving these nineteenth century Americans, possessed of every virtue but self-restraint, we shall read the biography of the father of our machine age: Thomas Alva Edison. Read Josephson carefully, and if you don’t shed a tear when he finishes the final scene in his masterful biography, then perhaps you left your heart with your other less valuable possessions at the safe deposit box. Edison invented our modern world, everything from the incandescent light, and the phonograph, to the improved telephone and motion picture camera. Of course he had help, but it is largely his own efforts that made the difference. Along the way he discovers electronics and the world is never the same again. He passes on a good word to Ford about the “new” internal-combustion engine and spurs General Electric from a tiny company to a world conglomerate, whilst fighting with the mad genius Tesla. As all great men, he managed everything well but his family. But even they made a show of sadness at his funeral and joined presidents and industrialists, commoners and millionaires at his memorial. A world without Edison may not have left us in the “dark” but he certainly left the world a brighter place.
83. George Constable and Bob Somerville, A Century of Innovation: Twenty Engineering Achievements That Transformed Our Lives, chaps. 1, 5-6, 9, 2, 17, and 3
74. Fueter, chap. 34
60. Beards, vol. 2 chaps. 12-15
83. Constable and Somerville, chaps. 4, 7, 10, and 15
84. Paul Johnson, Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Year 2000, chaps. 1-9
47. Hourani, chaps. 19-20
11. Durant, vol. 1 chap. 22
85. Mahatma Gandhi, The Story of My Experiments with Truth: An Autobiography
15. Taton, vol. 4 part 6 chap. 6
11. Durants, Interpretations of Life: A Survey of Contemporary Literature,* chaps. 1-9 and 14-15
33. Copleston, vol. 8 chaps. 17-21 and vol. 9 chaps. 9-10
17. Kleiner, chap. 35
41. Lang, chap. 20
11. Durant, vol. 1 chaps. 27 and 31
15. Taton, vol. 3 part 6 chaps. 5-6 and vol. 4 part 6 chaps. 7-8
84. Johnson, chaps. 10-12
86. Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, Farewell to Manzanar
3. Asimov, chaps. 7-8 and 10
15. Taton, vol. 4 part 2 chaps. 1-2 and 9
83. Constable and Somerville, chap. 19
87. Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb
84. Johnson, chaps. 13-14
11. Durants, Interpretations of Life, chaps. 10-13
33. Copleston, vol. 7 chap. 17 and vol. 9 chaps. 14-18
83. Constable and Somerville, chap. 11
11. Durants, Interpretations of Life, chaps. 16-17
88. George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four
84. Johnson, chap. 16
89. Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai
84. Johnson, chaps. 17-18
90. Truman Capote, In Cold Blood
91. Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff*
83. Constable and Somerville, chap. 12
92. Malcolm X (as told to Alex Haley), The Autobiography of Malcolm X
93. Vine Deloria, Jr., Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto
47. Hourani, chaps. 21-26
15. Taton, vol. 4 part 6 chap. 5
94. Edward Said, Orientalism
95. Anwar Sadat, In Search of Identity
84. Johnson, chap. 15
6. Reader, chaps. 50-55
84. Johnson, chaps. 19-20
96. Charles J. Wheelan, Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science, fully revised and updated
15. Taton, vol. 4 part 1, part 2 chaps. 3-7 and 10, parts 3-5, and part 6 chaps. 1-4 and 9
97. Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
83. Constable and Somerville, chaps. 14, 16, 18, 20, 8, and 13
17. Kleiner, chap. 36
98. Dave Marsh, The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made
99. Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People
11. Durants, The Lessons of History
100. Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space
And so we come to our own age, which we are provincially naive enough to call “modern” for in a mere thousand years from now we will probably be classified together with the medievals as all one Middle Age. Nevertheless, this age is the age of electricity and Gotterdammerung (If not the twilight of the “gods” then perhaps the moderate dimming of faith!); the age of two world wars to end all wars, the establishment of the Nobel prizes—including the greatest one of peace—and yet the bloodiest time in human history. It is an age of intellectual and moral change more rapid and fundamental than any epoch that history has ever known. We shall start with Constable and Somerville’s précis of the twentieth century’s greatest accomplishment—engineering. We have parsed the book so as to read as logical as possible for our purposes; hence we start where Edison left off—the electrification of the world and proceed to other ancillary fields such as the electronics industry and its spin-offs radio, television, and telephony, all mightily aided by Edison and his erstwhile partner Tesla. Edison immeasurably encouraged Henry Ford to pursue the “hydrocarbon” engine, despite his own attempts at developing an electric one. Constable and Somerville recount the stages in the automobile’s twentieth century development more than adequately as well as the connected field of petroleum technology. Again, the wizard of Menlo Park touched upon all of this but Constable and Somerville summarize their further developments through the remainder of the century.
The German philosopher Oswald Spengler would have it that Western civilization is dying; if it is so, it is only because of that passion for power, and that addiction to war, which he admires with all the envy of the intellectual who thinks that he was born for action. Let Fueter and the Beards bare for us the origins of World War I, that we may see how base these envied glories are in their origin, and how filthy in their result; what does it profit a nation to conquer her neighbors but lose her soul to future unsympathetic historians! Let our children read Fueter and the Beards too, that they may learn how wars are made, and how men may in a few short years retrace nearly all the steps that mankind has slowly climbed, through five thousand years, from savagery to civilization. These are sad chapters, but by the time we reach this stage of our education we shall be strong enough to face truth without anesthesia. In any case, Paul Johnson, polymath and former journalist, will remind us in Modern Times (the greatest single volume history of the twentieth century from 1919 to 2000) that the First World War was but a prelude to all the other wars and served only as a dress rehearsal for the real political dramas that would follow in this century.
From the Great War we pass to a man of peace; we shall read his autobiography and spend a time with the Mahatma i.e. the Great Soul, for great soul he was. He lived ascetically avoiding most food, fasting weeks on end, even carrying his abstemiousness to sex, living with his wife as with a sister. He did not mouth the name of Christ, but he acted as if he accepted every word of the Sermon on the Mount—and he expected his fellow countrymen to follow suit—and largely they tried! It was his task to unite India against the British occupation, and he accomplished it, all non-violently. This lesson that Gandhi had learned from Thoreau was to be taught to King and others after KIng. It bears repeating in every generation.
Let us then reunite with the Durants and peruse their volume on twentieth century literature and philosophy. Interpretations of Life is an expansion from the notes of a lifetime of reading modern literature; the Durants write here in an informal and anecdotal style that is designed to inform the reader of the trends of modern writing. It is an easy read, and moreover, provides a tremendous amount of information per page that will stick with us long after we have set down this book. As the philosophy of one age is the usually the literature of the next, we here get an outline of that glorious nineteenth century’s thought in reverberation in the twentieth and perhaps a prophecy of twenty-first century literature.
However, the clouds of war gathered again and the planet was plunged into a Second World War that made the First pale in comparison. The hate remained the same, but the weaponry far outstripped the predecessor War in superior killing power. These are sad pages to meander through, though Johnson narrates the more substantial events during the War if one is inclined Studs Terkel’s The Good War: An Oral History of World War Two can be used, but only if one has the leisure to spend on it, as a supplement. Churchill also wrote a history of the war from the perspective of one who helped create it but it too can be dispensed with if time is fleeting. One of the lessons of this war (the most horrifying one) is that that which separates man from beast is a very thin line indeed; and ever so easily is he willing to go to the extreme of genocide to extirpate his enemies. If the extreme of genocide wasn’t followed then the degradation and humiliation of concentration camps was almost as bad. We shall overlook the more famous Diary of Anne Frank and instead read from Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston’s Farewell to Manzanar for it is one thing to convince ourselves that Nazi’s were brutes and savages but most to this day do not believe that good Americans also behaved atrociously during the War. Albeit no one was systematically killed in the American camps, the thousand daily indignities and abominations were enough to soil the nation that allowed it to occur. Beginning with Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066 in February 1942, the Japanese-American experience is marred with internment, prejudice, and grief. Thirty years later we join Wakatsuki Houston as she returns to the camp to realize she hadn’t dreamt the whole thing. Rather, it was to be America’s nightmare that it allowed any of this to take place. Those who have not studied history, said Santayana, are condemned to repeat it. Let us continue to study history: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
But there were those who thought that with an atomic or hydrogen weapon they could frighten the world into accepting their dogmatic doctrines. From this launch point Orwell draws his anti-utopia, his dread fear of a world communist state with its “newspeak,” terror of the truth, thought police, and ever-present/omnipresent image of Big Brother. Here the state controls thought by limiting the words that can be expressed—no word therefore no thought. We now know better, but it is significant that in Orwell’s time they believed it and rightfully recoiled from such tyranny. Here is a state where even sexuality is used for the benefit of the Party. “Unlawful” sexual contact is a political act—tantamount to rebellion. He did not prophecy what would happen but what could happen if we weren’t carefully vigilant. Orwell’s warning is clear: Winston, the protagonist, broken by the coercive powers of the state, welcomed his own defeat and at last “loved” Big Brother. If you still think that Big Brother was fictitious then you haven’t lived in the Modern Age. But Orwell’s nightmarish state was not the only such entity: let Nien Cheng tell of her sufferings through Mao’s “cultural revolution.” She was held for six and half years on trumped up charges, but she held her sanity and watched her guards to collect clues on the political winds blowing on the outside. This tale of her will to survive emboldens us all to believe that the human spirit is made from far stronger stuff than we conceive of in our darker hours.
Returning to America, amidst the post-war prosperity Americans settle down to a new form of “normalcy.” However not all is normal; in the aftermath of a horrific murder of a farm family in Kansas, Truman Capote investigated the crime and published the results in what became his own creation: the “Nonfiction novel.” His scrupulous adhering to details allows the characters of this macabre scene to tell the story resulting in the best true-crime novel from the onset of the genre. But it is Tom Wolfe who nearly “perfects” the nonfiction novel in the New Journalism movement. Wolfe’s opus is a magnificent tour-de-force of the beginnings of the American Space program, as well as contributing a phrase to the English lexicon. Read the first chapter, and then read it again, for opening chapters this is nearly at the level of Mt. Olympus. Picture the images in your mind, as Wolfe’s melodic prose flows and sways across the page. The opening sentence is telling and repeats itself in the mind: “Within five minutes, or ten minutes, no more than that, three of the others had called her on the telephone to ask her if she had heard that something had happened out there.” It sets the scene for the entire work perfectly, and this work must not be missed.
From the heavens above we come down to the earth below and meander with the great Malcolm X. Everyone knows his story: born Malcolm Little in 1925 he found himself arrested and imprisoned for burglary. Whilst in prison, this erstwhile street punk learns of Islam and is never the same again. Rising upon his release to become a major figure in the nascent civil rights movement he ends up playing Moses to Martin Luther King’s Jesus. But heretofore Malcolm was preaching about the “devil white man” and had lost the central tenet of Islam—God’s mercy for all his creations. After his pilgrimage to Mecca he sees that Muslims come in every race and form, worship together peacefully, and that racism has no place in Islam. He promptly leaves the Nation of Islam and joins traditional Islam, after-which he is a marked man by the thugs that run the Nation. We can compare his story to that of a Greek tragedy or the Shakespearian drama; a flawed man consumed in anger finds redemption by forgiving even his enemies and meets a violent end from those who do not share his vision. His fate is preordained. It is a tale we shall return to when we read from Anwar Sadat’s autobiography. It is the recurring lesson mankind must always learn anew in each generation.
The 1960s civil rights movement spawned another branch that was largely overlooked by mainstream America. Vine Deloria entices us to see anew the American Indians, whom Europeans blundered across while trying to plunder Asia, as worthy of self-determination, possessed of a mature culture, and much more than stereotypical brutes. It is a starting point from which we can examine any native/indigenous culture who lost land to “civilized” settlers and who nevertheless rose up and proved themselves worthy of note.
Do you wish to know how well (or badly) the West has “covered” the East? Let Edward Said usher us into a thorough analysis of this subject in his signature contribution to scholarship. Here it is that a great scholar has dismantled the myth of the East and shown it to be what it is: a worthless stereotype. Said spent his life speaking truth to power and finally triumphed. The powerful began to see the world as more than one-dimensional and the powerless began to see themselves as empowered. And no one could have been more empowered than Anwar Sadat. Twice imprisoned for revolutionary activity in pre-revolution Egypt, he rose to be named Time magazine’s Man of the Year in 1977. But the path from the one to the other was long and it would be a mistake to place him under the rubric of saint. But whatever sins he committed he made up for by his triumphs. He makes our list for any number of reasons but foremost because it is he that we recognize as the first who broke down the wall of the Cold War, years before Gorbachev’s initiatives and rapprochement with the West. If he had been a “typical” leader, of east or west, he could have accepted the status quo, but he took the harder road and went to Jerusalem when others warned him that such a move was dangerous. He went and changed the world, for unlike Nixon’s trip to China, this was a sincere attempt to negotiate with one’s enemies as opposed to a cynical ploy to draw attention away from one’s political rivals during an election campaign. Was Sadat wise in going to Jerusalem? In the short term no, but in the long run very much so. Finally, when we think of Islam, this is the figure that we should conjure to mind—not fanatics, lunatics, and violent extremists. He reminds us that the once golden age of Islam can and will be again.
We complete our list with a few volumes that are, or should be, required reading in the Modern Age. To begin with, economics is vital to life and particularly in the Modern Age. Charles Wheelan’s Naked Economics does just what the title says: exposes, by undressing, the myths associated with the dismal science. Influenced by economists Gary Becker and Milton Friedman, Wheelan lays down 11 principles of economics in his twelve chapters. Ranging from the power of markets, to the effects of government, to the overwhelming power of productivity and human capital, to how a banking system works, and the extremely important role that trade and globalization play in world economic development. It is refreshing that this book takes neither a liberal nor conservative bias—it is a summation of what works in economics, why it works, and how all is intricately interrelated. Perhaps if we were all versed in its principles there would be less nonsense spoken in the field and more results in output. But alas. . . .
The increasingly important part that environmental stewardship is playing in the Modern Age is reflected by the inclusion of Rachel Carson’s monumental and influential Silent Spring. Here is a treatise that states, almost mathematically, that what we do to the environment we do to ourselves—a pithy lesson in wisdom taught by many indigenous cultures globally. And it is here that we find the beginnings of the environmental movement worldwide that has done so much good and some bad. Another worldwide movement that has done some good and a lot of bad is of course Rock and Roll. And we delve into the world of Rock and Soul with Dave Marsh. He enumerates the 1001 greatest singles from the latter half of the twentieth century and of course they serve only to stimulate debate. Even so, they do form an adequate cross-section of the music of the period and as such should be an excellent introduction to the music of the Modern Age. However, at times we get the feeling that the increasing amount of melanin in an artist’s skin warranted a higher placing on his list, but of course there’s no proving such and assertion! His book serves as the starting point of many an evening’s enjoyment of some truly wonderful music.
Perhaps we should not have left it to this late in our list (but where else could we have placed it?) to include How to Win Friends and Influence People. Nevertheless, no one need consider himself/herself educated without shoring up his or her “emotional quotient” and that is best done with the aid of Dale Carnegie who almost single handedly started the self-help movement. This self-help phenomena is essentially common sense, but then who was it that said common sense isn’t so common? If you wish to “win friends and influence people” then 1) never criticize, condemn or complain 2) make other people feel important and 3) frame requests in what other people find motivating. Simple! With these principles in mind we can manage the most difficult process in the world—human relations.
And with that phrase still ringing in our heads, we return to the Durants who survey over fifty centuries, or assess five millennia, of human relations as it regards the progress, or lack thereof, of civilization in The Lessons of History. It forms the supplement to the colossal Story of Civilization. The Durants compiled these lessons, not as a summary of the past, but as a guidepost to the future. Everything changes but man and woman and in these lessons one can see in outline what has and will occur again.
And what are lessons of history? To begin with, freedom and equality are adversaries; when one rises the other falls. For the most part the poor have the same impulses as the rich but lack the skills or simply the opportunity to implement them. Every vice in modern man was once a virtue indispensable to the survival of man’s remote ancestors. Furthermore, before our age, there was never an instance of a society maintaining moral order without the prop of religion and even in our age religion is still the most important factor in maintaining the moral order. Economically speaking, laissez-faire capitalism, due to human corruptibility and government incompetence, is the best example of an economic system, though it requires a periodic interruption to redistribute the accumulated wealth, and that globalization is inevitable through history. Most governments have been and will continue to be oligarchies: whether in the form of aristocracies of birth, theocracies of a religious organization, or rule of an oligarchy of wealth—as in democracy. But if one must practice democracy one should be aware that it is the most difficult of all forms of government because it relies on the widespread diffusion of education in the electorate, and throughout history it has always been more expedient to breed illiterates than to educate all equally. Though humans cannot be forcibly equalized, nature sees to that, their access to education and opportunity must be made more nearly equal. Additionally, history teaches us that war is an ever-present state of the human condition, despite religions, philosophies, and organizations all implacably opposed to it. It is part of the warp and weft of the human fabric. As a corollary, nations encourage nationalism, and the obverse—hatred of other nations—because they foresee a time when they may be at war with others. More optimistically, the Durants surmise that progress is real—if we define progress as the increasing control over the environment by mankind. They hold that civilization (the transmission of our mental, moral, technical, and aesthetic heritage) progresses but is never inherited; it must be learned by each generation anew. It serves for the enlargement of man’s understanding, control, embellishment, and enjoyment of life. In summary, this is a book that is meant to be studied and not just read. It contains in nutshell the conclusions of five thousand years of history.
But what of the next five thousand years, or more? Who will venture to go there and tell us what lies in wait for the human family in our future? Why Carl Sagan of course. It is Sagan’s belief that the urge to explore a new frontier is intrinsic in our nature and that this characteristic is linked with our survival as a species, both in the remote past and the remote future. He details how our unending curiosity will inevitably lead us out into the cosmos and provide for us future homes and habitations when this pale blue dot is no more. He holds out science as a “candle in the dark” against omnipresent superstition and plods us to fathom the probability that we are meant to go on exploring new worlds. His book obtains its title from the last photograph taken of planet Earth from the Voyager 1 spacecraft as it careened out of our solar system. What it depicted was a pale blue dot shining from the depths of space, a vast sea of darkness against a milky background of stars. It is a sad picture in some ways, the earth alone amidst the heavens, but simultaneously a hopeful one; if we are patient, according to Sagan, we too will follow in Voyager’s path in our quest to reach for the multitudinous stars of the heavens. . . .
This, then, is our Odyssey of books. Here is another world, containing the selected excellence of a hundred generations and a thousand locales; not quite so fair and vital as this actual world of nature and human enterprise, but abounding nevertheless in unsuspected wisdom and beauty unexplored. We may still believe, despite all our knowledge, that the race that made Plato and Leonardo, Muhammad and Edison will some day grow wisdom enough to control population, to keep the seas open to food and fuel for all peoples, and all markets open for all traders and all capital, and so by adhering to International Law graduate humanity out of war. Stranger things than that have been accomplished in the history of mankind; forty times such a marvel could not equal the incredible development of man from slime or beast to Confucius and Christ. We have merely begun, for this then would make us ready to enter Wisdom’s Citadel and reside perpetually.
However, life is better than literature, friendship sweeter than philosophy, and children reach into our hearts with a profounder music than comes from any symphony; but even so these living delights offer no derogation to the modest and secondary pleasures of our books. When life is bitter, or friendship slips away, or perhaps our children leave us for their own haunts and homes, we shall come and sit at the table with Shakespeare and Goethe, and laugh at the world with Rabelais, and revel in Lincoln’s masterly prose. For these are friends who give us only their best, who never answer back, and always wait our call. When we have walked with them awhile, and listened humbly to their speech, we shall be healed of our infirmities, and know the peace that comes of understanding.