The Story of Civilization

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The Story of Civilization
The collection of 11 volumes of the Story of Civilization by Will and Ariel Durant.jpg
A set of all 11 volumes
CountryUnited States
PublisherSimon & Schuster

The Story of Civilization (1935–1975), by husband and wife Will and Ariel Durant, is an 11-volume set of books covering Western history for the general reader.

The series was written over a span of four decades.

The first six volumes of The Story of Civilization are credited to Will Durant alone, with Ariel recognized only in the acknowledgements. Beginning with The Age of Reason Begins, Ariel is credited as a co-author. In the preface to the first volume, Durant states his intention to make the series in 5 volumes, although this would not turn out to be the case.

The series won a Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 1968 with the 10th volume in the series, Rousseau and Revolution.

The volumes sold well for many years, and sets of them were frequently offered by book clubs. An unabridged audiobook production of all eleven volumes was produced by the Books on Tape company and was read by Alexander Adams (aka Grover Gardner).


I. Our Oriental Heritage (1935)[edit]

This volume covers Near Eastern history until the fall of the Achaemenid Empire in the 330s BC, and the history of India, China, and Japan up to the 1930s.


James H. Breasted's review was highly negative.[1] W. N. Brown was hardly more impressed.[2] Henry James Forman, reviewing for The New York Times found the work to be a masterpiece as did the New York Herald Tribune.[3][4]

II. The Life of Greece (1939)[edit]

This volume covers Ancient Greece and the Hellenistic Near East down to the Roman conquest.


Michael Ginsberg was favorably disposed.[5] As was Edmund C. Richards.[6] Reviews over Time and Boston Evening Transcript were very positive.[7][8]

III. Caesar and Christ (1944)[edit]

The volume covers the history of Rome and of Christianity until the time of Constantine the Great.


J.W. Swain noted the book was written for a popular audience rather than scholars. And, it was successful at that.[9] John Day published a negative review.[10] As did Ralph Bates for The New Republic.[11] A review over the Time was positive.[12]

IV. The Age of Faith (1950)[edit]

This volume covers the Middle Ages in both Europe and the Near East, from the time of Constantine I to that of Dante Alighieri.


Sidney R. Packard, professor emeritus of history at Smith College, found the work to be quite good.[13] Norman V. Hope had a similar impression.[14] L.H. Carlson, for the Chicago Tribune, compared it to Jacob Burckhardt's works.[15]

V. The Renaissance (1953)[edit]

This volume covers the history of Italy from c.1300 to the mid 16th century, focusing on the Italian Renaissance.


Wallace K. Ferguson published a review.[16] Geoffrey Brunn wrote a favorable review for The New York Times.

VI. The Reformation (1957)[edit]

This volume covers the history of Europe outside of Italy from around 1300 to 1564, focusing on the Protestant Reformation.


Geoffrey Bruun published a positive review for The New York Times.[17] Garrett Mattingly, for The Saturday Review, lambasted the volume but went on to say that Durant was widely-read and a capable storyteller.[18]

VII. The Age of Reason Begins (1961)[edit]

This volume covers the history of Europe and the Near East from 1559 to 1648.


D. W. Brogan had a highly favorable impression.[19] A review over the Time was positive.[20]

VIII. The Age of Louis XIV (1963)[edit]

This volume covers the period of Louis XIV of France in Europe and the Near East.


J.H. Plumb found the book to be very poor.[21] As did Stanley Mellon.[22]

IX. The Age of Voltaire (1965)[edit]

This volume covers the period of the Age of Enlightenment, as exemplified by Voltaire, focusing on the period between 1715 and 1756 in France, Britain, and Germany.


Alfred J. Bingham found the volume to a "thoroughly enjoyable semi-popular history".[23]

X. Rousseau and Revolution (1967)[edit]

This volume centers on Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his times. It received the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 1968.[24]


Alfred J. Bingham was effusive in his praise.[25][26][27]

XI. The Age of Napoleon (1975)[edit]

This volume centers on Napoleon I of France and his times.


John H. Plumb was scathing.[28] Joseph I. Shulim took a similar view.[29] Alfred J. Bingham had a mixed yet favorable opinion.[30] A review over The Saturday Review was very positive.[31]

Development history[edit]

Editors on the series included M. Lincoln ("Max") Schuster and Michael Korda.[32]


One volume, Rousseau and Revolution, won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1968. All eleven volumes were Book-of-the-Month Club selections and best-sellers with total sales of more than two million copies in nine languages.[33]


Plumb's opinion on the series was that “historical truth… can rarely be achieved outside the professional world [of historians].”[34][35][25][36][37][38][39][40]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Breasted, James H. (13 July 1935). "Interpreting the Orient". The Saturday Review of Literature. 12: 3.
  2. ^ Brown, W.N. (11 September 1935). "Review of Our Oriental Heritage by Will Durant". The Nation. 141: 307.
  3. ^ Forman, Henry James (1935-08-04). "Will Durant Takes All Civilization as His Province; The Opening Volume of His Work Is a Vivid, Zestful History of Human Development". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-07-19.
  4. ^ "Review". New York Herald Tribune. 10 July 1935. p. 15.
  5. ^ "Notices of Other Recent Publications". The American Historical Review. 45 (4): 940–997. 1940. ISSN 0002-8762.
  6. ^ Richards, Edmund C. (1939-11-26). "The Glory That Was Greece; Will Durant's Account of Its Ancient Civilization Is a Triumph Of Popular Scholarship". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-07-19.
  7. ^ "BOOKS: New History". Time. 1939-11-20. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved 2021-07-19.
  8. ^ "Review". Boston Transcript. 18 November 1939. p. 1.
  9. ^ Swain, J. W. (1945). "Review of Caesar and Christ: A History of Roman Civilization and of Christianity from their Beginnings to A.D. 325". The American Historical Review. 50 (3): 516–517. doi:10.2307/1843130. ISSN 0002-8762.
  10. ^ Day, John (1944-12-10). "History -- and Dr. Durant -- March On; CAESAR AND CHRIST, a History of Roman Civilization and of Christianity From Their Beginnings to A.D. 325. By Will Durant. Volume III in The Story of Civilization. 768 pp. New York: Simon & Schuster. $5". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-07-19.
  11. ^ Bates, Ralph (13 November 1944). "Review of "Caesar and Christ"". The New Republic. 111: 630.
  12. ^ "Books: Old Rome and the U. S. A." Time. 1944-11-27. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved 2021-07-19.
  13. ^ Packard, Sidney R. (9 December 1950). "Striding the Centuries: Review of The Age of Faith". The Saturday Review of Literature. 33: 19–20.
  14. ^ Hope, Norman V. (1951-07-01). "The Story of Civilization: The Age of Faith, by William J. Durant. 1198 pp. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1950. $7.50". Theology Today. 8 (2): 262–264. doi:10.1177/004057365100800217. ISSN 0040-5736.
  15. ^ Carlson, L. H. (29 November 1953). "Review of The Renaissance by Will Durant". Chicago Sunday Tribune. p. 10.
  16. ^ Ferguson, Wallace K. (1954-04-01). "The Renaissance: A History of Civilization in Italy from 1304 To 1576 A.D. By Will Durant. [The Story of Civilization: Part V.] (New York: Simon and Schuster. 1953. Pp. xvi, 776. $7.50.)". The American Historical Review. 59 (3): 604–605. doi:10.1086/ahr/59.3.604. ISSN 0002-8762.
  17. ^ Bruun, Geoffrey (1957-09-15). "BRIGHT PAGEANT OF A GOLDEN AGE; More Than 200 Years of Europe's History Live Again in Will Durant's New Volume Bright Pageant". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-07-19.
  18. ^ Mattingly, Garrett (9 November 1957). "Storytelling Historian". Saturday Review. 40: 20.
  19. ^ Brogan, D. w (1961-09-10). "One Result Was the Modern Mind; THE AGE OF REASON BEGINS: A History of European Civilization in the Period of Shakespeare, Bacon, Montaigne, Rembrandt, Galileo and Descartes: 1558-1648. by Will and Ariel Durant. Vol. VII in "The Story of Civilization." Illustrated. 732 pp. New York: Simon & Schuster. $10. Modern Mind". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-07-19.
  20. ^ "Books: Century of Faith & Fire". Time. 1961-09-08. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved 2021-07-19.
  21. ^ Plumb, J. h (1963-09-15). "Some Personalities On the Paths of History; Some Personalities". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-07-19.
  22. ^ Mellon, Stanley (December 1963). "Historians and Others". The Yale Review. XLIII: 291–292.
  23. ^ Bingham, Alfred J. (1966). "Review of The Age of Voltaire". The Modern Language Journal. 50 (7): 498–500. doi:10.2307/322797. ISSN 0026-7902.
  24. ^ "Pulitzer Prize Winners: General Non-Fiction". Retrieved 2008-02-29.
  25. ^ a b Bingham, Alfred J. (1969). "Review of Rousseau and Revolution". The Modern Language Journal. 53 (4): 273–275. doi:10.2307/323485. ISSN 0026-7902.
  26. ^ Bingham, Alfred J. (1969). "Review of Rousseau and Revolution". The Modern Language Review. 64 (3): 675–677. doi:10.2307/3722095. ISSN 0026-7937.
  27. ^ Fink, Beatrice C. (1968). "Review of The Story of Civilization. X: Rousseau and Revolution". The French Review. 41 (6): 883–884. ISSN 0016-111X.
  28. ^ Plumb, J. H. (1975-10-26). "A ragbag of history continued". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-07-19.
  29. ^ Shulim, Joseph I. (1976-03-01). "The Age of Napoleon: A History of European Civilization from 1789 to 1815". History: Reviews of New Books. 4 (5): 108–109. doi:10.1080/03612759.1976.9945351. ISSN 0361-2759.
  30. ^ Bingham, Alfred J. (1977). "Review of The Age of Napoleon, a History of European Civilization from 1789 to 1815. The Story of Civilization, Ariel". The Modern Language Journal. 61 (5/6): 293–295. doi:10.2307/325718. ISSN 0026-7902.
  31. ^ Morgan, Ted (1 November 1975). "The Last Condottiere". Saturday Review. 34: 34.
  32. ^ Korda, Michael (1999). Another Life: A Memoir of Other People (1st ed.). New York: Random House. ISBN 0-679-45659-7.
  33. ^ "Historian Will Durant Dies; Author of 'Civilization' Series". New York Times. UPI. November 9, 1981. Retrieved 2016-10-08.
  34. ^ Plumb, J. H. "The Enlightenment | by J.H. Plumb | The New York Review of Books". ISSN 0028-7504. Retrieved 2021-07-19.
  35. ^ "A Symphony of History: Will Durant's The Story of Civilization - The Objective Standard". Retrieved 2021-07-19.
  36. ^ Di Leo, Jeffrey R. (2018). "Does Philosophy Need a Story?". American Book Review. 39 (4): 2–30. doi:10.1353/abr.2018.0035. ISSN 2153-4578.
  37. ^ Leo, Jeffrey R. Di (2019). "Education for Inhumanity, or Why the New Millennium Needs a Will Durant". Intertexts. 23 (1): 91–106. doi:10.1353/itx.2019.0007. ISSN 2156-5465.
  38. ^ Prescott, Orville (1963-09-27). "Books of The Times; In Defense of the Durants End Papers". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-07-19.
  39. ^ "Nature and the Pitfalls of Big History - ProQuest". Retrieved 2021-07-19.
  40. ^ "The American Encyclopaedia: The book of the world in the new world - ProQuest". 73-. Retrieved 2021-07-19.

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