The second volume of Will Durant's Pulitzer Prize - winning series The Story of Civilization. Volume 2 chronicles the history of ancient Greek civilization. Here Durant tells the whole story of Greece from the days of Crete's vast Aegean empire to the final extirpation of the last remnants of Greek liberty, crushed under the heel of an implacably forward-marching Rome. The dry minutiae of battles and sieges, of tortuous statecraft of tyrant and king, get minor emphasis in what is preeminently a vivid recreation of Greek culture, brought to the listener through the medium of supple, vigorous prose.
In this masterful work, listeners will learn about:
©1966 Will Durant (P)2013 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Following on from volume 1 of the series where Durant gave an overview of the earliest days of mankind, here we finally makes it to the first "Great Civilisation" that we encounter in schools - ancient Greece. So why read this book and not the hundreds of others dedicated to the subject?
Continuing his systematic approach and endeavour to give everything its place in the world context, Durant sandwiches Greece between the Minoan period that preceded her rise and the emergence of Rome that led to her ultimate downfall.
His actual approach to Greece is a mixture of chronology and themes. So he starts with Homer's Greece and divides the period into arts, military conquests, mythology, politics, etc. Then he moves on to a later period and does the same thing again. The great benefit of this system, particularly for the audio format, is that if you space out and don't pay much attention at some point, that period will be re-visited later, albeit at a different angle.
Greece can be approached from many sides - philosophy, architecture, poetry - and this book is an excellent primer that provides solid foundations for whatever branch of ancient Greece a curious reader might want to pursue in the future. I had to study the Peloponnesian War at university, and it was nice to finally put that episode into the greater historic context. Having read four volumes of this series so far, I believe that Durant's greatest achievement is tying up together the myriad of narratives that a history buff will come across in their reading, but won't necessarily be able to piece together.
My only quibble with the text is that Durant sometimes goes into just a little too much detail. Perhaps it is his own preferences coming through (or my trauma of dealing with Thucydides), but I could have done with fewer names of various generals and minor military skirmishes. Durant's description of Hannibal in the next volume of the series is breathtaking, but some of the battles and politicians afforded space in this book, feel rather inconsequential to the greater picture.
I am assuming that the written version of this text is illustrated, and the audio format does suffer when Durant goes into abundant detail describing various columns and other technicalities of the Greek art world.
Stefan Rudnicki provides a great narration. His delivery is sharp and - as far as I could tell - he pronounces everything properly. His timing is impeccable - he doesn't rush, and gives enough time to absorb the flood of information, but neither does he drag his feet, which some narrators unfortunately do when presented with a "big narrative".
Overall, this is a commendable second installment in this wonderful series.
"Great Series Don’t be Intimidated by 500 hours"
I hope many people listen to these first two in the series to encourage Audible to get the rest. This is the second of The Story of Civilization series covering the history of Greece. I had read this in hardback and listened to it on cassette many years ago but enjoyed it every bit as much this third time. The narration annoyed me a bit when I started to listen, it seemed way too slow, but as the book gathered steam and ideas were flying at my head faster than I could cope, I came to appreciate the slower pace. The narration is still slightly dry for my tastes, but after an hour or so I really found the writing came through nicely.
The author’s tone is really pleasant, making the history human and approachable, ribald, and interesting. This material is perhaps a bit better known that almost every other volume in the series, but I (re)learned more on this third go through than I learn from most books. The material comes from a very western perspective and was written in the forties thus is sometime dated both in research and in political correctness. Nevertheless this is worthwhile reading for almost any adult reader. At over 32 hours this book seemed unbelievably short. This is a sit in your car in the parking lot to finish the chapter good book. After just finishing the first two at over 80 hours, one might think I would be ready for a break from history, but instead I am in a funk at having to wait for the next volume not yet in Audible format.
Some dislike the thematic instead of chronological approach to history, but I much prefer it. This story follows the trails of events and ideas and blood through time, then jumps back to another trail seeing some of the same events and characters again from another perspective.
Many might hesitate from taking on a 500+ hour series, but I would encourage any adult to give these a try. This series helps put every other book you read, and every news story you hear, in context. It shows both how little, and how much, has changed over the millennia.
"Studying the parts gives us the whole"
Durant is history for those who do not like history. He covers the topic mostly by using a thematic approach tied with an overriding narrative.
It takes the author a while to get into his own voice, but when he does the book comes alive and the history and the wisdom of the Greeks will live within the listener. He muddles his way through the first six chapters by speculating about pre-Homeric Greece and than using Homer as an authoritative source for history. It's worth wading through those eight or so hours to get to the real story.
At about 700 BCE, he starts talking about Sparta and contrasting that with Athens, and the author develops his real theme, "individualism leads to the destruction of the group, but gives creativity and progress". This is when the book comes alive! Sparta gives perfect order, Athens gives birth to the individual's growth at some expense to the whole. This story is worth telling. The story of Greece is a metaphor for this dichotomy (Plato and the Cave verse Aristotle's knowledge through observation and the values from the individual).
In two different spots in the narrative the author clues you into this dichotomy. When he talks about the Book of Ezra and how the question of evil is answered by stating that a part of the universe can never understand the whole universe and the question should never even be asked. The second time within the book he delves into Epicurean thought and explains that for the Epicurean the individual is only part of the whole and the group must be made of the parts as contrasted with a Stoic Philosophy that the group is understandable by the individual.
The book is not without flaws. The first 8 or so hours is muddled and can easily be skipped. He spends way too much detail telling me about the Greek Plays. He makes weird statements like, "even the Jew, the least superstitious of all people uses the word Mazel tov when greeting people".
When the author writes in his own voice and ties the pieces together through his narrative, nobody covers history better. In the end, Greece with it's individual city states gave us our heritage of valuing individual thought and the Romans will give us their structure for appreciating social order. I'll be looking forward to listening to Durant's spin on the Romans and their History.
"Audible needs to have the entire 11 volume series!"
I'm loving the series and haven't even always listened in order. Audible needs to finish out making the whole series available. Many of us would commit to purchase them.
"Stefan Rudnicki brings history to life"
This grand and epic history was originally published in 1939, but surprisingly the pages are still filled with insights, even if a few areas and ideas are dated. Overall, you can see why the book is still a classic. Stefan Rudnicki does an excellent reading of this very long work, infusing it with emotion and interest without overdoing it. His intelligence comes through and combines with that of the author. Pronunciations of all sorts of challenging names and words are accurate and graceful.
If you want a true philosophical view of history written in Professor Durant's brilliant style, this series is a MUST. And this particular volume is a can't miss. Enjoy. My only regret is that Grover Gardner cannot narrate the entire series. I do hope he narrates the next in the series, The Age of Voltaire. I anxiously await its release.
"Best western history series ever written"
I've read the whole series over several years and am now going back to listen to them. The author is insightful, humorous and eloquent. I cannot recommend the series highly enough. It would not be an overstatement to say this broad sketch of the history of western civilization contributed to a change of my worldview. (This title is one of eleven.)Durant is a joy to read.
"EXCELLENT ANCIENT GREEK PERSPECTIVE"
That's hard to say. Having listened and read both each have their own posistives. With reading, you may want to pause while you look up locations on the map to know exactly where the topic is taking place. For comprehension though, and this is according to your ability to listen, the audiobooks are superior to the written word. I will say I own both when I feel the book is that important, i.e., everything by David McCullough, James Lee Burke (brilliant prose), Cormac McCarthy (again, brilliant prose).
Wow, that is a tough question. But Pythagoras started the ball rolling from a polytheistic culture to one more based on closer examination of everyday occurences.
His vocal presence and topic intelligence! Brilliant!
Yes, but too long to do so!
"Lacking in Quotes and Notes"
I've found this series to be fantastic, and Stefan Rudnicki's narration of this volume is brilliant with the exception of two flaws that I find to be of great importance. (To be fair, however, I have barely begun this book and I dearly hope these flaws are mended.)
The first regards his lack of frequent notification when Will Durant quotes another author. The following comes from the eleventh page in speaking of Crete: "Across the island on the southern shore, is Phaestus, from whose harbor, Homer tells us, 'the dark-prowed ships are borne to Egypt by the force of the wind and the wave.' The southbound trade of Minoan Crete pours out here, swelled by goods from northern merchants who ship their cargoes overland to avoid a long detour by perilous seas." Since there is no "quote" and "end-quote", does the work of Homer conclude with "wind and the wave" or "perilous seas."
My second flaw is that the notations are rarely read, as follows when speaking (this time) of Cnossus: "The lower half of the excavated area was occupied by remains characteristic of the Neolithic Age - primitive forms of handmade pottery ... but nothing in copper or bronze.*" The note takes up the bottom fifth of the page because it explains how, when copper items were found, they could be dated within a margin of error thanks to the items found beside them. And the note's last sentence states that "no paleolithic remains have been found in Crete." But this note was not read!
Aside from these two issues, I'm loving this book as well as the voice of Stefan Rudnicki. That deep bass and excellent diction are something I look forward to hearing on a regular basis. I just hope that future quotes and notes in this book (and others he narrates in this series) are recognized and narrated.
These books by Will Durant are amongst the most fascinating, moving and detailed explorations of history ever undertaken. They aren't just dusty tomes of names, facts and figures. They explore the evolution of human thought and provide rare insight into our common heritage and character. Highly recommended.
""A big book, is a big evil" - Callimachus."
This one, however, is worth the effort. Will Durant is a scholar of the first order, who clearly loves history.
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