Friday, July 27, 2012


                                 “ HISTORIANS COUPLE ”

Will Durant (1885 - 1981) was a prolific writer, historian and philosopher. He is best known for “The Story of Civilisation” 11 volumes written in collaboration with his wife Ariel Durant and published between 1935 and 1975. He was earlier noted for “The Story of Philosophy ”, written in 1926, which popularized  philosophy.

 He sought to unify and humanize the great body of historical knowledge, which had grown  voluminous and become fragmented into esoteric specialities, and to vitalize it for contemporary application. Durant was a gifted prose stylist and storyteller who won a large readership in great part because of the nature and excellence of his writing, which, in contrast to formal academic language, is lively, witty, charismatic, colourful, ornate, epigrammatic. Durant's prose "begs to be read aloud." His prose so beautiful it rivals poetry.

Will Durant was born in Massachusets of French Canadian   parents Joseph Durant and Mary Allard. In 1905, he began experimenting with socialist philosophy but he began recognizing that a "lust for power" underlay all forms of political behavior. A persistent penchant for philosophy led him to Spinoza. He graduated in 1907. He began teaching Latin, French, English and Geometry in a College where he was Librarian too.  
 At the Modern School, he fell in love with and married a pupil, 13 years his junior, Chaya (Ida) Kaufman, whom he later nicknamed "Ariel". The Durants had one daughter, Ethel, and adopted a son, Louis.
He had concocted, by his mid-thirties, that sentimental, idealizing blend of love, philosophy, Christianity, and socialism which dominated his spiritual chemistry the rest of his life.
In 1913, he  began lecturing in a Presbyterian church for five- and ten-dollar fees; the material for these lectures became the starting point for The Story of Civilization.

In 1917, while working on a doctorate in philosophy at Columbia University, Will Durant wrote his first book, Philosophy and the Social Problem. He discussed the idea that philosophy had not grown because it avoided the actual problems of society. He received his doctorate that same year from Columbia.  His “Story of Philosophy” originated as a series of  educational pamphlets aimed at workers and was so popular it was republished in 1926 as a hardcover book and became a bestseller, giving the Durants the financial independence that would allow them to travel the world several times and spend four decades writing “The Story of Civilization.’ He left teaching and began work on the eleven volume “Story of Civilization”.

The Durants strove throughout to make The Story of Civilization  a "biography" of a civilization, in this case, the West, including not just the usual wars, politics and biography of greatness and villainy, but also the culture, art, philosophy, religion, and the rise of mass communication. Much of the Story considers the living conditions of everyday people throughout the twenty-five hundred years their "story" of the West covers. They also bring an unabashedly moral framework to their accounts, constantly stressing the repetition of the "dominance of strong over the weak, the clever over the simple.  "The Story of Civilization” is the most successful historiographical series in history. The Story of Civilization is also noteworthy because of the excellence of its writing style, and contains numerous apothegms worthy of the Roman and Renaissance authors Durant admired. For
  “ Rousseau and Revolution, (1967), the 10th volume of The Story of Civilization, they were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for literature; later followed one of the two highest awards granted by the United States government to civilians, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by President Ford  in 1977.

Though they had intended to carry the work into the 20th century, they simply ran out of time and had expected the 10th volume to be their last. However, they went on to publish a final volume, their 11th, The Age of Napoleon in 1975. They also left behind notes for a twelfth volume, The Age of Darwin, and an outline for a thirteenth, The Age of Einstein, which would have taken The Story of Civilization through to 1945.
The Durants also shared a love story as remarkable as their scholarship; they detail this in Dual Autobiography. After Will went into the hospital, Ariel stopped eating. Will died after he heard that Ariel had died. They died within two weeks of each other in 1981 (she on October 25 and he on November 7). Though their daughter, Ethel, and grandchildren strove to keep the death of his Ariel from the ailing Will, he learned of it on the evening news, and he himself died at the age of 96. He was buried beside his wife in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.

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