Our Oriental Heritage (The Story of Civilization #1)
by Will Durant
Published by Fine [reprint] (1993)
I started reading this book in January, 2019. Aside from the big reading challenges I do in terms of volume, there are several subjects I’m curious to learn more and get more information into my brain about. One of these is History. That stems largely out of the fact that I didn’t study History beyond Grade 8, then discovered how much I enjoyed it, and now have a lot of unstructured History floating around in my head. In an endeavour to correct the timeline of events I’ve constructed for myself, I took to reading non-fiction History. The idea was to understand History better within 2019 – and I hoped to finish Will Durant’s entire Story of Civilization series. Little did I know how detailed they were, or how many questions they would spawn. There have been days on end with this book that I’ve stopped reading within a sentence of beginning, because something Durant says piqued my interest sufficiently to warrant a Google break, and down that rabbit-hole I jumped. As a consequence, completing the book took till February, 2020. What a lovely ride it has been. My mind is now filled with so much information – and quite honestly, I am sad that I will no longer relive reading through all of this for the first time ever again.
Underpopular Sides of History
I am – as we are all, a student of History. However, I am a student in a particular domain: Law, and the rest of History, I access through pop culture, or through popularized books on subjects. Microhistories are my favourites.
Most History books I’ve read though, especially those that explain civilizations, offer macroscopic views of what these civilizations were like. They focus on events that are popularized, or have had tangible, lasting impacts on a large population of society. Think, political decisions, dynasties, and wars. There’s less emphasis on movements in religion, philosophy, and art and culture – less, popularized, accessible versions of these histories. Durant spends large portions of time laying out what these were, for the absolute beginner. There is enough contextual information to start at this without any awareness about the Oriental countries, and work your way up to getting some command over unfamiliar names, or at the least, being broadly aware of what they speak of.
This clearly doesn’t contain the latest information. The edition I read was a reprint. The first volume was published in 1935, by Simon & Schuster, so a lot of the information – for example, on Egypt, is outdated, or is, obvious to us today – it seems commonly known. For the time though, I cannot imagine how much research the Durants (there is credit to his wife Ariel, and I am waiting to see how her co-authorship informs the writing in the later books) must have done to be able to write all of these.
I’d recommend reading it, but take it slow. This is History worth enjoying; worth labouring through, worth conducting thought experiments about – and worth, in every bit, loving.