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Caesar and Christ: A History of Roman Civilization from Its Beginnings to A.D. 337: 003 (Story of Civilization, Vol 3) [Hardcover]

Will Durant

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
78 of 88 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Want a Good Start on an Education? 5 Feb 2005
By J_Onyx - Published on
"Caesar and Christ" is the third thick volume of an amazing 45-year life work by Will Durant. I strongly advise you do not heed the academic reviews of "The Story of Civilization." There is no reason to assume the critics even read one volume of Durant's work. Be aware that academic philosophy professors list Hanna Arendt, a second rate intellectual, as the only significant female philosopher and ignore one of the most powerful minds of the post WWII era, Ayn Rand. Sure, she is flawed but she is greater than a Camus or a Chomsky. I strongly recommend reading "Caesar and Christ" and the entire 10 volume set of "Story of Civilization" - if you truly seek to be generally educated. You will learn more from Durant than from years of liberal arts schooling in any university. I never heard a professor mention Durant to students but I saw the entire set on the shelves of the private libraries of some major historians. Would you buy, own, read and keep 10 volumes of books you knew to be worthless? Ignore the academic mantra and decide for yourself.

Let me introduce you to this remarkable man. Durant was a gifted Columbia philosophy student who earned a PhD in philosophy. He was a major teacher-staff member of a now forgotten, fascinating private school movement, The Modern School movement. He served primarily as a head foreign language teacher. A real scholar, Durant mastered six important languages. Durant wrote and published "The Story of Philosophy" in the 1920s. To his surprise, it was an instant best seller. Durant's prose style, bright mind, and sharp wit made the book a little classic that has never been out of print. The book made him famous & independently wealthy and professors wrote to inform him that "Story of Philosophy" had caused a sharp increase in enrollment in philosophy courses.

Durant's book income allowed him to quit working and pursue his fascination with history. He devoted the rest of his life to researching and writing "The Story of Civilization," still a unique work. Do yourself a favor. Read the Introduction to any volume. Read a chapter of any volume before you decide whether to buy or read a volume of the history. The books are thick but Durant was a major prose stylist. His prose style and his wit will make you love reading Durant.

Durant found history writing to be too divided and too provincial. A real historian, Durant wanted to know something about world history. As you read his history, you must remind yourself of the year when the volume you are reading was written, especially the first three volumes. They read like Durant wrote them today. He writes with keen insight about the Arab world. He tried to correct a major error still prevalent today: The muth that Irish monastaries and monks preserved civilization for the Western world. Durant discusses at length how and why the Arabic world was the leader in learning & science during the middle ages. Arab scholars knew Latin and Greek and they studied the great Greek thinkers. Arab mosques pioneered free education & wealthier muslims practiced charity.

Durant wrote total history (he called it synthesis) before it was a fad in France. He covers art, architecture, literature, geography. When Durant explains the importance of the Mediterranean and describes the coast, you comprehend what he conveys to you. He was there. He was not on a taxpayer paid vacation, thinly disguised as "research." He was "there", at his own expense, for weeks studying the area (with his wife who knew another five languages, including her native Russian). Durant and his wife invested in at least three lengthy world tours to see and study the areas Durant wrote about and He wrote about the civilized world.

American history majors should read at least the "Our Oriental Heritage" volume. Serious art majors should read the entire 10 volumes. You will never read a historian who writes so well or with greater knowledge about the art, architecture and skilled crafts of different times and different peoples.

Enough. I leave you with this. By all means, read modern academic trashings of Durant's "Story of Civilization." Also, read the introductory remarks in each volume. You may be surprised to learn that Durant wrote each volume twice. He sent his final drafts to well known academic historians, according to their region of specialty. Durant then re-wrote each volume in response to detailed criticisms these professors sent him. No volume of "Story of Civilization" contains the 'whole truth' but very few modern histories of one year of one institution are more factually accurate. And no academic historian can lay claim to possessing the 'whole truth.' If you have a liberal arts graduate degree, read all ten volumes. You may gain the basic liberal arts education you wanted but did not get in six years of college.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A comprehensive history of the Golden Age of Rome 7 July 1998
By A Customer - Published on
Entranced by the title, I picked this book up. While I read very little about Christ until the last chapters, I was overwhelmed with the amount of information I learned about ancient Rome. The emperors, women, philosphers, geography and the history therein, was a delight to read. It surely gives one a wonderful overview of what life was like before, during and after Christ.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars HISTORY WELL DONE 31 Dec 2004
By D. Blankenship - Published on
It this third volume, Durant continues the story of man through the time of the height of Rome and Christ. Like the other volumes it is quite well done and despite what another reviewer's opinion is, quite comprehensive. Granted, I you want to read more about battles, etc. they you should probably look elswhere. I am of the school that a time period can only be understood by what they left behind, i.e. art, literature, politics, etc. rather than who they defeated in battle, or who defeated them. This is only my opinion though, others look at it differently. Also, I suppose if you are teaching a college course addressing this period of time, you would certainly want to gleen information from other sources. That not being the case on my part, I thought this was a wonderful overview of a very important epoch. I thought it was quite well presented. Recommend highly.
22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Valuable reference for historical novel readers 3 Nov 2002
By "alliatus" - Published on
It is an excellent history reference, although people may not read it from page one to the end like reading a fiction. College students may use it for academic reference and research papers.
However, if you are into Roman historical novels such as Colleen McCullough "First Man in Rome", "Grass Crown"..., Gore Vidal "Julian", Robert Graves "I, Claudius"..., Henryk K. Sienkiewicz "Quo Vadis"; Roman era fantasies such as Pauline Gedge "The Eagle and the Raven", Donna Gillespie "The Light Bearer", it definitely adds complimentary flavor to your reading by being aware of the political and social environment of Roman Empire. The chapters are not essentially in chronological layout, but, for example, a chapter devoted to Roman arts and letters, another for daily lives of the social classes. Whilst you are reading your novel in the middle and want to find out more about a particular topic, simply refer to the Index and the relevant chapters.
You would enjoy the novels, and possibly Shakespeare's "Anthony and Cleopatra", and the movies "Ben-Hur", "Spartacus", "The Fall of Roman Empire", "Gladiator" even more. And "Cleopatra" and "Quo Vadis" were made movies too.
The part of Early Christianity in the latter chapters, would help you in reading the Gospels, the Acts, and letters from Paul and the disciples. In the same manner, it helps you to appreciate more in reading Christian historical fictions such as Sholem Asch "The Nazarene" "The Apostle", Thomas Costain "The Silver Chalice".
An additional recommendation is Vol 4. "Age of Faith", sole focus of which is the discussion of the religions Judaism, Christianity, Islam in the Middle Ages.
21 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pearls before swine 3 Jan 2000
By Will Sperry - Published on
It's too bad so few people have taken the trouble to read or even review Durant. "The Story of Philosophy" was a best-seller in 1929. Tom Clancy & Patricia Cornwell (sic) get listings as long as the day is long, but Durant just gets in left in the corner ignored. It's a shame.
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