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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "My life is a failure."
Theodore Zeldin commences his brilliant, quirky, erudite, tour-de-force of the history of all humanity with the subject quote, made by a 51 year old French domestic servant. But why start a history, any history, by looking at admittedly one of life's very minor characters, and a self-confessed failure at that? But that is precisely one of Zeldin's principal points, and it...
Published on 11 April 2011 by John P. Jones III

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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Food for thought
I endorse Cassini24's review and would add the following comments.

Zeldin tends towards sweeping statements. When he touches on subjects I know about he is sometimes (a) not quite right (b) misleading or (c) wrong. This makes me wonder whether the same applies to matters upon which I cannot make a judgment of my own. It makes me reluctant to take him on...
Published on 14 Jun 2007 by D. Stephenson


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "My life is a failure.", 11 April 2011
By 
John P. Jones III (Albuquerque, NM, USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: An Intimate History Of Humanity (Paperback)
Theodore Zeldin commences his brilliant, quirky, erudite, tour-de-force of the history of all humanity with the subject quote, made by a 51 year old French domestic servant. But why start a history, any history, by looking at admittedly one of life's very minor characters, and a self-confessed failure at that? But that is precisely one of Zeldin's principal points, and it certainly draws the reader in. Alistair Horne, another superb historian, used exactly the same technique in his equally excellent history, A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962 (New York Review Books Classics) when he quotes British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan who referred to the Algerian town of Setif as "A Town of No Great Interest," and proceeds to prove exactly the opposite. So too with Zeldin, who after a brief vignette of the servant, Juliette's life, goes on to say: "My purpose is different. Behind Juliette's misfortunes, I see all those who have lived but thought of themselves as failures, or been treated as such. The worst sense of failure was to realize that one had not really lived at all, not been seen as an independent human being, never been listened to, never been asked for an opinion, regarded as a chattel, the property of another." Zeldin segues into a discussion of slavery, real and de facto, the fate of the vast majority of humanity, be it self-imposed or imposed by others: "And today, all those who prefer to do what they are told rather than think for themselves and shoulder the responsibility..." And to those who have ever suffered through corporate meetings, Zeldin continues his theme loud and clear: "There has been a waste of an opportunity every time a meeting has taken place and nothing has happened...In most meetings, pride or caution still forbids one to say what one feels most deeply." The theme of slavery, in its many forms weaves it throughout Zeldin's account. Consider much latter in the book, from today's headlines a section proclaiming that "people agree to be bullied if they can bully someone else," the author says: "In real life, for the last 5,000 years, the vast majority of humans have been submissive, cringing before authority and, apart from short-lived outbursts of protest, sacrificing themselves so that a small minority could live in luxury." Or again, in another section: "Thus an elite accumulated power, enabling it to live in high luxury, and to stimulate the flowering of the arts, but civilization was for many little more than a protection racket."

The above is just one of the many topics in which Zeldin provokes thought about "the record book," what passes for our tales and accounts of the past, and how we relate to each other today. There is much on male-female relations, so stimulating no Viagra is needed. Consider some sample chapters: "How men and women have slowly learned to have interesting conversations," "How new forms of love have been invented," and "Why there has been more progress in cooking than in sex." In the second of those mentioned chapters, the author says: "Attraction became explosive when ignited by fun. Ibn Hazm, the most famous Arab authority on love, said, `Of love the first part is jesting and the last part right earnestness.'" Zeldin erudition allows him to draw from the world's cultures, so he can address the Chinese fetish on "how deformed feet became sexually arousing," and the culturally transcendent fetish of stilettos.

And on economics, Zeldin traces some of the problems that are bedeviling us today to the 18th Century doctor of nervous diseases, Bernard Mandeville, who wrote The Fable of the Bees and Other Writings: Or Private Vices, Publick Benefits Zeldin says: "The consumer society lost its sense of direction when it adopted two myths to guide it. The first was that private vices are the source of public prosperity. Avarice, pride, envy, and greed, rather than friendliness and kindness, are the necessary bases of a successful economy..." Zeldin has another section on astrology, and the enduring power of totally irrational beliefs on our behavior.

Zeldin is British, and has dedicate much of his life to writing about the French, so it is only natural that his historical examples are skewed toward the French experience. Being an intellectual there, he comments: "Personal vendettas and power struggles have, of course, been endemic in France's intellectual life..." He quotes Antoinette Fouque, who wrote for the publishing house "Seuil,": `Why did Beauvoir not join the Resistance, instead of cycling around the country, having affairs?' Figure that is a double pay-back. But then in a twinkle, he is in Japan, discussing The Tale of Genji (Penguin Classics), written between AD 1002 and 1022, and says: "Those who say Japan can only imitate will be astounded by this extraordinarily readable and intelligent precursor of Proust, Murasaki Shikibu."

If you've read only one history book, and are looking for the second, I'd highly recommend this one, which is our past from a refreshingly different, thought-provoking perspective, and is rich in endless nuggets of "the history you do not know." I must add Zeldin to my small, but growing list of 6-star books.

(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on October 11, 2010)
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Food for thought, 14 Jun 2007
By 
D. Stephenson (UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: An Intimate History Of Humanity (Paperback)
I endorse Cassini24's review and would add the following comments.

Zeldin tends towards sweeping statements. When he touches on subjects I know about he is sometimes (a) not quite right (b) misleading or (c) wrong. This makes me wonder whether the same applies to matters upon which I cannot make a judgment of my own. It makes me reluctant to take him on trust.

The case studies that begin each chapter often have little discernable relationship to the analysis that follows. The people appear selected to meet Zeldin's agenda. They tend to be high or low achievers (personally, work-wise or artistically) whereas a representative sample would surely have produced more middle ground.

But ultimately you don't have to agree with such conclusions as Zeldin reaches and I suspect that is not the point. There are interesting insights and from previous reviews some readers have obviously taken a lot from the book. Any book that produces food for thought can't be all bad. But I find it difficult to see how this can be a five star read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent!, 12 Jun 2014
This review is from: An Intimate History Of Humanity (Paperback)
What a maginificent book: a window to the many cultures and philosophies of the world. From how humans have lost hope and revived it, how new forms of love have been invented, to what becomes possible when soul-mates meet. An ambitious book which hit all the spots. Well done Mr Zeldin.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History on steroids, 27 April 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: An Intimate History Of Humanity (Paperback)
This is one of the most unusual and interesting books I've ever read. It's not easy going - at least at first - but it certainly rewards patience. So many things in it that resonated. It alternates the particular (women's personal stories) with the general (eclectic essays), and the latter in particular had me sometimes stopping after every rich sentence to ponder some connection with my work or life.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, 30 Jan 2002
This review is from: An Intimate History Of Humanity (Paperback)
This is a book for anyone who wants to escape above the drudgery, dream a little and open your eyes. Very interesting and thought-provoking, and full of humanity. I took away a lot from this book.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A history of social behaviour through the ages, 2 Jan 2013
By 
Dr. H. A. Jones "Howard Jones" (Wales, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: An Intimate History Of Humanity (Paperback)
Theodore Zeldin is a British philosopher, historian and sociologist, born in Palestine from a Jewish family in 1933 when Palestine was a British protectorate. I found this quite a fascinating book to read about social attitudes of people from different societies and cultures and through various times in our history. There were numerous pieces of information that I learned as I worked my way through this quite substantial book, but when I got to the end I was left wondering for whom the book had been written. It is very warmly written and the author describes the lives of those within with great affection and often poignancy. There are twenty-five chapter headings and several subheadings within those but I failed to find a sense of direction from the book as a whole beyond what it claims to be - a social history of humankind through the ages. If there is an underlying `message', I failed to find it. There are many references of sources at the ends of the chapters, and other books listed that could take the reader further in any one of numerous directions. There is also a quite detailed Index at the end of the book.
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17 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and unique!, 15 Jun 2004
By 
M. Torma (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: An Intimate History Of Humanity (Paperback)
I took the book off the shelf in the book shop, opened it somewhere in the middle to read a few sentences and was hooked. The wealth of his learning is amazing, the way he weaves together different disciplines, civilisations, ideas and ages is very eloquent and beautifully executed. He tells the story of History by telling a lot of little histories. It is a very unique and a very thought provoking book. The non-fiction book coming closest to Zeldin's masterpiece probably is "Guns, germs and civilizations" and in fiction the Gore Vidals "Creation"
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a French mousse dessert with nuggets of high culture, 10 Sep 2009
This review is from: An Intimate History Of Humanity (Paperback)
I'll be brief about this rather remarkable and sweet book. What really grabs you are the chapter headings. They seem to promise illumination of those few things that you had understood about modern life but had never had time or insight enough to really expand on. Things like 'How men and women have slowly learned to have interesting conversations' and 'Why compassion has flowered even in stony ground'. Unfortunately these certainly wise ideas are the finishing lines the writer jogs through rather than the start line. That is to say that although what Zeldin offers you as a follow-up is interesting and well written, you struggle to find the real link with the chapter heading. This guy knows a lot both about history and people (which is the same thing actually) but he's just so vague and optimistic that if you're not those things too, you're going to wish you had just stuck to the chapter headings. Maybe that's too mean, have a great read !
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book that can clear the fog in many minds., 30 Oct 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: An Intimate History Of Humanity (Paperback)
This is a brilliant piece of writing that inspite of drawing from so many sources does not loose its focus nor does it get burdened by any academic jargons. A book that can be returned to again and again for a clearer view of our own minds and of those around us. I feel compelled to compare it to a "Sophie's World" for adults. The many "intimate histories" could actually be turned into brilliant cinema stories/scripts. It was a book I have been looking for all my life I think.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An intimate history of Theodore Zeldin's ramblings, 23 May 2011
This review is from: An Intimate History Of Humanity (Paperback)
I picked this book up as it looked really interesting, and was well reviewed on its cover. It presents itself as a series of philosophical musings on human relationships.

However I found it to be absolutely pretentious.

Bogged down in a myriad of anecdotes and interviews, Zeldin - in my view, arrogantly - extrapolates his musings into profound-sounding conclusions.

They are nothing of the sort. He contrives statements which I feel are either meaningless (disguised as mysterious), unfounded (disguised as conclusive), obvious (disguised as insightful), or idiosyncratic (disguised as wise). The overall structure of the book has no cohesion, and nor do the contents of each chapter.

Sorry, I wanted to like it, but I really felt that it was just waffle.
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An Intimate History Of Humanity by Theodore Zeldin (Paperback - 25 Sep 1995)
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