Review: The Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time

5 Star, Philosophy

Greatest MindsAccurate Title, Wonderful Book, May 30, 2009

Will Durant

Some will obviously quibble over Will Durant's selections, but I will not. I got hooked on Durant after reading his 1916 doctoral disseration (a full thirty years after I acquired the multi-volume History of Civilization), and have been working my way through various “short books” in the past six months.

Here are my fly-leaf notes.

Slams H. G. Wells early on. Durant seems to be the anti-thesis to Marx.

He opens by pointing out that the greatest minds of history were those of philosphy and science, not captains of war, priests, or artists.

As is my tendency, I praise the book by summarizing it. Below are his lists.

Ten greatest thinkers:
01 Confucius as a moral philosopher
02 Plato for first university, philosophy as means of remolding world
03 Aristotle as philosopher and scientists, creating new science
04 St. Thomas Aquinas for bridging between knowledge and belief
05 Copernicus (Poland) for astronomy and mathematics, shifting attention from man to the cosmos
06 Sir Francis Bacon, for knowledge as remodeling power, opened eyes to nature (see my review of Intelligence in Nature, forthcoming).
07 Sir Isaac Newton, for scientific mastery of modern thought
08 Voltaire for ending despotism and starting the enlightenment, but see my review of Voltaire's Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West
09 Immanuel Kant for mind over materialism, restored faith to co-equal status with science
10 Charles Darwin for state of nature, life as conflict, natural selection

Ten greatest poets:
01 Homer
02 “David”
03 Garupedes
04 Lucretius
05 Li Po
06 Dante
07 Shakespeare
08 Keats
09 Shelly
10 Whitman

Ten “Peaks” for Humanity
01 Speech
02 Fire
03 Conquest of Animals
04 Agriculture
05 Social Organization
06 Morality [see my review of The Lessons of History)
07 Tools
08 Science
09 Education
10 Writing & Print

I have a note to myself in which I iclude the Internet in #10, and see #11 as being “True Cost” accounting, see my reviews of, among others:
Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming
Ecological Economics: Principles And Applications
The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

Twelve Major Dates in Human History
01 4241 BC Egyptian Calendar
02 543 BC Death of Buddha
03 478 BC Death of Confucius
04 199 BC Death of Socrates
05 44 BC Death of Caesar
06 BC-AD Birth of Christ
07 AD 632 Death of Mohammed
08 AD 1294 Death of Roger Bacon, birth of gunpowder
09 AD 1455 Gutenberg Press
10 AD 1492 Columbus discovers America (see 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus
11 AD 1769 James Watt and the Steam Engine
12 AD 1789 French Revolution

One can only speculate at what he might have picked in the past century or two, that alone would make a marvelous semester-long course.

The book has a lovely index of all names, both those considered and those considered but not selected.

I consider this a classic gift item, along with Ralph Nader's The Seventeen Traditions and Durant's Lessons of History linked above as well as his edited work drawing out others On the Meaning of Life

For my own contribution, a work marvelously edited by Canadian PhD candidate Mark Tovey, see Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace. All of the work I have sponsored or produced can be found for free at OSS.Net.

Review: The Story of Civilization [Volumes 1 to 11] (Hardcover Set 1963-1975)

5 Star, History

History CivilizationBuy This for Later Reading, May 29, 2008

Will and Ariel Durant

I own this set. As I pass through the 55-year old mark, I keep coming back to it and will read it from start to finish one day. The price is a bargain.

If you want just a taste of the rich content, buy The Lessons of History.

Two other major works I recommend are:

The leadership of civilization building: Administrative and civilization theory, symbolic dialogue, and citizen skills for the 21st century
How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, Updated Edition

Review: The Lessons of History

6 Star Top 10%, History, Philosophy

Amazon Page
Amazon Page

5.0 out of 5 stars A once-in-a-lifetime foundation reading, get it used,

January 13, 2004
Will Durant
Edit of 20 Oct 08 to use new feature to add links.

This is the first book that I discuss in my national security lecture on the literature relevant to strategy & force structure. It is a once-in-a-lifetime gem of a book that sums up their much larger ten volume collection which itself is brilliant but time consuming. This is the “executive briefing.”

Geography matters. Inequality is natural. Famine, pestilence, and war are Nature's way of balancing the population.

Birth control (or not) has *strategic* implications (e.g. see Catholic strategy versus US and Russian neglect of its replenishment among the higher social and economic classes).

History is color-blind. Morality is strength. Worth saying again: morality is strength.

They end with “the only lasting revolution is in the mind of man.” In other words, technology is not a substitute for thinking by humans.

See my various lists. Other books I recommend:
The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past
Clock Of The Long Now: Time And Responsibility: The Ideas Behind The World's Slowest Computer
Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography
Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin
The Age of Missing Information (Plume)
Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge
Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution
Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century
Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration
Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace

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