Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Will (and Ariel) Durant

1885 – 1981 CE

Much more than ivory-tower, intellectual academics, Will and Ariel Durant worked to put the lessons of history into practical lessons useful for average people. He worked for women’s right to vote, equal wages, better working conditions for American labor, and wrote a “Declaration of Interdependence,” that was read into the Congressional Record and started a movement against racial intolerance 10 years before the Civil Rights Movement. Writing “the most successful historiographical series in history,” and awarded a Pulitzer Prize for literature as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom, he critiqued the West’s “fatal error of perspective:” Eurocentrism, intolerance and provincialism.

Eras

Sources

Age of Napoleon

Lessons of History

Rousseau and Revolution

Story of Civilization

The Age of Reason Begins

The Age of Voltaire

The Reformation

Unlisted Sources

Life of Greece

Quotes by Will (and Ariel) Durant (89 quotes)

“Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life.”

Chapters: 1. The Unnamed

Themes: Wisdom Science

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“In philosophy, as in politics, the longest distance between two points is a straight line.”

Chapters: 80. A Golden Age

Themes: Philosophy

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“A nation is born stoic, and dies epicurean.”

Chapters: 18. The Sick Society

Themes: Government

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“Doubtless like all of us he was many men, turned on one or another of his selves as occasion required, and kept his real self a frightened secret from the world.”

Chapters: 33. Know Yourself

Themes: True Self

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“Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.”

Chapters: 38. Fruit Over Flowers

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“Every man is a creature of the age in which he lives and few are able to raise themselves above the ideas of the time.”

Chapters: 2. The Wordless Teachings

Themes: Know Yourself

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“Forget mistakes. Forget failure. Forget everything except what you're going to do now and do it.”

Chapters: 13. Honor and Disgrace

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“History would be worthless to us if it did not teach us to keep on our guard against the natural intolerance of an orthodoxy wielding power.”

Chapters: 18. The Sick Society

Themes: History

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“How can man progress if he is forbidden to question tradition?”

Chapters: 20. Unconventional Mind

Themes: Doubt Progress

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“How much more suffering is caused by the thought of death than by death itself.”

Chapters: 50. Claws and Swords

Themes: Reason Suffering

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“In the end, nothing is lost. Every event, for good or evil, has effects forever.”

Chapters: 80. A Golden Age

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“It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong.”

Chapters: 53. Shameless Thieves

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“Nature smiles at the union of freedom and equality in our utopias. For freedom and equality are sworn and everlasting enemies, and when one prevails the other dies.”

Chapters: 72. Helpful Fear

Themes: Equality Freedom

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“Progress in knowledge, science, comforts, and power is only progress in means; if there is no improvement in ends, purposes, or desires, progress is a delusion.”

Chapters: 80. A Golden Age

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“The trouble with most people is that they think with their hopes or fears or wishes rather than with their minds.”

Chapters: 72. Helpful Fear

Themes: Fear Hope

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“There have been only 268 of the past 3,421 years free of war.”

Chapters: 31. Victory Funeral

Themes: War

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“There is nothing so shallow as sophistication; it judges everything from the surface, and thinks it is profound. All modern life has been misled by it.”

Chapters: 21. Following Empty Heart

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“Tolerance grows only when faith loses certainty; certainty is murderous.”

Chapters: 65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

Themes: Belief

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“When liberty exceeds intelligence, it begets chaos, which begets dictatorship.”

Chapters: 38. Fruit Over Flowers

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“Caught in the interval between one moral code and the next, an unmoored generation surrenders itself to luxury, corruption, and a restless disorder of family and morals."”

from Lessons of History

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“Do civilizations die? ...Homer has more readers now than in his own day and land.”

from Lessons of History

Themes: Civilization

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“If undertakers are miserable, progress is real.”

from Lessons of History

Themes: Progress

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“The harmony of the part with the whole may be the best definition of health, beauty, truth, wisdom, morality, and happiness.”

from Heroes of History

Chapters: 39. Oneness

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“All men are created unequal... Politics is the art of compromise between the classes”

from Heroes of History

Chapters: 17. True Leaders

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“It is the obligation of the old to serve as a brake upon the energy of the young”

from Rousseau and Revolution

Themes: Old Age

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“insecurity is the mother of greed, as cruelty is the memory - if only in the blood - of a time when the test of survival (as now between states) was the ability to kill.”

from Lessons of History

Themes: War Greed

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“Probably every vice was once a virtue — i.e. a quality making for the survival of the individual, family or the group. Man's sins may be the relics of his rise rather than the stigmata of his fall.”

from Lessons of History

Themes: Evolution Virtue

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“Civilizations are the generations of the racial soul... Mercuries of the air are binding nations and civilizations together, preserving for all what each has given to the heritage of mankind.”

from Lessons of History

Themes: Civilization

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“all technological advances will have to be written off as merely new means of achieving old ends... we repeatedly enlarge our instrumentalities without improving our purposes.”

from Lessons of History

Chapters: 80. A Golden Age

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“Have we given ourselves more freedom than our intelligence can digest?”

from Lessons of History

Themes: Wisdom Freedom

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“We double, triple, centuple our speed, but we shatter our nerves in the process and we are the same trousered apes at 2000 MPH as when we used legs.”

from Lessons of History

Themes: Technology

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“Consider education not as the painful accumulation of facts... nor merely the preparation of the individual to earn his keep... but as the transmission of our [world's] mental, moral, technical, and aesthetic heritage”

from Lessons of History

Themes: Education

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“The only real revolution is in the enlightenment of the mind... the only real revolutionists are philosophers and saints.”

from Lessons of History

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“As the sanity of the individual lies in the continuity of his memories, so the sanity of a group lies in the continuity of its traditions; in either case, a break in the chain invites a neurotic reaction... To break sharply with the past is to court the madness that may follow the shock”

from Lessons of History

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“If equality of educational opportunity can be established, democracy will be real and justified.”

from Lessons of History

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“All deductions having been made, democracy has done less harm, and more good, than any other form of government.”

from Lessons of History

Themes: Democracy

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“Since inequality grows in an expanding economy... internal barbarization by the majority is part of the price that the minority pays for its control”

from Lessons of History

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“a subtle similarity between… wisdom and humor… both may come from seeing things in perspective.”

from The Age of Reason Begins

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“Sometimes, wandering alone in the woods on a summer day, we hear or see the movement of a hundred species of flying, leaping, creeping, crawling, burrowing things. Suddenly we perceive to what a perilous minority we belong on this impartial planet, and for a moment we feel, as these varied denizens clearly do, that we are passing interlopers in their natural habitat.”

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“History is an excellent teacher with few pupils.”

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“All faiths alike are cloaks to cover our shivering ignorance.”

from The Age of Reason Begins

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“If we can keep our minds and eyes open, the world will be our best textbook.”

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“Next to travel, the best education is history, which is travel extended into the past.”

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“‘You can’t fool all the people all the time,’ but you can fool enough of them to rule a large country.”

from Lessons of History

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“The fear of capitalism has compelled socialism to widen freedom, and the fear of socialism has compelled capitalism to increase equality. East is West and West is East, and soon the twain will meet.”

from Lessons of History

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“People are intrinsically unequal and while enforced equality creates a rebellion of the more skilled and intelligent, too much freedom creates an extreme of inequality that creates a rebellion of the less intelligent and skilled.”

Themes: Freedom Equality

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“Greek religion paved the way for philosophy by emphasizing Fate which became the idea of law, a force more powerful than personal fiat creating the fundamental difference between mythology and science.”

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“In progressive societies the concentration of wealth may reach a point where the strength of number in the many poor rivals the strength of ability in the few rich; then the unstable equilibrium generates a critical situation, which history has diversely met by legislation redistributing wealth or by revolution distributing poverty.”

from Lessons of History

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“Wisdom can never be transmitted by words, only by examples and experience.”

from Heroes of History

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“We must, at the start, clear our minds of all preconceptions, prejudices, assumptions, and theories.”

from Heroes of History

Themes: Letting Go

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“What thoughtful person has not at 50 discarded the dogmas he swore by in his youth and will not at 80 smile at the 'mature' views of his middle age?”

from Age of Napoleon

Themes: Wisdom

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“Love generated by physical attraction of boy and girl is an accident of hormones and propinquity; to found a lasting marriage upon such a haphazard and transitory condition is ridiculous.”

from Age of Napoleon

Themes: Marriage Sex

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“Truth is seldom simple; often it has a right and a left hand, and moves on two feet.”

from Age of Napoleon

Themes: Truth

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“Self-preservation remains the basic law of life. Within that limit, the philosopher may seek to practice his trade, which is to understand and forgive.”

from Age of Napoleon

Themes: Kindness

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“He remains the outstanding figure of his time, with something noble about him that survives despite his selfishness in power... He thought we should not see his like for 500 years. We hope not; and yet it is good—and enough—to behold and suffer, once in a millennium, the power and limits of the human mind.”

from Age of Napoleon

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“Few great men have remained, after death, what they had been during their lives... Napoleon had served to embody his country's need for order after a riot of freedom... a dictator almost larger than history... he became after his death... mouthpiece of the recurrent cry for liberty... the most persuasive apostle of freedom.”

from Age of Napoleon

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“The rival hungers that found clearest voice in the French Revolution: the hunger for freedom—of movement, growth, enterprise, worship, thought, speech, and press; and the hunger for equality—of access to opportunity, education, health, and legal justice... the hunger for liberty to the detriment of equality; the hunger for equality, at the cost of liberty... freeing individualism to the point of a destructive disorder, and freeing superior ability to repeated crises of concentrated wealth... no discipline has checked the similar disorder in our times.”

from Age of Napoleon

Themes: Revolution

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“Was there ever, since Ashoka, a major war in which one nation admitted the superior justice of the enemy's cause? It is part of the average citizen's nature to make his God a particeps criminis in the wars of his country. And no superstate could solve the problem, for some of our greatest wars have been civil.”

from Age of Napoleon

Themes: War

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“Protestantism was the triumph of Paul over Peter. Fundamentalism is the triumph of Paul over Christ.”

from Caesar and Christ

Themes: Christianity

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“The essential cause of Rome's decline lay in her people, her morals, her class struggle, her failing trade, her bureaucratic despotism, her stifling taxes, her consuming wars... it was an empty shell when Christianity arose and invasion came.”

from Caesar and Christ

Themes: Failure

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“Democracy is the most difficult of all forms of government since it requires the widest spread of intelligence.”

from Lessons of History

Themes: Democracy

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“Only the fortunate can take life without mythology.”

from The Age of Reason Begins

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“Religions are born and may die, but superstition is immortal.”

from The Age of Reason Begins

Themes:

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“By the time of Plato's death, his hostile analysis of Athenian democracy was approaching apparent confirmation by history... the gap between rich and poor widened... the rich organized themselves for protection against the poor... debtors massacred their creditors en masse... the middle classes, as well as the rich began to distrust democracy as empowered envy and the poor distrusted it as a sham... the class war left Greece internally as well as internationally divided”

from Lessons of History

Themes: Democracy

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“Plato's reduction of political evolution to a sequence of monarchy, aristocracy, democracy, and dictatorship found another illustration in the history of Rome.”

from Lessons of History

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“The American Revolution was not only a revolt of colonials against a distant government; it was also an uprising of a native middle class against an imported aristocracy.”

from Lessons of History

Themes: Revolution

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“Every advance in the complexity of the economy puts an added premium upon superior ability, and intensifies the concentration of wealth, responsibility, and political power... Economic freedom, even in the middle classes, become more and more exceptional, making political freedom a consolatory pretense.”

from Lessons of History

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“As education spreads, theologies lose credence, and receive an external conformity without influence upon conduct or hope”

from Lessons of History

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“In ancient Greece the philosophers destroyed the old faith... in many nations of modern Europe the philosophers achieved similar results. Protagoras became Voltaire, Diogenes Rousseau, Democritus Hobbes, Plato Kant, Thrasymachus Nietzsche, Aristotle Spencer, Epicurus Diderot.”

from Lessons of History

Themes: Philosophy

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“If we were to judge forms of government from their prevalence and duration in history, we should have to give the palm to monarchy; democracies, by contrast, have been hectic interludes.”

from Lessons of History

Themes: Government

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“After the breakdown of Roman democracy in the class wars, Augustus organized, under what in effect was monarchical rule, the greatest achievement in the history of statesmanship—the Pax Romana which maintained peace from 30 BCE to 180 CE from the Atlantic to the Euphrates, from Scotland to the Black Sea.”

from Lessons of History

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“cruelty is the memory—if only in the blood—of a time when the test of survival was the ability to kill... Pugnacity, brutality, greed, and sexual readiness were advantages in the struggle for existence.”

from Lessons of History

Themes: Aggression Evil

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“Prostitution has been perennial and universal, from the state-regulated brothels of Assyria to the 'night-clubs' of Western European and American cities today.”

from Lessons of History

Themes: Sex

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“Somewhere, sometime, in the name of humanity, we must challenge a thousand evil precedents , and dare to apply the Golden Rule to nations as the Buddhist King Ashoka did in 262 BCE”

from Lessons of History

Themes: Golden Rule

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“Italy had a Renaissance, and Germany had a Reformation, but France had Voltaire; he was for his country both Renaissance and Reformation, and half the Revolution. He was first and best in his time in his conception and writing of history, in the grace of his poetry, in the charm and wit of his prose, in the range of his thought and his influence. His spirit moved like a flame over the continent and the century, and stirs a million souls in every generation.”

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“As every poet must be, Euripides is above all sensitive; he feels the problems of mankind intensely and express them with passion; he is the most tragic and the most human of dramatists. He created living individuals replacing operations of destiny with psychological analysis.”

from Life of Greece

Themes: Fate / Destiny

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“a man born poor, losing his mother at birth and soon deserted by his father, afflicted with a painful and humiliating disease, repudiated by society and civilization... driven from place to place as a dangerous rebel, suspected of crime and insanity—how did it come about that this man, after his death, triumphed over Voltaire, revived religion, transformed education, inspired the Romantic movement and the French Revolution... had more effect upon posterity than any other writer or thinker of that 18th century?... after his voice was stilled, all Europe listened to him.”

from Rousseau and Revolution

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“Europe was ready for a gospel that would exalt feeling above thought. It was tired of the restraints of customs, conventions, manners, and laws. It had heard enough of reason, argument, and philosophy; all this riot of unmoored minds seemed to have left the world devoid of meaning, the soul empty of imagination and hope”

from Rousseau and Revolution

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“As in science, so in philosophy he was a lover, not a professor... he was endlessly concerned with the interpretation of nature and the meaning of life. As he became older, he grew through science and poetry into a sage. He found illumination about the whole from every object, moment, and part”

from Rousseau and Revolution

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“Faust, in Part I, is individualism incarnate; in Part II he finds 'salvation,' health of soul, through working for the general good... [Goethe] as he matured through political office perceived that human life is a co-operative process; that the individual survives by mutual aid, and that self-seeking actions, though still the basic force, must be limited by the needs of the group.”

from Rousseau and Revolution

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“Venerable patriarch of French letters, the glory of France, defender of a hundred victims of intolerant creeds and unjust laws; Voltaire's crowning and redeeming virtue was his humanity. He stirred the conscience of Europe, he denounced war as 'the great illusion.' He could be irascible and break out in a temper; but, did his virtues outweigh his vices? Yes, and even if we do not place in the scale his intellectual with his moral qualities. Against his parsimony we must place his generosity, against his love of money his cheerful acceptance of losses and his readiness to share his gains.”

from Rousseau and Revolution

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“We know that a lifetime is but a moment in history, and that the historian's best is soon washed away as the stream of knowledge grows. But we confirmed our belief that historiography has been too departmentalized, and that some of us should try to write history whole as it was lived, in all the facets of the complex and continuing drama.”

from Rousseau and Revolution

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“Power dements even more than it corrupts, lowering the guard of foresight and raising the haste of action.”

from Age of Napoleon

Themes: Power

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“Byron loved history—cleansed of nationalism and mythology—as the only truth about man... (Shelley ignored it, being wedded to an ideal uncomfortable with history). He made friends readily, for he was attractive in person and manners, fascinating in conversation, widely informed in literature and history, and more faithful to his friends than to his mistresses... Despite all his skeptical intelligence he succumbed again and again to the magnet that every healthy woman is to any healthy man.”

from Age of Napoleon

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“In 1807 romance was spreading its wings; romantic love was struggling to be freed from parental power, economic bonds, and moreal taboos; the rights of women were beginning to find voice.”

from Age of Napoleon

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“History is a fragment of biology... the laws of biology are the fundamental lessons of history. We are subject to the processes and trials of evolution, to the struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest to survive.”

from Lessons of History

Themes: Evolution

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“One of the most remarkable Swedes of the age.”

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“The 20th century is the age of Nietzsche, as he predicted it would be: the age of dictators unmoved by any moral tradition, of wars made more deadly and devastating by the progress of science; the age of the 'death of God' for those who lead the parade in thought and power.”

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“Prostitution has been perennial and universal, from the state-regulated brothels of Assyria to the 'night clubs' of West-European and American cities today.”

from Lessons of History

Themes: Prostitution

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Quotes about Will (and Ariel) Durant (2 quotes)

“You are truly one of America's greatest. With your wonderful wife Ariel, you make a team of which we Americans are deeply proud.”

Margaret Chase Smith 1897 – 1995 CE

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“The greatest historians of our time—who have lived their own fascinating true-life 'love story' (since she was his 15-year old student)— and recipients of the Pulitzer Prize; they have produced 11 best-selling masterworks of history in 40 years… and recently completed (at ages 90 and 77) their final classic, The Age of Napoleon. They were married in City Hall, he carrying a briefcase swollen with books on philosophy and she holding her roller skates. Their marriage became a working literary partnership. In the early years she was secretary, researcher, assistant and editor. That led eventually to co-authorship. They have produced a total of 7 books together, and Mr. Durant alone has written 17. His The Story of Philosophy has been continuously in print since it was first published in 1928 and has sold more than 3 million copies in 19 languages [by 1975]”

Anonymous -800 to present
Freedom from the narrow boxes defined by personal history
from New York Times​ article

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