The Story of Civilization

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The Story of Civilization
The collection of 11 volumes of the Story of Civilization by Will and Ariel Durant.jpg
A set of all 11 volumes
Author Will Durant
Ariel Durant
CountryUnited States
Publisher Simon & Schuster
ISBN 978-1567310238

The Story of Civilization (1935–1975), by husband and wife Will and Ariel Durant, is an 11-volume set of books covering Western history for the general reader.


The series was written over a span of four decades.

The first six volumes of The Story of Civilization are credited to Will Durant alone, with Ariel recognized only in the acknowledgements. Beginning with The Age of Reason Begins, Ariel is credited as a co-author. In the preface to the first volume, Durant states his intention to make the series in 5 volumes, although this would not turn out to be the case.

The series won a Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 1968 with the 10th volume in the series, Rousseau and Revolution.

The volumes sold well for many years, and sets of them were frequently offered by book clubs. An unabridged audiobook production of all eleven volumes was produced by the Books on Tape company and was read by Alexander Adams (aka Grover Gardner).


I. Our Oriental Heritage (1935)

This volume covers Near Eastern history until the fall of the Achaemenid Empire in the 330s BC, and the history of India, China, and Japan up to the 1930s.


James H. Breasted's review was highly negative. [1] W. N. Brown was hardly more impressed. [2] Henry James Forman, reviewing for The New York Times found the work to be a masterpiece as did the New York Herald Tribune. [3] [4]

II. The Life of Greece (1939)

This volume covers Ancient Greece and the Hellenistic Near East down to the Roman conquest.


Michael Ginsberg was favorably disposed. [5] As was Edmund C. Richards. [6] Reviews over Time and Boston Evening Transcript were very positive. [7] [8]

III. Caesar and Christ (1944)

The volume covers the history of Rome and of Christianity until the time of Constantine the Great.


J.W. Swain noted the book was written for a popular audience rather than scholars. And, it was successful at that. [9] John Day published a negative review. [10] As did Ralph Bates for The New Republic. [11] A review over the Time was positive. [12]

IV. The Age of Faith (1950)

This volume covers the Middle Ages in both Europe and the Near East, from the time of Constantine I to that of Dante Alighieri.


Sidney R. Packard, professor emeritus of history at Smith College, found the work to be quite good. [13] Norman V. Hope had a similar impression. [14] L.H. Carlson, for the Chicago Tribune, compared it to Jacob Burckhardt's works. [15]

V. The Renaissance (1953)

This volume covers the history of Italy from c.1300 to the mid 16th century, focusing on the Italian Renaissance.


Wallace K. Ferguson published a review. [16] Geoffrey Brunn wrote a favorable review for The New York Times.

VI. The Reformation (1957)

This volume covers the history of Europe outside of Italy from around 1300 to 1564, focusing on the Protestant Reformation.


Geoffrey Bruun published a positive review for The New York Times. [17] Garrett Mattingly, for The Saturday Review, lambasted the volume but went on to say that Durant was widely-read and a capable storyteller. [18]

VII. The Age of Reason Begins (1961)

This volume covers the history of Europe and the Near East from 1559 to 1648.


D. W. Brogan had a highly favorable impression. [19] A review over the Time was positive. [20]

VIII. The Age of Louis XIV (1963)

This volume covers the period of Louis XIV of France in Europe and the Near East.


J.H. Plumb found the book to be very poor. [21] As did Stanley Mellon. [22]

IX. The Age of Voltaire (1965)

This volume covers the period of the Age of Enlightenment, as exemplified by Voltaire, focusing on the period between 1715 and 1756 in France, Britain, and Germany.


Alfred J. Bingham found the volume to a "thoroughly enjoyable semi-popular history". [23]

X. Rousseau and Revolution (1967)

This volume centers on Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his times. It received the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 1968. [24]


Alfred J. Bingham was effusive in his praise. [25] [26] [27]

XI. The Age of Napoleon (1975)

This volume centers on Napoleon I of France and his times.


John H. Plumb was scathing. [28] Joseph I. Shulim took a similar view. [29] Alfred J. Bingham had a mixed yet favorable opinion. [30] A review over The Saturday Review was very positive. [31]

Development history

Editors on the series included M. Lincoln ("Max") Schuster and Michael Korda. [32]


One volume, Rousseau and Revolution, won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1968. All eleven volumes were Book-of-the-Month Club selections and best-sellers with total sales of more than two million copies in nine languages. [33]


Plumb's opinion on the series was that “historical truth… can rarely be achieved outside the professional world [of historians].” [34] [35] [25] [36] [37] [38] [39] [40]

See also

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  2. Brown, W.N. (11 September 1935). "Review of Our Oriental Heritage by Will Durant". The Nation. 141: 307.
  3. Forman, Henry James (1935-08-04). "Will Durant Takes All Civilization as His Province; The Opening Volume of His Work Is a Vivid, Zestful History of Human Development". The New York Times. ISSN   0362-4331 . Retrieved 2021-07-19.
  4. "Review". New York Herald Tribune. 10 July 1935. p. 15.
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  10. Day, John (1944-12-10). "History -- and Dr. Durant -- March On; CAESAR AND CHRIST, a History of Roman Civilization and of Christianity From Their Beginnings to A.D. 325. By Will Durant. Volume III in The Story of Civilization. 768 pp. New York: Simon & Schuster. $5". The New York Times. ISSN   0362-4331 . Retrieved 2021-07-19.
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