Our Oriental Heritage (The Story of Civilization, Part I), by Will Durant

The Story of Civilization is recommended by Clifton Fadiman in the 3rd edition of his Lifetime Reading plan. Since I don't intend to spend a lifetime reading it (and it is truly immense, clocking in with 11 heavy-weight volumes - number 10 won the Pulitzer Prize) I checked the first volume (parts 1 and 2 - 25 cassettes or so) out of the library on audiobook.

Our Oriental Heritage covers the history of the emergence of civilization and goes on to recount the history of the Middle East and Orient from ancient times to the mid-1930's. It's astounding in its breadth and a scope, but has suffered somewhat from the ravages of time. Durant's account of the emergence of civilization is probably an accurate protrayal of sociological theory when the book was written, but it's vastly old-fashioned when compared to modern knowledge on the subject. His review of the pre-and and early history of the middle eastern cultures I am acquainted with also left something to be desired - important archaological discoveries have been made since the 1930's that reframe older ideas of early Judaism, etc.

And then there was the lack of perspective in regards to Japanese history. Durant is just a bit too impressed with how Japan modernized itself and conquered large areas of Asia for anyone who lives in a post-WWII world to suppress a shudder.

I can't really recommend this as a history book. Someone looking for sociological ideas about the emergence of civilization would be better off reading Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, by Jared Diamond.

Someone looking for detailed historical information on the periods/areas covered would also probably be better off with a more modern source. As an artifact of the 1930's, as a synthesis and overview, it's enjoyable but probably not worth 25 hours of your life.

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