Fallen Leaves: Last Words on Life, Love, War, and God By Will Durant

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    Durant's writing in this book has a highly lyrical, declarative quality. The contents are ruminating thoughts widely ranged on life, history and philosophy. Its style shares little with that of the more measured, conversational style of Montaigne, or a carefully developed arguments as that of a Seneca.

    Durant's philosophical anchor is a Life Force with an agnostic slant toward religious beliefs. His own philosopher is Spinoza, and his scientists are Darwin and other evolutionary scholars. His philosophy seems to be deeply embedded in the modernity and a historical positivism.

    History, Philosophy, Religion Naleteo sam pre dva meseca na komplet Istorija civilizacije na nekom sajtu. Snižen sa 48,000 RSD na 18,000 RSD, a pored mene nikog ko će da me spreči da kliknem na Kupi. Eno sad tih tridesetak kilograma i 15,000 strana, savijaju mi gornju knjižnu policu. Pita me ćerka pre neki dan da li sam pročitao prvu knjigu.

    Nisam, ali počeo sam sa istočnim civilizacijama i one - obećavaju. Zato me je interesovalo šta je još napisao autor koji je sposoban da sagleda stvari na taj način. Ovo je zbirka njegovih ličnih eseja o bitnim stvarima u životu - o istoriji, filozofiji, religiji, umetnosti, ljubavi, društvu, politici, odrastanju i starenju. Razmišljanja svedoka napretka od 1885, vremena kad su jahali konje kao glavno prevozno sredstvo, pa do 12 godina nakon čovekovog pristanka na Mesecu.

    Kakvi su ti eseji? Pa, kad piše o istoriji, ipak se u najvećoj meri suzdržava ličnog mišljenja. Ovde je tih komentara i previše - zapravo to je i ideja knjige - pa ako se ne slažeš s nekim od njegovih pogleda na važne stvari (na primer, kako žali zbog propadanja katolicizma među intelektualnom elitom zapada, što utiče i na druge teme), ne može ni celina da te baš oduševi. History, Philosophy, Religion We like children because they are our unprecedented selves

    Children and fools speak the truth and somehow they find happiness in their sincerity

    See him, the newborn, dirty but marvelous, ridiculous in actuality, infinite in possibility, capable of that ultimate miracle—growth

    Can you conceive it—that this queer bundle of sound and pain will come to know love, anxiety, prayer, suffering, creation, metaphysics, death?

    He cries. He has been so long asleep in the quiet warm womb of his mother

    Now suddenly he is compelled to breathe, and it hurts; compelled to see light, and it pierces him; compelled to hear noise, and it terrifies him

    The world is a puzzle to him

    Curiosity consumes and develops him

    He learns by imitation, though his parents think he learns by sermons

    Our children bring us up by showing us, through imitation, what we really are

    The child might be the beginning and the end of philosophy

    In its insistent curiosity and growth lies the secret of all metaphysics

    Looking upon it in its cradle, or as it creeps across the floor, we see life not as an abstraction, but as a flowing reality that breaks through all our mechanical categories, all our physical formulas

    Death, like style, is the removal of rubbish, the circumcision of the superfluous

    In the midst of death life renews itself immortally

    The individual fails, but life succeeds

    Death wins

    The soul, as distinct from the mind, I mean an inner directive and energizing force in every body

    We are living flames of desire until we admit final defeat

    Will is desire expressed in ideas that become actions unless impeded by contrary or substitute desires and ideas

    Logic itself is a human creation, and may be ignored by the universe

    Desire, not experience, is the essence of life

    Experience becomes the tool of desire in the enlightenment of mind and the pursuit of ends

    But my soul as me is bound up with my organized and centrally directed body, and with my individual memories, desires, and character

    It must suffer disintegration as my body decays

    I am quite content with mortality

    I should be appalled at the thought of living forever, in whatever paradise

    As I move on into my nineties my ambitions moderate, my zest in life wanes

    I have already lived enough

    We must make room for our children

    I see many evidences of order in the universe, but also many conditions that seem to me disorderly

    My conceptions of order and disorder, as of beauty and sublimity and ugliness, are subjective

    Since my mind can deal better with things when I have put order into them and the universe has no obligations to follow my preferences

    There is so much suffering in the world, and so much of it apparently undeserved

    The history of humanity might be written in terms of the avatars of God

    The repeated death of an old god to make room for a deity fitted to the rising knowledge and moral level of a race

    Every people has in every epoch reinterpreted God after its own fashion

    Men heard a voice commanding them to enlarge their idea of God to suit the universe that astronomy was opening to human view

    The next great task of science—to create a new religion for humanity

    Life itself can be the new God

    This is the God I worship: the persistent and creative Life that struggles up from the energy of the atom to make the earth green with growth, to stir the youth with ambition and the girl with tender longing, to mold the form of woman, to agitate geniuses, to guide the art of Phidias, and to justify itself in Spinoza and Christ

    I know that there are other aspects of reality than this life

    That Nature is rich in terrors as well as in beauty and development

    Is my God personal? No—and why should it be?

    Personality belongs only to the parts of creation, not to the creative force

    Personality is separateness, a special form of will and character

    The God I worship could not be such a separate and partial self

    It is the sum and source of that universal vitality of which our little egos are abstracted fragments and experimental proliferations

    We are all drops of water trying to analyze the sea

    I have pictured the world as a scene not of blind mechanism but of striving and creative life

    Let me have something to worship!

    My independent reading of Darwin and Spencer melted my inherited theology

    I had replaced my Christian creed with a dream of socialism as the hope of the world; so Utopia comes up as heaven goes down

    Those who were deeply indoctrinated with Catholicism in their adolescence never quite recover from the collapse of their faith, for Catholicism is the most attractive of religions, rich in drama, poetry, and art, faith, brought consolation to millions of souls suffering pain, bereavement, or defeat

    I have tried to keep some hold on the religion of my youth by interpreting its basic doctrines as symbols that gave popular expression to philosophic truths

    Expulsion of “our first parents” from paradise:

    Knowledge can destroy a happy innocence and many a comforting or inspiring delusion

    Heaven and hell remain for me not places in another world, but states of mind

    Underprivileged nations and classes have sought consolation in supernatural beliefs, dignifying themselves by association with mystic powers, and tempering the sting of poverty with hopes of a better fortune in another world

    Religions are not made by the intellect, else they would never touch the soul or reach the masses

    We cannot expect a religion to be a body of scientific propositions

    Nationalism overrides morality and becomes a religion stronger than any church

    We must not imagine that past generations were much more moral than our own

    The historian does not find them so

    We should treat criminals as victims of mental disturbance

    That differences of race, color, and creed are natural, and that diverse groups, institutions, and ideas are stimulating factors in the development of man

    That to promote harmony in diversity is a responsible task of religion and statesmanship

    The art that has made the most indisputable progress is the art of war

    The causes of war are psychological, biological, economic, and political

    They lie in the natural impulses of men, in the competitions of groups, in the material needs of societies, and in the fluctuations of national ambition and power

    What are the needs and impulses to produce a work of art?

    Presumably because he wishes to express himself, his ideas, and his moods

    Philosophers have shown more hesitation in defining beauty than in describing God

    Cubism is a disease

    The most distressing feature of contemporary art is its revolt against beauty

    It aims to express an emotion or an attitude rather than to create a pleasing or inspiring form

    The Industrial Revolution may have accustomed us to squares and angles and straight lines, to massive mechanical objects

    If there is no God,” mused Ivan Karamazov, “everything is permitted”

    If there are no rules, standards, or models, says the unmoored artist, I can offer anything as art

    Any art that has no ruling form is the empty vanity of an undisciplined mind

    Abstract painter might manipulate colors as a composer marshals tones

    I admire our skyscrapers

    Why should we not acknowledge that a handsome automobile is more satisfying to our esthetic sense than most of the sculpture of our age?

    Art without science is poverty, and science without art is barbarism

    Let us rejoice when a science becomes an art

    A new priesthood is forming above us

    I honor them, for they hold nothing true unless it has been repeatedly verified by experience

    I salute them, for they have worked miracles more marvelous than most of those that once supported religious faith

    Verily we live in another age of miracles

    I mourn when I see so much scientific genius dedicated to the art of massacre

    Every solution bares a new problem

    But we need something more than knowledge; we need the wisdom and character to use our knowledge with foresight and caution

    What is character? It is a rational harmony and hierarchy of desires in coordination with capacity

    What is wisdom? It is an application of experience to present problems, a view of the part in the light of the whole, a perspective of the moment in the vista of years past and years to come

    Knowledge is power

    Three basic goods should determine education and define its goals:

    First, the control of life, through health, character, intelligence, and technology

    Second, the enjoyment of life, through friendship, nature, literature, and art

    Third, the understanding of life, through history, science, religion, and philosophy

    Intellect is the capacity for acquiring and accumulating ideas; intelligence is the ability to use experience

    It is evident that education cannot be completed in school or college or university

    These offer us only the tools and maps for those farther-ranging studies that lead to the control, the enjoyment, and the understanding of life

    History is the record of the lasting contributions made to man’s knowledge, wisdom, arts, morals, manners, skills

    History is a laboratory rich in a hundred thousand experiments in economics, religion, literature, science, and government

    It is a mistake to think that the past is dead

    A wise man can learn from other men’s experience; a fool cannot learn even from his own History, Philosophy, Religion “There was a time when I…”

    “In our days…”

    “In my days it used to be better…”

    These are some of the utterances through which the elderly people alienate themselves from the others and start appearing like a bore. Nope, I am not talking against their privilege to that common nostalgia. It is how they start harping on about how things were different and better in ‘their days’ that drives people away. But not every old person becomes a bore though. Some of them, through their immense experience and wisdom, gathered through the many long decades, help the younger people get a better perspective on the things around. Like Mr. Durant, who speaks to us through this book, from behind the veils of Death.

    In his long life of 96 years, Mr. Durant had seen more than the most of us can even imagine. To put his life span in perspective, he was born on the same year when Louis Pasteur found the first vaccine and breathed his last in 1981, when NASA’s Space Shuttle took its first orbital flight. In this period, he had seen empires peak in glory and plummet to pieces, revolutions in Russia, the reshaping of Europe, two World Wars, man’s glorious landing on the Moon, eradication of smallpox, advent of digital era and so much more. Let that sink in!!!

    Not just his age, Mr. Durant was a brilliant and prolific writer too. His books on history and philosophy have become some of the essential works in their respective fields. So, when a man like William James Durant leaves some unpublished manuscripts for posterity to benefit, I couldn’t let go of the opportunity to grab that book.

    This book is a gem. It is not philosophy or a chronological listing of events. This is Mr. Durant letting us know his very personal opinions about various aspects of human life – from love to life, from war to democracy, from education to religion. He has delved into all the aspects of human life, from birth to death and all other things in between. Page upon page, one could feel the yearnings of a grand old man who had seen the past and who hopes for a better, improved future, without ever sounding ‘in our days things used to be better…’!

    Time flies but Truth stays. All our lives, fancies, dreams, hopes, pains, desires, wars, religions, reasons, ramblings, glorious achievements, crippling pains, fantasies are all but transient, swirling eddies that forever rise and fall in the cosmic deluge. But there are certain truths that stay ever relevant, from the first human to the day of his/her final descendant. Mr. Durant has tried to recall such truths in this book. He was one who had known that history repeats itself, sometimes even after we learn from it. He was also aware that some Truths remain untouched even amidst that flux. This book is his recounting of such truths, so that we, the lesser mortals may learn and benefit from it.

    In his words “in the train of life it is the old who yield their seats to the young”. The grand old man, which such a beautiful understanding of the cycle of Life, has left behind this work of wisdom by ruminating on the past, gleaning all the timeless principles of life and putting them on paper. If you are a history / philosophy aficionado, who isn’t averse to listening to and learning from the old people, this book is for you! History, Philosophy, Religion توی این روزای عجیب و ترسناک، بین حجم غم و خشم و گیجی و ترس از انفعال و ترس از اشتباه فعال بودن:) این کتاب، مأمن و محل یادگیری‌م بود.
    مثل این بود که دارم تمام سوالاتم رو از انسانی دانا و فروتن میپرسم و اونم با مهربونی بهم جواب میده.
    یه سری نگاه‌های ویل دورانت (مخصوصا درمورد زنان) خیلی با نقطه‌نظر من متفاوت بود. ولی باز هم خیلی روشنگر بود تمام کتاب. درمورد هنر، سیاست، آموزش و علم خیلی خیلی توضیحات دقیق و عمیق ولی قابل فهمی برای همه نوشته شده بود.
    قطعا بازم به تیکه‌هایی از کتاب برمیگردم و بازم میخونم تا درکم کامل‌تر شه… History, Philosophy, Religion


    This is one tricky book to review. The content is like a pendulum of ideas; it shifts from highly conservative to surprisingly liberal in a matter of paragraphs (not even pages).

    Some chapters are very well-written while others - especially the one on women - might leave the feminist in you shocked, and frankly, a bit flabbergasted. I was afraid my disappointment and anger at the highly conservative ideas about women might unfairly bring down my opinion of the entire book (because there are some authentically great suggestions in here).

    I would like to add, though, that this was written some 30 odd years ago but it released in 2016.

    So, instead of letting my feminist side cloud my judgement, I've decided to rate each chapter to get an average rating for the book.

    Our Life Begins - 4 stars
    On Youth - 4.5 stars
    On Middle Age - 3.75 stars
    On Old Age - 3.75 stars
    On Death - 2.75 stars
    Our Souls - 3.5 stars
    Our Gods - 3.75 stars
    On Religion - 2.75 stars
    On a Different Second Advent - 3.75 stars
    On Religion and Morals - 4 stars
    On Morality - 3.75 stars
    On Race - 3 stars
    On Women - 0 Stars
    On Sex - 2.5 stars
    On War - 3 stars
    On Vietnam - 3 stars
    On Politics - 3 stars
    On Capitalism and Communism - 4 stars
    On Art - 1 star
    On Science - 2.5 stars
    On Education - 2.5 stars
    On the Insights of History - 2.5 stars

    Average: 3.1 stars

    Having said all this, I have to mention the eloquence, grace and dignity with which the writer constructs phrases to form coherent ideas. History, Philosophy, Religion A person will always be of their time and place even if they've synthesized so perfectly the times and places of so many others. Here, Will Durant, who I love as an author beyond measure, lays out his personal thoughts on many things worth having thoughts on, indeed almost everything worth having thoughts on. And as with anyone's personal thoughts on matters there is a lot to agree and disagree with here. Durant has a gift with words and a talent for connections. His joy is unsurpassed and his love is for all humankind. But he, like all others, is a person of his time. So if we should find that a man born before the turn of two previous centuries should have thoughts on matters that might not be fully our own, how far should we begrudge him? This work is intimate and loving, born from a place deeply personal. If it does nothing more than give me a better picture of one of our greatest authors it will have served its humble purpose well.

    And what more can we really ask of it? History, Philosophy, Religion I know that life is in its basis a mystery; a flowing river from an unseen source and in its development an infinite subtlety; a a dome on many-colored glass, too complex for thought , much less for utterance.
    And yet the thirst for unity draws me eternally on. To chart this wilderness of experience and history, to bring into focus the future, the unsteady light of the past, to bring into significance and purpose the chaos of sensation and desire, to discover the direction of life's majestic stream and thereby in some measure, perhaps, to control its flow: this insatiable metaphysical lust is one of the noble aspects of our questioning race. Our grasp is greater than our reach; but therefore our reach is made greater than that grasp.

    Such words form the preamble of book, which is rich with Durant's experience of a lifetime. His views and ideas all into one book, written at the age of 95 years! From the vision of a philosopher looking back on his life and his work on civilizations! Answering the questions which have both confronted and bothered many. Fallen Leaves are Durant's Last Words on Life, Love, God and War. He charters various territories in the sublimest of essays which leave the reader engrossed and pondering. Wondering how Durant is able to speak so freely and accurately to the reader. A must read for every person! Enough said already. (Durant's original lesson as brevity itself) History, Philosophy, Religion I suspect the author of the sweeping eleven-volume series The Story of Civilization (1935-1975) is right about this:

    An effective approach to the problem of war will proceed, not by large and generous emotions, but by the specific study and patient adjustment of specific causes and disputes. Peace must be planned and organized as realistically as war--with provision for every factor, and prevision for every detail. This cannot be done in an occasional moment stolen by statesmen from internal affairs; it requires the full-time attention of first-rate minds (97).

    It's pretty intriguing that Durant so respected Jesus and his teaching and that as he pondered the work of his life, he reflects,

    If I could live another life, endowed with my present mind and mood, I would not write history or philosophy, but would devote myself to establishing an association of men and women free to have any tolerant theology or no theology at all, but pledged to follow as far as possible the ethics of Christ, including chastity before marriage, fidelity within it, extensive charity, and peaceful opposition to any but the most clearly defensible war (45).

    I find it incredibly sad that Durant apparently could not find his proposed fellowship of semi-saints in the church, which is certainly meant to freely follow as far as possible the ethics of Christ, though not merely through their own will to power. If I could have a conversation over coffee with Durant, could I convincingly connect the morality of Jesus' teaching and the beauty of his person--in both his invitation and his challenge--in a way that leads us back through theology rather than away from it? Would we hear Jesus calling, saying this way is life, come and see? History, Philosophy, Religion 3.5 stars -
    Will Durant was an American writer, historian and philosopher. Over the course of his life, people asked for his personal take on things, and this book is the culmination of those thoughts. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this; a nice mix of timeless thoughts and ideas best understood in the context of the times.

    I don’t usually quote from books I read for pleasure, but I found myself highlighting different parts — some for the lyrical writing or truisms, and others for the (thankfully) dated concepts.

    Durant writes that youth, “is learning to read (which is all that one learns in school), and is learning where and how to find what he may later need to know (which is the best of the arts that he acquires in college). Nothing learned from a book is worth anything until it is used and verified in life; only then does it begin to affect behavior and desire. It is Life that educates, and perhaps love more than anything else in life”.

    After that, I was a little taken aback by his thoughts on education. “As for the girl, it will avail her nothing to know a foreign language, archeology, and trigonometry, if she cannot manage a home, a husband, and a child; fidelity is nourished through the stomach, and good pies do more for monogamy than all the languages that have ever died. One tongue is enough for any woman, and a good mother is worth a thousand PhDs.” So of course after reading that I have to find out about his wife, and writing partner, Ariel. Here’s the shortform Wiki on her: came to the US from the Ukraine, attended the Ferrer Modern School, where Will taught. No note on whether she graduated, but Will resigned his post to marry her — she was fifteen at the time. They married on Halloween, 1913, and died within two weeks of each other in 1981. So, I’m not sure how someone who shared a Pulitzer with his wife reconciles that kind of thinking, but, to be fair, the part about the pies is totally spot on.

    I can’t end on that quote, because then you won’t think I liked this book, and I truly did, despite what that says about my feminist tendencies. Here is a sentence of beauty to mull over, “Civilization is a fragile bungalow precariously poised on a live volcano of barbarism.” Too depressing? How about a suggestion he offers? “No one has a right to bring a child into the community without having passed tests of physical and mental fitness to breed.” Ok, maybe that would be bad; not sure if I would have passed, especially given what my doctor liked to call my “advanced maternal age”.

    What I really loved about this book is that while it felt at times like poetic musings, it was, for the most part, simple, concise and focused. There are short little essays on each topic, so the book will probably not keep you up late at night on the edge of your seat. But each time you come back to it, you will be glad to be back in his company again.
    History, Philosophy, Religion

    Praised as a “revelatory” book by The Wall Street Journal, this is the last and most personal work of Pulitzer Prize–winning author and historian Will Durant, discovered thirty-two years after his death.

    The culmination of Will Durant’s sixty-plus years spent researching the philosophies, religions, arts, sciences, and civilizations from across the world, Fallen Leaves is the distilled wisdom of one of the world’s greatest minds, a man with a renowned talent for rendering the insights of the past accessible. Over the course of Durant’s career he received numerous letters from “curious readers who have challenged me to speak my mind on the timeless questions of human life and fate.” With Fallen Leaves, his final book, he at last accepted their challenge.

    In twenty-two short chapters, Durant addresses everything from youth and old age to religion, morals, sex, war, politics, and art. Fallen Leaves is “a thought-provoking array of opinions” (Publishers Weekly), offering elegant prose, deep insights, and Durant’s revealing conclusions about the perennial problems and greatest joys we face as a species. In Durant’s singular voice, here is a message of insight for everyone who has ever sought meaning in life or the counsel of a learned friend while navigating life’s journey. Fallen Leaves: Last Words on Life, Love, War, and God