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Pultizer Prize-winning historians Will and Ariel Durant spent their entire lives studying and writing about history. Together, they’ve published more than 50 books.

“The Lessons of History” is a distillation of all of their works and lessons learned in one, short 102-page book.
When you talk about the BEST BOOKS PER PAGE, you HAVE to include "The Lessons of History."

What follows is a thread of some of my favorite takeaways from the book.


Generations of men establish a growing master over the earth, but they are destined to become fossils in its soil.

The influence of geographic factors diminishes as technology grows.

Man, not earth, makes civilization.

The first biological lesson of history is that life is competition.

We cooperate in our group — our family, community, club, church, party, “race,” or nation — in order to strengthen our group in its competition with other groups.
The second biological lesson of of history is that life is selection.

Inequality is not only natural and inborn, it grows with the complexity of civilization.

Freedom and equality are sworn and everlasting enemies, and when one prevails the other dies.
The third biological lesson of history is that life must breed.

Nature has no use for organisms, variations, or groups that cannot reproduce abundantly.

Medicine, sanitation, and charity nullify selection by keeping the unfit alive to multiple their like.

By and large the poor have the same impulses as the rich, with only less opportunity or skill to implement them.

Intellect is therefore a vital force in history, but it can also be a dissolvent and destructive power.

If we divide economic history into three stages — hunting, agriculture, industry — we may expect that the moral code of one stage will be changed in the next.

Man’s sins may be the relics of his rise rather than the stigmata of his fall.

To the unhappy, the suffering, the bereaved, the old, religion has brought supernatural comforts valued by millions of souls as more precious than any natural aid.

Morality should stand above power.

One lesson of history is that religion has many lives.
Nature and history do not agree with our conceptions of good and bad; they define good as that which survives.

There is no significant example in history, before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion.

The Industrial Revolution brought with it democracy, feminism, birth control, socialism, the decline of religion, the loosening of morals.

Men are judged by their ability to produce — except in war, when they are ranked according to their ability to destroy
Since practical ability differs from person to person, the majority of such abilities, in nearly all societies, is gathered in a minority of men. The concentration of wealth is a natural result of this concentration of ability, and regularly recurs in history.
When the concentration of wealth reaches a point where the strength of the many poor rivals the ability of the few rich; then the unstable equilibrium generates a critical situation, which history has diversely met by redistributing wealth or by revolution distributing poverty.
The men who can manage men manage the men who can manage only things, and the men who can manage money manage all.

We conclude that the concentration of wealth is natural and inevitable, and is periodically alleviated by violent of peaceable partial redistribution.

Businessmen left relatively free from transportation trolls and legislative regulation can give the public a greater abundance of food, home’s, comfort, and leisure than has ever come from industries managed by politicians, manned by governmental employees.
Competition compels the capitalist to exhausted labor, and his products to ever-rising excellence.

Taxation rose to such heights that men lost incentive to work.

What undermined the experiment? High taxes, laid upon all to finance a swelling band of governmental employees.

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.

Most governments have been oligarchies.
If the majority of abilities is contained in a minority of men, minority government is as inevitable as the concentration of wealth; the majority can do no more than periodically throw out one minority and set up another.
Violent revolutions do not redistribute wealth but destroy it. The natural inequality of men re-creates an inequality of possessions and privileges, and raises new minority with the same instincts as in the old.

The only real revolution is in the enlightenment of the mind.
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.
Democracy is the most difficult of all forms of government, since it requires the widest spread of intelligence, and we forget to make ourselves intelligent when we made ourselves sovereign.
Lincoln supposed, “You can’t fool all the people all the time,” but you can fool enough of them to rule a large country.

All deductions having been made, democracy has done less harm, and more good, than any other form of government.
America in two centuries has provided abundance for an unprecedented large portion of its population.

Though men cannot be equal, their access to education and opportunity can be made more nearly equal.

In the last 3,421 years of recorded history only 268 have seen no war.

Peace is an unstable equilibrium, which can be preserved only by acknowledged supremacy or equal power.

The Ten Commandments must be silent when self-preservation is at stake.

In organic periods men are busy building; in critical periods they are busy destroying.

On one point all are agreed: civilizations begin, flourish, decline and disappear — or linger on as stagnant pools left by once life-giving streams.
When civilization declines, is is through no limitation corporate life, but through the failure of its political & intellectual leaders to meet the challenges of change.

Death is natural, and if it comes in due time it is forgivable and useful.

Science is neutral.

Our comforts and conveniences may have weakened our physical stamina and our moral fiber.

We should not be greatly disturbed by the probability that our civilization will die like any other.
We have multiplied a 100x our ability to learn and report the events of the day, but at times we envy our ancestors, whose peace was only gently disturbed by the news of their village.

If education is the transmission of civilization, we are unquestionably progressing.
If a man is fortunate he will, before he dies, gather up as much as he can of his civilized heritage and transmit it to his children.

And to his final breath he will be grateful for this inexhaustible legacy, knowing that it is our nourishing mother and our lasting life.

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