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I hope many people listen to these first two in the series to encourage Audible to get the rest. This is the second of The Story of Civilization series covering the history of Greece. I had read this in hardback and listened to it on cassette many years ago but enjoyed it every bit as much this third time. The narration annoyed me a bit when I started to listen, it seemed way too slow, but as the book gathered steam and ideas were flying at my head faster than I could cope, I came to appreciate the slower pace. The narration is still slightly dry for my tastes, but after an hour or so I really found the writing came through nicely.
The author’s tone is really pleasant, making the history human and approachable, ribald, and interesting. This material is perhaps a bit better known that almost every other volume in the series, but I (re)learned more on this third go through than I learn from most books. The material comes from a very western perspective and was written in the forties thus is sometime dated both in research and in political correctness. Nevertheless this is worthwhile reading for almost any adult reader. At over 32 hours this book seemed unbelievably short. This is a sit in your car in the parking lot to finish the chapter good book. After just finishing the first two at over 80 hours, one might think I would be ready for a break from history, but instead I am in a funk at having to wait for the next volume not yet in Audible format.
Some dislike the thematic instead of chronological approach to history, but I much prefer it. This story follows the trails of events and ideas and blood through time, then jumps back to another trail seeing some of the same events and characters again from another perspective.
Many might hesitate from taking on a 500+ hour series, but I would encourage any adult to give these a try. This series helps put every other book you read, and every news story you hear, in context. It shows both how little, and how much, has changed over the millennia.
44 of 45 people found this review helpful
Durant is history for those who do not like history. He covers the topic mostly by using a thematic approach tied with an overriding narrative.
It takes the author a while to get into his own voice, but when he does the book comes alive and the history and the wisdom of the Greeks will live within the listener. He muddles his way through the first six chapters by speculating about pre-Homeric Greece and than using Homer as an authoritative source for history. It's worth wading through those eight or so hours to get to the real story.
At about 700 BCE, he starts talking about Sparta and contrasting that with Athens, and the author develops his real theme, "individualism leads to the destruction of the group, but gives creativity and progress". This is when the book comes alive! Sparta gives perfect order, Athens gives birth to the individual's growth at some expense to the whole. This story is worth telling. The story of Greece is a metaphor for this dichotomy (Plato and the Cave verse Aristotle's knowledge through observation and the values from the individual).
In two different spots in the narrative the author clues you into this dichotomy. When he talks about the Book of Ezra and how the question of evil is answered by stating that a part of the universe can never understand the whole universe and the question should never even be asked. The second time within the book he delves into Epicurean thought and explains that for the Epicurean the individual is only part of the whole and the group must be made of the parts as contrasted with a Stoic Philosophy that the group is understandable by the individual.
The book is not without flaws. The first 8 or so hours is muddled and can easily be skipped. He spends way too much detail telling me about the Greek Plays. He makes weird statements like, "even the Jew, the least superstitious of all people uses the word Mazel tov when greeting people".
When the author writes in his own voice and ties the pieces together through his narrative, nobody covers history better. In the end, Greece with it's individual city states gave us our heritage of valuing individual thought and the Romans will give us their structure for appreciating social order. I'll be looking forward to listening to Durant's spin on the Romans and their History.
14 of 14 people found this review helpful
Following on from volume 1 of the series where Durant gave an overview of the earliest days of mankind, here we finally makes it to the first "Great Civilisation" that we encounter in schools - ancient Greece. So why read this book and not the hundreds of others dedicated to the subject?
Continuing his systematic approach and endeavour to give everything its place in the world context, Durant sandwiches Greece between the Minoan period that preceded her rise and the emergence of Rome that led to her ultimate downfall.
His actual approach to Greece is a mixture of chronology and themes. So he starts with Homer's Greece and divides the period into arts, military conquests, mythology, politics, etc. Then he moves on to a later period and does the same thing again. The great benefit of this system, particularly for the audio format, is that if you space out and don't pay much attention at some point, that period will be re-visited later, albeit at a different angle.
Greece can be approached from many sides - philosophy, architecture, poetry - and this book is an excellent primer that provides solid foundations for whatever branch of ancient Greece a curious reader might want to pursue in the future. I had to study the Peloponnesian War at university, and it was nice to finally put that episode into the greater historic context. Having read four volumes of this series so far, I believe that Durant's greatest achievement is tying up together the myriad of narratives that a history buff will come across in their reading, but won't necessarily be able to piece together.
My only quibble with the text is that Durant sometimes goes into just a little too much detail. Perhaps it is his own preferences coming through (or my trauma of dealing with Thucydides), but I could have done with fewer names of various generals and minor military skirmishes. Durant's description of Hannibal in the next volume of the series is breathtaking, but some of the battles and politicians afforded space in this book, feel rather inconsequential to the greater picture.
I am assuming that the written version of this text is illustrated, and the audio format does suffer when Durant goes into abundant detail describing various columns and other technicalities of the Greek art world.
Stefan Rudnicki provides a great narration. His delivery is sharp and - as far as I could tell - he pronounces everything properly. His timing is impeccable - he doesn't rush, and gives enough time to absorb the flood of information, but neither does he drag his feet, which some narrators unfortunately do when presented with a "big narrative".
Overall, this is a commendable second installment in this wonderful series.
2 of 3 people found this review helpful
Any additional comments?
This is a great book for anyone wanting some serious exposure to the ancient Greek world and the ascension and depths of that civilisation and its role as progenitor to occidental culture and society.