The Lessons of History PDF [Book Short]

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” – George Santayana

Welcome to Thought Stack, I’m Jon, and together we’re poking at reality, one thought at a time.  

Tell me, are you a history junkie?

I wasn’t until I stumbled on a book called The Lessons of History, written by Will and Ariel Durant.

This book is a fantastic history primer.

First off, this book is short.  Like short short.  100 pages short.  I know it’s impossible to cover history in much detail being that short, but that’s not the point of the book.  

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This book is the distilled wisdom of two historians who spent their lives researching and writing about western history.

As with many historians, personal biases can creep into what they feel is relevant, but that’s just something we should always be aware of.  Mostly, those on the right side of power dictate how history is recorded.

This tiny book allows us a glimpse at how humans have behaved over the past 6000 or so years to hopefully find some patterns that will help us avoid poor decisions in the future.

One thing I believe that most people probably don’t is that there are almost no original thoughts.  

I mean, every time I think I have one, there is some story from the past that pops up similar enough to what I was thinking, and I no longer feel unique.  That’s not a bad thing, that just means we should be looking at history, even more, to see what has worked and what hasn’t and help us steer our progress in a more intelligent way for the betterment of humanity and our planet.

This leads me to one of the key points in the book, History repeats itself, but not in detail.  For example, when looking at a few great civilizations of the past, Babylon, the Roman Empire, and others, all of them decayed and it was typically due to internal strife or lack of trade and commerce.  

So what does that tell us about our current worldly situation?  Well from the US perspective, we have transformed from a colony to the head superpower in a blink of an eye.  And with the advancements of technology continues to grow exponentially, things can fall even faster if we aren’t careful.  

I’m more concerned with internal strife than lack of trade and commerce at the moment.  With our connections with fellow citizens being limited to siloed social media likes and shares, we are becoming more connected, but only with people on the same team as our beliefs…continually getting stronger and stronger, yet farther and farther away from a common unity.  

I feel this is how clashes break out. When we can’t discuss ideas and have the ability to change our minds when better-reasoned arguments are presented.

Another key point the Durants determined is that the essence of beauty is ordered and that to have a successful state, we must find the right balance of order and liberty.  This reminds me of the Golden Middle talked about in Eastern Philosophy.  Typically the truth lies in the middle.  

For example, you could believe that everyone should own a gun and your neighbor can believe that no one should ever be allowed to own a gun.  The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle with certain types of guns should be owned and proper vetting must be done to keep mentally unstable people from having them.  I don’t know what the perfect ratio would be and it will not appease everyone because the middle tends to be a gray zone, but it’s better than the polar extremes.

Speaking of polar extremes, the last point I want to talk about is Durant’s view that the excess of anything leads to its opposite reaction.  This also fits the Golden Middle concept, that humans tend to swing in an equal and opposite force which is beautifully illustrated in the US’s two party system.  

When one side hits hard and gets what they want, the other side at a later date does what they want to do with a little extra for good measure.  If you look at the trend line, hopefully, the average over time gets us to where we want to go, even though living through it can look like a disaster.

The Durants Know History

Well, they’ve have spent a lifetime researching and writing books.  Their most notable works are the 11-volume set called The Story of Civilization, which amasses over 10,000+ pages. Talk about a dedication to preserving history the way they interpreted it.

One limit to their point of view is their heavy focus on Western thought, but that’s ok as long as we put in the time to explore eastern thought on our own time.

Actionable Nugget

The nugget I want you to chew on today is, when’s the last time you changed your mind on an entrenched belief?

Mine came relatively recently in regards to hunting.  Growing up in California, the only animal I killed were some trout during camping trips up in Yosemite, but I wouldn’t think about hunting a deer or boar.  Who’d want to kill Bambi?

But after listening to a few in-depth podcasts with hunters, I realized there are some invasive species that need to be contained through hunting, and there are many endangered species that have been brought back from near extinction due to regulated hunting programs.

It wasn’t easy to change my mind, but I’m glad I gave myself the opportunity to question some long-held beliefs and really look back at how I got them.

I want to hear what long held the belief you’ve changed.  It could be recent or one a long time ago.  But let me know.  The easiest way is to go to my site, and leave me a comment this episode, TS3.

You know what, if you leave a comment within the next 7 days, I’ll pick one person at random to send a copy of The Lessons of History.  So what do you say, do you have 3 minutes to leave a comment?  I hope you do because I want to hear your story.

Lastly, I couldn’t do this podcast without your support.  If you enjoyed this episode, I’d love for you to leave a review on iTunes so I can continue to make it better and better.  

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With that, I’ll leave you until next time.

Stay Thought-Full.

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