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Eleven volume reference history series by Will and Ariel Durant, written over a forty-year period from 1935 to 1975.

Durant's goal was historiography by the "integral method"
I wish to tell as much as I can, in as little space as I can, of the contributions that genius and labor have made to the cultural heritage of mankind - to chronicle and contemplate, on their causes, character and effects, the advances of invention, the varieties of economic organization, the experiments in government, the aspirations of religion, the mutations of morals and manners, the masterpieces of literature, the development of science, the wisdom of philosophy, and the achievements of art.

- Introduction to Our Oriental Heritage (1935)

Professional historians have criticized it for being the work of amateurs. Although this is true (neither Will nor Ariel Durant had graduate degrees in their subject), the writing is not amateurish.

The series presents history in narrative form, covering not only facts and dates, but also personalities, literature and culture. It has weaknesses: it tends to present a single viewpoint of complex events, it is intensely Eurocentric (the complete history of "The Orient" is presented in one volume, Europe takes up ten, and Africa's history is entirely untouched), and it is a product of its authors' times (particularly the Cold War).

However, the series can be an excellent introduction to the context of a historical event or person. It is also comprehensively indexed and extensively footnoted, although many of the sources are a bit old now. Having grown up in a house with the series, I can't picture living without it.

The series was originally intended as a five-volume set: Our Oriental Heritage, Our Classical Heritage, Our Medieval Heritage, Our European Heritage and Our Modern Heritage. The Durants never expected their work to take forty years and span eleven volumes.

The Story of Civilization consists of:

  1. Our Oriental Heritage, by Will Durant (1935)
    "Being a history of civilization in Egypt and the Near East to the death of Alexander, and in India, China and Japan from the beginning to our own day, with an introduction on the nature and foundations of civilization"

  2. The Life of Greece, by Will Durant (1939)
    "A history of Greek Government, Industry, Manners, Morals, Religion, Philosophy, Science, Literature and Art from the Earliest Times to the Roman Conquest"
    (covers the period of 1200 - 146 BC)

  3. Caesar and Christ, by Will Durant (1944)
    "A History of Roman Civilization and of Christianity from their beginnings to AD 325"

  4. The Age of Faith, by Will Durant (1950)
    "A history of Medieval Civilization from Constantine to Dante: AD 325 - 1300"

  5. The Renaissance, by Will Durant (1953)
    "A History of Civilization in Italy from the Birth of Petrarch to the Death of Titian: 1304 - 1576"

  6. The Reformation, by Will Durant (1957)
    "A history of European Civilization from Wyclif to Calvin: 1300 - 1564"

  7. The Age of Reason Begins, by Will and Ariel Durant (1961)
    "A History of European Civilization in the Period of Shakespeare, Bacon, Montaigne, Rembrandt, Galileo and Descartes: 1558 - 1648"

  8. The Age of Louis XIV, by Will and Ariel Durant (1963)
    "A History of European Civilization in the Period of Pascal, Moliere, Cromwell, Milton, Peter the Great, Newton, and Spinoza: 1648 - 1715"

  9. The Age of Voltaire, by Will and Ariel Durant (1965)
    "A History of Civilization in Western Europe from 1715 to 1756, with Special Emphasis on the Conflict between Religion and Philosophy"

  10. Rousseau and Revolution, by Will and Ariel Durant (1967)
    "A History of Civilization in France, England and Germany from 1756, and in the Remainder of Europe from 1715 to 1789."

    Originally, the Durants intended to stop writing after these ten volumes, but they became too interested in the Napoleonic era to leave it uncovered.

  11. The Age of Napoleon, by Will and Ariel Durant (1975)
    "A History of European Civilization from 1789 - 1815"

The Story of Civilization is still in print, and is now available on CD-ROM as well.

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