Book Review - Our Oriental Heritage
Last week I completed volume I of Will Durant's magnum opus, The Story of Civilization. Our Oriental Heritage
is really three books combined into one. The first book sets the stage, providing Durant's conception of the origin of civilization, and the characteristics which he then focuses on. Book two is really a prequel to his next work in the series, The Life of Greece
; it is a broad survey of the civilizations (from Sumeria to Persia) that preceded ancient Greece. The remaining 60% of the book focuses on India, China and Japan, from ancient times to roughly 1930. This last half of the book is primarily a cursory glance over these civilizations, as the remaining 10 volumes deal exclusively with western civilization. As an aside, it is important to note that this work is not primarily a narrative history of the chronological development of each civilization. Rather it is a thematic history, revealing the major developments and achievements in each civilization.
The primary virtue of the book is the author's ability to highlight the essentials of each civilization, without drudging through endless minutiae. Although he does occasionally slip off onto a tangential issue, he has provided the reader with an indispensable tool for discovering when this has occured. Through the use of a new paragraph formatted with a reduced font, the reader can literally see
when the content is of a more technical nature, and move ahead if he doesn't find it of interest.
On a negative note, there are errors to be found in the text, of a philosophic and economic nature. The author has a certain fondness for the regulation of society by the government. He also suffers from occasional bouts of Marxism, as best exemplified by this passage describing the effects of the industrial revolution upon Asia.
Those forces took the form of the Industrial Revolution. A Europe vitalized and rejuvenated by the discovery of mechanical power and its application to ever-multiplying machinery, found itself capable of producing goods more cheaply than any nation or continent that still relied on handicrafts; it was unable to dispose of all these machine products to its own population, because it paid its workers somewhat less than the full value of their labor; it was forced to seek foreign markets for the surplus, and was driven, by imperialist necessity, to conquer the world. Under the compulsions of invention and circumstance the nineteenth century became a world-wide drama of conflict between the old, mature and fatigued civilizations of handicraft Asia, and the young, jejune, and invigorated civilizations of industrial Europe
The interested reader can find an incomparable refutation of Marxism, imperialism and the doctrine of overproduction in George Reisman's magnum opus, Capitalism
All told this is an accessible book that introduces the intelligent reader to the highlights of the early history of the west and the east.
POSTED BY THE GENERAL AT 1:33 AM