Will and Ariel Durant

One of the local branches of the LA Public Library, the one on Sunset across from Wendy’s, is named after Will and Ariel Durant.

David Brooks grows wistful as he considers the Will and Ariel Durant project:

Between 1935 and 1975, Will and Ariel Durant published a series of volumes that together were known as “The Story of Civilization.” They basically told human history (mostly Western history) as an accumulation of great ideas and innovations, from the Egyptians, through Athens, Magna Carta, the Age of Faith, the Renaissance and the Declaration of the Rights of Man. The series was phenomenally successful, selling over two million copies.

I’ve taken a look at the first volume of the series,

and was astounded, amused, and delighted by what I found there.  Here’s an example.

When Will met Ariel Durant, her name was Ida, she was fourteen, and she was his student.

She was 15 at her marriage on Oct. 31, 1913, and came to the ceremony with her roller skates slung over her shoulder. Her husband was just about to turn 28. He called her Ariel, after the the imp in Shakespeare’s ”The Tempest,” and she later had her name legally changed.

(from Will’s NYT obituary).  In Our Oriental Civilization, Will makes the case for himself:

It’s pretty funny that we named the library after a pair of lovers whose romance would get the man arrested today.

On the other hand, that’s the kind of paradox of historical and civilizational change that Will Durant took so much joy in teaching about.

More from the NYT:

Dr. Durant consistently took a generally optimistic view of civilization, despite a growing belief that ”the world situation is all fouled up.”

”Civilization is a stream with banks,” he said in his precise voice. ”The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting and doing the things historians usually record, while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry and even whittle statues.

”The story of civilization is the story of what happened on the banks. Historians are pessimists because they ignore the banks for the river.”

Will and Ariel, from Wikipedia:



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s