EXPERIENCES by Arnold Toynbee


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Spengler and Toynbee are the two most famous modern historians. What The Decline of the West meant to readers after the First World War, A Study of History meant to a later generation after the Second. Both were long, complex cyclical surveys of civilization touched with the wand of prophecy and the air of superior knowledge. Though both operated from contrary poles, it is interesting to note that between them they bridged the two cornerstones of our cultural legacy: Spengler with paganism, Toynbee with Christianity. . . . It would be nice if there were something equally significant in Experiences. Alas, this second book of septuagenarian memoirs (Toynbee will be eighty in April) is even dimmer than the first, Acquaintances. It is not that the subject matter isn't worthwhile (education at Winchester and Oxford, the Paris Peace Conference, the founding and development of Chatham House, Science and Technology), but simply that Toynbee's mind, when away from specifically weighty historical affairs, seems rather low-key and uninspired, making the reader leap to attention only when a few unguarded opinions are offered, such as his crotchety notions of Israeli and American imperialism, or his peculiarly fussy definition of an angel and its unintended humor: ""a mammalian vertebrate with an insect's six limbs instead of a vertebrate's four. . . "" Unlike Spengler, Toynbee's glory, though waning, still has its luster. But it's the past Toynbee we must revere.

Pub Date: April 10th, 1969
Publisher: Oxford