A DUAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY by Will & Ariel Durant
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By their own pleased, energetic account, the champion chroniclers of civilization were born to their task--he the Jesuit-trained polymath and natural teacher, she the Russian-Jewish ""anarch"" and avid student. Their life together began at that hub of prophets and seekers, a libertarian school: Ariel (Ida, then) was an ardent, headstrong fourteen-year-old from a split, unsheltering home; Will was a naive idealist of twenty-seven, exiled from Church and home. The next year (1913), ""across all barriers of time and creed,"" they were married, and he set out to ""do for my generation what [Herbert] Spencer did for his."" The story is told in alternating passages (hers mostly dictated to, and written by, him) which permits each to praise or chide or prompt the other, to confess small failings or derelictions without self-threatening exposure. The dialogue form also serves to dramatize a relatively untroubled, almost imperative pilgrim's progress. Will enrolled at Columbia for a doctorate in philosophy and lectured on biology, psychology, art, music, science, sociology, and history at the Fourteenth Street Labor Temple--where (Ariel) ""he was compelled to be clear, to humanize his material with vignettes of creative personalities, and to bring it into some connection with current affairs."" His ""little thesis book"" launched him on the Chatauqua circuit, ""the first of forty years of continental lecture tours""; a lecture on Plato, attended by ""an impoverished, ambitious, book loving youth called Emanuel Julius"" became--after Julius ""went west, married Marcet Haldeman, added her name and income to his""--Haldeman-Julius Blue Book No. 159. And when there were eleven: The Story of Philosophy!!! Like all up-from-nowhere memoirs, this one levels off with the Durants' long, painstaking passionate involvement in the Story of Civilization series, where her research aid eventually led to title-page credit. But the litany of appreciative reviews, annual trips to Europe, famous friends made and old friendships renewed is broken--Will Durant might have plotted it--by a critical blast at The Age of Louis XIV. Will The Age of Voltaire be scorned, will their lifelong devotion to ""integral history"" totter? Tune in for the happy denouement (courtesy of the Times Literary Supplement) to a magnum of ""that sentimental, idealizing blend of love, philosophy, Christianity, and socialism"" that carried the Durants over millions of thresholds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1977
Publisher: Simon & Schuster