Essays and Talks on the Love of Wisdom

It comes from the Greek words meaning “love of wisdom.” In English, it is called philosophy – the study of the most important and enduring questions of the human race. Questions like, “What is reality?” “How do I know?” “Is there a God?” “What happens when I die?” (among others) have intrigued mankind for millenniums and continue to pique the interest of eager seekers after truth. Perhaps more so than any other discipline, philosophy is best understood as a dialogue between ourselves and the great minds of the past – a dialogue that has endured for thousands of years.

Drawing upon Will Durant’s essays, as well as never-before-published talks and dialogues on philosophy and philosophers, An Invitation To Philosophy presents a magnificent overview of the major branches of philosophy, their problems and capabilities, as well as brief profiles of four of the discipline’s most inspirational representatives (Confucius, Socrates, Plato and Giordano Bruno). An Invitation to Philosophy is a compass and guide to navigating the moral ocean of the human soul, in addition to being the definitive presentation of the philosophy of Will Durant, who makes an eloquent case for the very need of philosophy in our daily life:

Without philosophy, without that total vision which unifies purposes and establishes the hierarchy of desires, we fritter away our social heritage in cynical corruption on the one hand, and in revolutionary madness on the other; we abandon in a moment our pacific idealism and plunge into the cooperative suicide of war; we have a hundred thousand politicians, and but a single statesman. We move about the earth with unprecedented speed, but we do not know, and have not thought, where we are going, or whether we shall find any happiness there for our harassed souls. We are being destroyed by our knowledge, which has made us drunk with our power. And we shall not be saved without wisdom.

-- Will Durant (from Chapter One)

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The past year has brought a number of developments concerning the legacy of Will and Ariel Durant. On of the most exciting new developments is the release of "The Heroes of Civilization", a series of previously unreleased recordings by the Durants. In this interview, Durant Estate historian John Little gives us some details on this developing project.

Okay John, tell us about these audio recordings you have been working on.  What are they and how did they come about?

They were the genesis of the book "Heroes of History." Four years prior to their passing, Will Durant set about - at the tender age of 92 - writing the scripts for these talks, which would grow to 21 in length. At the urging of their daughter, Ethel, in the Spring and Summer of 1977, Will and Ariel invited a professional audio crew into their home in Los Angeles with the result that 14 talks were recorded onto audio tape. Upon completion, Will's passion for writing returned, and he set about writing 7 additional talks, which he then decided to edit into a book to be called "Heroes of History" which, as you know, was released by Simon and Schuster in November of 2001. When the Durants passed away in 1981, their daughter was too emotionally attached to the project to complete it, and when she passed away several years later, the audio recordings were put into storage with the rest of the Durant's personal affects - where they remained unnoticed and unknown until I happend upon them in the winter of 2000. The Durant tapes would ultimately survive three moves and a major flood prior to their discovery, after which an extensive preservation and restoration campaign was undertaken that proved successful in salvaging the recordings, save for the ending paragraphs of three of the 14 talks, which were later re-read by me. Now, 25 years after their creation, this last project that the Durants worked on together is ready to be released to the public. I've spent the past year and a half restoring and editing the tapes and even had new music scored for each talk, which was composed specifically for the project by Wayne Hawkins, an incredible composer/musician from Kansas City.

What do you feel is special about these tapes?

Well, the first thing is that these tapes now make it possible for future generations to learn the wonders of history directly from Will and Ariel Durant themselves. The Durants' books, of course, have sold in excess of 23 million copies and been a staple in American homes for generations, in addition to being a source of education and enjoyment for tens of millions of readers the world over. But never before has an opportunity existed for people to listen to the Durants' enchanting brand of history first-hand - until now. To learn directly from the greatest in their field is an opportunity rarely afforded. These tapes, I believe, represent a chance for the listener to learn history firsthand from two of the most heralded historical scholars and educators of all time, and an opportunity to benefit from the far reaching wisdom and keen insights of two individuals who spent over one half a century perfecting their craft. The Durants bring history alive, humanize its vast panorama, and illuminate the present with the lessons learned from the past. The Heroes of Civilization audio series provides the listener with the knowledge and power that comes from a first-class education - without requiring one to spend decades of one's life and thousands of dollars to obtain it, allowing you to learn at your own pace and in a manner that will benefit you and your children.

How do you plan to release them?

At present, the plan is to release them exclusively through the Will Durant On-Line web site. However, several audio companies have expressed a keen interest in acquiring the rights to them, which would probably result in a broader distribution. I would also like to market them to National Public Radio, libraries and educational institutions as, along with the "Heroes of History" book, they are a tremendously compelling, entertaining and highly beneficial way to learn history.

What insights do they bring to the Durant legacy?

They bring tremendous insights into the Durant legacy. Imagine the mind and the mental acuity required to craft these talks -- I counted over 521 separate subjects that were covered in these 14 talks, all loaded with details and life lessons -- at the age of 92! I hope I can remember my own name when I'm that age! Will Durant, however, is sharp as a tack, witty -- very funny, actually -- while at the same time dropping these pearls of wisdom that subtly reveal his half century of intensive scholarship in history and philosophy. That this was the Durants' last project is also of immense interest historically and the release of these tapes is of paramount importance to their legacy. They are, as I eluded to earlier, the closest thing we have to spending time with Will and Ariel, and learning the great lessons they had to teach us directly from them -- rather than through an intermediary or actor, as in the case of some of their books having been rendered onto tape. These tapes are the genuine article; the real McCoy. All told, there is over seven-and-a-half hours of audio of the Durants themselves in these tapes, which is the equivalent of spending almost eight hours in their company to learn the great lessons that history has to teach. These are classes you will never tire of attending, and talks that you will profit from listening to again and again. The Heroes of History audio series is an invaluable gift for young and old alike -- the gift of our religious, Asian, and Classical heritage. Our birthright as human beings. These are talks that will benefit not only college students who hunger for a truly meaningful education but every individual who hungers for truth, knowledge and understanding of the human condition. I'll let Will have the last word on this, from the ending of his first audio talk entitled "What Is Civilization?" -- this is not only vintage Durant and a powerful way of looking at history, but to hear him actually say these words, and to hear the passion in his voice, is to have experienced something profoundly powerful that will stay with you the rest of your life:

"I will not subscribe to the depressing conclusion of Voltaire and Gibbon that history is "the record of the crimes and follies of mankind." Of course it is partly that, and contains a hundred million tragedies. But it is also the saving sanity of the average family, the labor and love of men and women bearing the stream of life over a thousand obstacles; it is the wisdom and courage of statesmen like Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt, dying exhausted but fulfilled; it is the undiscourageable effort of scientists and philosophers to understand the universe that enveloped them; it is the patience and skill of artists and poets giving lasting form to transient beauty, or an illuminating clarity to subtle significance; it is the vision of prophets and saints challenging us to nobility.

"On the turbulent and sullied river, hidden amid absurdity and suffering, there is a veritable City of God, in which the creative spirits of the past, by the miracles of memory and tradition, still live and work, carve and build and sing. Plato is there, playing philosophy with Socrates; Shakespeare is there, bringing new treasures every day; Keats is still listening to his nightingale, and Shelley is borne on the west wind; Nietzsche is there, raving and revealing; Christ is there, calling to us to come and share his bread. These and a thousand more, and the gifts they gave, are the Incredible Legacy of the race, the golden strain in the web of history. We shall not close our eyes to the evils that challenge us; we shall work undiscourageably to lessen them; but we shall take strength from the achievements of the past, the splendor of our inheritance.

"Let us, varying Shakespeare's unhappy king, sit down and tell brave stories of noble women and great men."

New Will Durant Compendium!

A compendium of the greatest thoughts, the greatest minds, the greatest poets, and the greatest books -- listed in accessible and concise form -- from one of the world's greatest scholars.

From the "Hundred Best Books For An Education" to the "Ten Greatest Thinkers Of All Time," here is a pocket-sized collection of the world's most significant knowledge. For the better part of a century, Will Durant dwelled upon -- and wrote about -- the most significant eras, individuals, and achievements of human history. His selections have now finally been brought together in a single concise volume. Durant eloquently defends his choices of the Greatest minds and Ideas, but he also stimulates readers into forming their own opinions, encouraging them to shed their surroundings and biases and enter "The Country of the Mind," a timeless realm where the heroes of our species dwell.

From a thinker who always chose to exalt the positive in the human species, The Greatest Minds and Ideas Of All Time stays true to Durant's optimism. This is a book containing the absolute best of our heritage, passed on for the benefit of future generations. Replete with Durant's renowned wit, knowledge, and unique ability to explain events and ideas in simple and exciting terms, this is a book every bit as significant as its title.


Will Durant (1885-1981) was awarded the Pulitzer Prize (1968) and the Medal of Freedom (1977). He spent more than fifty years writing his critically acclaimed The Story of Civilization (the later volumes written in conjunction with his wife, Ariel) and capped off his magnificent career with Heroes of History, written when Durant was 92. His book The Story of Philosophy is credited with introducing more people to the subject of philosophy than any other work. A champion of human rights issues such as the brotherhood of man and social reform long before such issues were popular, Durant, through his writings, continues to entertain and educate readers the world over, inspiring millions of people to lead lives of greater perspective, understanding and forgiveness.


John Little is the world's foremost authority on the life, work and philosophy of Will Durant. Little is the only person ever authorized by the Will Durant estate to review and use the entirety of Durant's writings, personal letters, journals and essays. He discovered and edited Durant's last manuscript (Heroes of History) and is the founder and director of The Will Durant Foundation (www.willdurant.com).

For recent reviews of the new Will Durant book, The Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time, please following the link here.


Will Durant's last manuscript has now been published, after some 20 years. The book, titled Heroes of History, was recently discovered by Will Durant historian and author John Little. Publishing house Simon and Schuster, whose first book was Durant's Story of Philosophy, released the book in November, 2001.

The release of this book is a very significant addition to the legacy of Will Durant and arrives just as the philosophy world is observing the twentieth anniversary of his passing.

For more on the new book and other information on coming projects please read the interview with editor John Little by clicking here.

For recent reviews of Will Durant's new book, Heroes of History, please following the link here.