Will Durant and the Sage Society


Sometime back in the 1960's a book club, whose name I can’t remember, offered the ten volumes of Will Durant’s History of Civilization, for the cost of one dollar, as an inducement to join the club. Apparently many people took part in this offer but few ever took the time to read all the volumes. I was one of those people. Somewhere along the line I made a vow to myself that I would someday read the set of volumes which are now eleven books.

The California State University at Northridge in the San Fernando Valley section of Los Angeles offered the community, through its extension services, a Learning in Retirement program called The SAGE Society. The acronym SAGE stands for Study, Activity, Growth and Enhancement. The society got started in 1987 with fourteen members and now has 164 members. The main focus of the society is study and discussion.

Members submit requests for specific classes on subjects of interest to them to the curriculum committee that chooses the subjects that will be offered to the membership. There are three 10 week series and one seven week series of classes offered every year. Each class has a coordinator and a co-coordinator, chosen from the students in that class, to act as moderators. The goal is to design the classes to encourage discussion during the two hours of each meeting. Generally one or more of the class participants agree to make a short presentation on a relevant subject of the class’ interest area and design their presentation to stimulate discussion among the members.

I joined the Sage Society in 1995 because they were offering a Great Books Series and this was something I’d been wanting to do since I first learned about its existence in the 1940's.  In 1998 I requested the curriculum committee to offer a course for people interested in reading Will Durant’s History of Civilization.

I didn’t have much hope that we would get enough people (we require a minimum of 7) to make up a class.  I had agreed to coordinate the first series of 10 classes and to my surprise 13 people showed up for the first class. Over the last four years there has been so much interest in this project that there is now a second group that started with the first volume and is going on from there.

In my group there are now 18 people who are determined to stick together until we get through all eleven volumes.  In this upcoming fall semester we will finish volume IX and start volume X.  There are nine out of the 18 who have been involved with this project from its inception. A couple of years ago I jokingly told them, ”Nobody is allowed to die until we finish all eleven volumes,” no one has.  We are all senior citizens who are probably in our 70's on up.  We come from a variety of professional backgrounds from teachers, lawyers, doctors, psychologists, professors, engineers, business owners, etc.  Our format is to rotate coordinators within the group.  At the beginning of each ten week series the coordinator and co-coordinator divide up the reading material into ten weekly segments and the members choose in which week they will take the  responsibility to present and facilitate.  We all take responsibility to read the same chapters  before each weekly presentation and discussion.

We all enjoy Durant’s style of writing, his approach to history and especially his humor, commentary, sly remarks and brilliance.  We have coined a new word for his asides, Durantisms.   It is difficult to fathom that he was able to read, digest and write all that he did in his lifetime.  It is also very exciting that now there is a web site that can keep Durant’s legacy alive.  


Dr. Frances Kahn is a California-based licensed psychologist. Our thanks to Dr. Kahn for the permission to include her essay on this site.