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A provocative work that explores the evolution of emotions and personal relationships through diverse cultures and time. "An intellectually dazzling view of our past and future."--Time magazine Contents 1. How humans have repeatedly lost hope, and how new encounters, and a new pair of spectacles, revive them 2. How men and women have slowly learned to have interesting convers A provocative work that explores the evolution of emotions and personal relationships through diverse cultures and time. "An intellectually dazzling view of our past and future."--Time magazine Contents 1. How humans have repeatedly lost hope, and how new encounters, and a new pair of spectacles, revive them 2. How men and women have slowly learned to have interesting conversations 3. How people searching for their roots are only beginning to look far and deep enough 4. How some people have acquired an immunity to loneliness 5. How new forms of love have been invented 6. Why there has been more progress in cooking than in sex 7. How the desire that men feel for women, and for other men, has altered through the centuries 8. How respect has become more desirable than power 9. How those who want neither to give orders nor to receive them can become intermediaries 10. How people have freed themselves from fear by finding new fears 11. How curiosity has become the key to freedom 12. Why it has become increasingly difficult to destroy one’s enemies 13. How the art of escaping from one’s troubles has developed, but not the art of knowing where to escape to 14. Why compassion has flowered even in stony ground 15. Why toleration has never been enough 16. Why even the privileged are often somewhat gloomy about life, even when they can have anything the consumer society offers, and even after sexual liberation 17. How travellers are becoming the largest nation in the world, and how they have learned not to see only what they are looking for 18. Why friendship between men and women has been so fragile 19. How even astrologers resist their destiny 20. Why people have not been able to find the time to lead several lives 21. Why fathers and their children are changing their minds about what they want from each other 22. Why the crisis in the family is only one stage in the evolution of generosity 23. How people choose a way of life, and how it does not wholly satisfy them 24. How humans become hospitable to each other 25. What becomes possible when soul-mates meet


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A provocative work that explores the evolution of emotions and personal relationships through diverse cultures and time. "An intellectually dazzling view of our past and future."--Time magazine Contents 1. How humans have repeatedly lost hope, and how new encounters, and a new pair of spectacles, revive them 2. How men and women have slowly learned to have interesting convers A provocative work that explores the evolution of emotions and personal relationships through diverse cultures and time. "An intellectually dazzling view of our past and future."--Time magazine Contents 1. How humans have repeatedly lost hope, and how new encounters, and a new pair of spectacles, revive them 2. How men and women have slowly learned to have interesting conversations 3. How people searching for their roots are only beginning to look far and deep enough 4. How some people have acquired an immunity to loneliness 5. How new forms of love have been invented 6. Why there has been more progress in cooking than in sex 7. How the desire that men feel for women, and for other men, has altered through the centuries 8. How respect has become more desirable than power 9. How those who want neither to give orders nor to receive them can become intermediaries 10. How people have freed themselves from fear by finding new fears 11. How curiosity has become the key to freedom 12. Why it has become increasingly difficult to destroy one’s enemies 13. How the art of escaping from one’s troubles has developed, but not the art of knowing where to escape to 14. Why compassion has flowered even in stony ground 15. Why toleration has never been enough 16. Why even the privileged are often somewhat gloomy about life, even when they can have anything the consumer society offers, and even after sexual liberation 17. How travellers are becoming the largest nation in the world, and how they have learned not to see only what they are looking for 18. Why friendship between men and women has been so fragile 19. How even astrologers resist their destiny 20. Why people have not been able to find the time to lead several lives 21. Why fathers and their children are changing their minds about what they want from each other 22. Why the crisis in the family is only one stage in the evolution of generosity 23. How people choose a way of life, and how it does not wholly satisfy them 24. How humans become hospitable to each other 25. What becomes possible when soul-mates meet

30 review for An Intimate History of Humanity

  1. 5 out of 5

    Wayne

    14 YEARS LATER:ie December 14th 2015 I AM SHOCKED...AMAZED !!! I thought I may have read this book about 6 or 7 years ago...that is how much THIS BOOK is STILL with me. ..and it is August 2001 that I finished reading it..can't believe it is that long ago!!! This is a book of which I so often think:"I MUST read that book again." I am still searching out copies to give to friends. I often glance in its direction where it sits with many other books in my bedroom. MUST be time to read it AGAIN!! REVIEW BEGI 14 YEARS LATER:ie December 14th 2015 I AM SHOCKED...AMAZED !!! I thought I may have read this book about 6 or 7 years ago...that is how much THIS BOOK is STILL with me. ..and it is August 2001 that I finished reading it..can't believe it is that long ago!!! This is a book of which I so often think:"I MUST read that book again." I am still searching out copies to give to friends. I often glance in its direction where it sits with many other books in my bedroom. MUST be time to read it AGAIN!! REVIEW BEGINS: This was a rich and astonishing read. AFTERMATH: For years after I read it I could not put it back on a bookshelf. To do so was like admitting that the reading was OVER, whereas I just wanted to keep exploring everything this book offered and opened up. PURCHASING: The title was enough to excite. Then with chapter headings such as these... *How new forms of love have been invented. *Why there has been more progress in cooking than in sex. *How men and women have slowly learned to have interesting conversations. *How respect has become more desirable than power. *Why toleration has never been enough. *How even astrologers resist their destiny. *How the art of escaping from one's troubles has developed, but not the art of knowing where to escape to. ...the book was soon travelling home with ME!! READING: Obsessive and provocative, stimulating and thought-provoking. STRUCTURE: Each chapter begins with a look at the life of a real person who somehow typifies the chapter's heading. Then there is a general look at the issue,its history, opinions, problems and solutions etc. CONCLUSION: There are probably 1,000 books to read before you die. I think this might be Number ONE!!!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Marc

    This is not a history book at all, although Zeldin makes extensive use of historical examples. No, this rather is a philosophical work, but in a very original way. Zeldin focuses on existential questions: the difficult relationship between men and women, the determining role of fear in a human life, the question of loneliness, the asymmetry in the relationship between parents and children, the difference between tolerance and generosity, and so on. He looks into a total of 25 such ‘intimate’ iss This is not a history book at all, although Zeldin makes extensive use of historical examples. No, this rather is a philosophical work, but in a very original way. Zeldin focuses on existential questions: the difficult relationship between men and women, the determining role of fear in a human life, the question of loneliness, the asymmetry in the relationship between parents and children, the difference between tolerance and generosity, and so on. He looks into a total of 25 such ‘intimate’ issues, almost always in the same way. He first presents a number of case studies of people he has spoken with and who reveal to him what is going on in their lives. They almost always are women, and most of them are French (France is Zeldin's specialization, witness his phenomenal “A History of French Passions”, in 3 volumes). He then outlines how the issue he is focussing on in that chapter, has evolved throughout history, and especially what shifts have recently taken place. This may sound too much like a rigid scheme, but it is actually more of a collection of learned talks rather than a systematic explanation. In that sense, it reminded me a lot of Montaigne's Essays, which also cover all sorts of themes that are viewed from different angles. Because Zeldin also goes very broad: he not only draws from history, but also involves sociology, psychology, economics, politics and culture in his analyses and examples. His approach is so meticulous that sometimes it becomes a tough nut to crack; this certainly not is a bedtime read. In all of this, Zeldin repeatedly exposes how humanity has undergone an enormous evolution, especially in the second half of the 20th century, certainly in those more "intimate" (I’d rather say existential) aspects. And as far as he is concerned, that evolution is unambiguously positive: of course, humanity still is bound by its condition, but especially because of the enormous freedom we have acquired, we are much more open to life than ever before. No wonder that Zeldin constantly pleads to go even further, and especially the terms "curiosity" and "generosity" repeatedly recur in his discourse. In that sense, this work is also a kind of a self-help book, but not in the cheap, preachy way! This work also betrays the era in which it was written: in the early 1990s, after the end of the Cold War, and at the beginning of the globalisation and communication revolution; the future unambiguously looked rosy. We are now almost 30 years on, and quite a few dents have emerged in this optimistic perspective. Still, I hesitate to call this book dated. Zeldin's voluntarism is accompanied by such a careful observation of the human animal, such an erudite analysis of human history, so much attention to the capriciousness and complexity of the human condition that this book may continue to excite and inspire reflection for a long time to come.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    I could not figure out why reading this book made me feel enraged. I wondered if it had something to do with the way it says everything about nothing and nothing about Everything. Zeldin shares 1st person narratives from people who were weirdly philosophical about themselves and their lives. Is it because many of them are French. C'est l 'absurd. This book got rave reviews and the truth is that I was too annoyed to finish it. It was like eating food made of air. I could not figure out why reading this book made me feel enraged. I wondered if it had something to do with the way it says everything about nothing and nothing about Everything. Zeldin shares 1st person narratives from people who were weirdly philosophical about themselves and their lives. Is it because many of them are French. C'est l 'absurd. This book got rave reviews and the truth is that I was too annoyed to finish it. It was like eating food made of air.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

    Zeldin's work, despite the name, isn't really historical scholarship. Instead it's far closer to philosophy, and his use of history is kin to Foucault's - by picking and choosing key moments in the global past, what do we learn that might help us navigate our present? It's a fascinating text, if so broad and expansive that sometimes it feels too much to take in. Zeldin tries to pinpoint the things that make us human, tries to find our commonalities instead of focusing on differences, and asks wha Zeldin's work, despite the name, isn't really historical scholarship. Instead it's far closer to philosophy, and his use of history is kin to Foucault's - by picking and choosing key moments in the global past, what do we learn that might help us navigate our present? It's a fascinating text, if so broad and expansive that sometimes it feels too much to take in. Zeldin tries to pinpoint the things that make us human, tries to find our commonalities instead of focusing on differences, and asks what we might learn from each other to better fulfill our purpose while we live. He touches on war, enmity, friendship, love, commerce, religion, political movements, and psychology, and every page asks the reader to talk back to the text, to agree, disagree, or simply clarify each idea for themself. It would be a great text for teaching - there are no end of points of departure for discussion, and the tone of the piece is so gentle and conversational that I can't help but think students would find it hard to be defensive in reaction to his points in a way that they can't *help* but be defensive in response to Appiah's Cosmopolitanism. There are places where Zeldin gets things wrong - one section on American Indian people stereotyped all cultures based on Plains ideas, for example, and his conclusions therefore plain don't hold for masses of indigenous people in the Americas - but it struck me that this too is a teachable moment. Zeldin, no less than the rest of us, is a product of his time, place, and culture - if he can get something so wrong, what does that say about the rest of us? What should be wary of, alert to, conscious of as we work and think?

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lachlan

    It's taken me some time (Goodreads informs me 3 months), but I have finally finished reading Theodore Zeldin's ambitious book, 'An Intimate History of Humanity.' Zeldin's stated objective is to provide us with a history of humanity that surpasses stale cataloging of kingdoms epochs, and ages. Instead, he turns his attention to some of the most important and defining dynamics of human society. He takes our fixed assumptions about the nature of humanity, and, through an exposition of engaging histo It's taken me some time (Goodreads informs me 3 months), but I have finally finished reading Theodore Zeldin's ambitious book, 'An Intimate History of Humanity.' Zeldin's stated objective is to provide us with a history of humanity that surpasses stale cataloging of kingdoms epochs, and ages. Instead, he turns his attention to some of the most important and defining dynamics of human society. He takes our fixed assumptions about the nature of humanity, and, through an exposition of engaging historical examples, reveals them to be far less fixed than we have previously assumed. This quote perhaps sums it up best: "Nothing influences our ability to cope with the difficulties of our existence so much as the context in which we view them; the more contexts we can choose between, the less do the difficulties appear to be inevitable and insurmountable." That is the crux of Zeldin's mission; he wants to provide readers with the tools and inspiration to look beyond narrow cultural and social assumptions, and imagine new ways of being; new forms of politics, ethics and morality. His is essentially an optimistic, humanitarian vision. Once more I quote: "It is not enough to focus only on the minute synapses of personal encounters. It has become possible, as never before, to pay attentinon to what is happening in every corner of the globe. Humans each have a personal horizon, beyond which they normally dare not look. But occasionally they do venture further, and then their habitual way of thinking becomes inaequate. Today they are becoming increasingly aware of of the existence of other civilisations. In such circimstances, old problems take on a new appearance, because they are revealed as being parts of larger problems. The shift in interest away from national squabbles to broad humanitarian and environmental concerns is a sign of the urge to escape from ancient obsessions, to keep in view all the different dimensions of reality, and to focus simultaneously on the personal, the local and the univeral." But how well does he succeed? The book begins with a brief introduction that outlines his intent. From there, we are presented with an almost relentless anthology of chapters that follow the same structure - pick a theme, provide an initial modern case study to open up the discussion of that theme, then delve into the other possibilities of being that are supported by examples cherrypicked from throughout human history. Here is a sample of some of those chapter headings: - How men and women have slowing learned to have interesting conversations - How some people have acquired an immunity of loneliness - How new forms of love have been invented - Why there has been more progress in cooking than in sex - How respect has become more desirable than power - Why the crisis of the family is only one stage in the evolution of generosity Clearly Zeldin has not set his sights on low hanging fruit. Each chapter focuses on a particular thought or feeling, like toil, the art of conversation, voluntarism, compassion, attitudes on class and social status, and authority. Throughout this book, there are signs that Zeldin would wrap up with an impressive, overarching concept - and indeed he does, but after finishing 'An Intimate History of Humanity' I cannot help but think that a re-reading would be immensely beneficial. The concluding chapters provide essential context that I feel was missing from the introduction, and they really help illuminate the value in Zeldin's approach and his objectives. Perhaps his introduction is too brief. Perhaps it would have paid Zeldin to revisit his objective in detail before the final concluding chapters. I feel as though his concept was not explained as well as it could have been from the outset; and that this would have made for a more engaging book if he had taken more time to do so. Undeniably, many of the ideas in this book were intoxicating. Zeldin has immense scope of vision. His concept strongly appeals to my desire for a universal view of human nature and history - to cut through mere cataloging and classifying, and to draw out a better understanding of human nature drawn from across millenia. While certainly not flawless in its execution, this book is groundbreaking in it's approach, and will prove a worthy inspiration for anyone seeking a deeper level of understanding of human nature and the human condition. I finish this book very curious to where Zeldin's thoughts and understanding are at today (the book was published in 1997), and hope that future writers can build off his concept. It might prove to be a exceedingly fruitful method of philosophical inquiry. Addendum: another beautiful encapsulation of Zeldin's concept: "The sea is eternal: when it heaves One speaks of waves but in reality they are the sea." - Hamzah Fansuri

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sense of History

    Perhaps I'm not doing justice to Theodore Zeldin (° 1933) by approaching this book from a historian's point of view, but a pompous title such as "An intimate history of humanity" really asks for it. Let me start by emphasizing that Zeldin's knowledge of human history is quite impressive: he goes very broad, both in space and time; he draws his historical examples from western classical antiquity, the ancient history of India, China and Africa, as well as the more recent global world where the Am Perhaps I'm not doing justice to Theodore Zeldin (° 1933) by approaching this book from a historian's point of view, but a pompous title such as "An intimate history of humanity" really asks for it. Let me start by emphasizing that Zeldin's knowledge of human history is quite impressive: he goes very broad, both in space and time; he draws his historical examples from western classical antiquity, the ancient history of India, China and Africa, as well as the more recent global world where the Americas also appear on the scene. The bibliography for each of the chapters is quite elaborative, although I suspect that this is more of a recommended reading list than the literature Zeldin himself has processed. Of course, the appeal to the whole of human history also has a downside: it is impossible to keep up with the latest state of the art of historical sciences, and it is also impossible to make the right estimate each time when quoting historical examples. As a consequence Zeldin regularly messes up in this book. For example, he situates the discovery of "passionate love" in the 7th century Arabian desert (while the multicultural Islamic civilization that arose only after that period drew abundantly from Persian and especially Indian traditions). Or even: attributing the raids of the Vikings in Medieval Europe to the fear of the predators' own reputation seems very strange to me. Anyway, missing is human, especially if you take so much hay on your fork. What really appealed to me is that he constantly underlines the contingent character of human behaviour in the treatment of his themes: he rightly emphasizes that there is no unalterable and universally established human nature. But in turn he detracts from this by regularly referring to biology (the comparison with the behaviour of animals) and anthropology (the comparison with 'primitive' strains) in his historical analyses to make unorthodox analogies with contemporary human behaviour. Last but not least, despite the broad scope of the approach, this work almost entirely breathes the spirit of a white European at the end of the 20th century, living in a period of abundance and unprecedented possibilities. So as a philosophical work I value this higher than as a historical work. It’s a pity Zeldin choose that particular title. (rating 2.5 stars).

  7. 5 out of 5

    Nick Davies

    Bought cheaply from a clearance table in an Oxfam bookshop three or so years ago, on the strength of an unusual cover and a title which piqued my interest, this turned out to be very interesting indeed. Zeldin writes of human nature - the book is part sociology, part philosophy, part cultural history in discussing a number of statements which are explored in the context of interviews with French women, and are then challenged with reference to cultural norms throughout the ancient and modern worl Bought cheaply from a clearance table in an Oxfam bookshop three or so years ago, on the strength of an unusual cover and a title which piqued my interest, this turned out to be very interesting indeed. Zeldin writes of human nature - the book is part sociology, part philosophy, part cultural history in discussing a number of statements which are explored in the context of interviews with French women, and are then challenged with reference to cultural norms throughout the ancient and modern world. It's an educating journey.. taking in subjects as diverse as sexual equality, Gandhi, art and architecture, sleeping arrangements, romance, friendship, sex and consumerism. My only criticism, made with the acknowledgement that I read this on my commute and hence not 'at my most concentrating', was that I didn't feel the author completely managed to tie the whole book together into a complete 'message' - to me it was full of interesting and enlightening information, much of which I know I will soon forget. Consequently I am keen to re-read this more studiously in a year or two. I would, however, not hesitate to recommend this to readers interested in sociology and human history - it's a very well-written and fulfilling book which I am sure most people will find plenty of interest within.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    If you've ever wanted to read the history of some of our most common dreams, desires, and fears this is a good place to start. Well-written, and occasionally poetic. If you've ever wanted to read the history of some of our most common dreams, desires, and fears this is a good place to start. Well-written, and occasionally poetic.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    This is not a typical history book. It's perfect for someone hungry for knowledge but put off by history written as a succession of dates and wars by a detached, passionless author. Sometimes it almost reads like a self-help book-- but don't worry, cynics! It offers no quick solutions, only useful questions. Fluffy and condescending? Nay! Encouraging and inspiring? Yay! Divided into chapters like "How humans have repeatedly lost hope, and how new encounters, and a new pair of spectacles, revive t This is not a typical history book. It's perfect for someone hungry for knowledge but put off by history written as a succession of dates and wars by a detached, passionless author. Sometimes it almost reads like a self-help book-- but don't worry, cynics! It offers no quick solutions, only useful questions. Fluffy and condescending? Nay! Encouraging and inspiring? Yay! Divided into chapters like "How humans have repeatedly lost hope, and how new encounters, and a new pair of spectacles, revive them" or "Why there has been more progress in cooking than in sex", it attempts to understand what humanity means by telling the stories of both anonymous people alive today (mostly French women the author interviewed) and historical figures (often those forgotten or undervalued). It's very ambitious. There was a point about two-thirds of the way through when I felt almost overwhelmed by the scope of the book, particularly in the way it lays out so many contradictory opinions on how one should live one's life. But this is the nature of humanity, isn't it? Some of his interview subjects seem to contradict themselves within the same breath but they probably don't realize it. I think the book demands to be read slowly, maybe even dipped into again over the years. Another great thing about it is that each chapter ends with a sample of Zeldin's sources, a suggested reading list, so you can further explore a theme, period or person of interest.

  10. 5 out of 5

    M.D. Lachlan

    One of my favourite books and a real eye opener. One of the few books I read again periodically. It's the history of love but touches on many other aspects of philosophy. A page turner, which isn't something you often say about a philosophical novel. Like Alain De Botton but without the descents into banality. One of my favourite books and a real eye opener. One of the few books I read again periodically. It's the history of love but touches on many other aspects of philosophy. A page turner, which isn't something you often say about a philosophical novel. Like Alain De Botton but without the descents into banality.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Nevzat

    i had really high expectations of this book and didn't like it as much as i expected in the end. the problem for me was that the personal stories of french women at the beginning of each section was really nice and enjoyable but in most chapters i found it hard to relate their stories to the historical events and customs author picked. and the lack of connection between them made most of the book seem like a common "fun historical facts" blog. the other problem is that i find history or traditio i had really high expectations of this book and didn't like it as much as i expected in the end. the problem for me was that the personal stories of french women at the beginning of each section was really nice and enjoyable but in most chapters i found it hard to relate their stories to the historical events and customs author picked. and the lack of connection between them made most of the book seem like a common "fun historical facts" blog. the other problem is that i find history or traditions told as anectodes meaningless in most cases for what makes an event or a custom meaningful is it's place in the whole context of that society and it seems like you can find anything in history to prove any point, without caring much about its relations with other traditions or events.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ci

    I was impressed by the first 40 pages, with the author's promise of delving into the psyche and emotional history of humanity. Evidently erudite, this author alluded to references to historic events but promised to interpret them "intimately" and classic theoretic ideas but would use them "relevantly" so we don't get drowned in the details. The idea of starting with a particular person's life story held attraction as well -- till a point (page 40 onward) which becomes a mediocre collection of sn I was impressed by the first 40 pages, with the author's promise of delving into the psyche and emotional history of humanity. Evidently erudite, this author alluded to references to historic events but promised to interpret them "intimately" and classic theoretic ideas but would use them "relevantly" so we don't get drowned in the details. The idea of starting with a particular person's life story held attraction as well -- till a point (page 40 onward) which becomes a mediocre collection of snippets from classics and a loosely structured framework. Each topic has some independent points but they are often overwhelmed by repetitive points.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ed

    An amazing book that I just came across on my shelves having read it in 1994ish. Each chapter takes a contemporary French woman from many layers of society and uses it to weave the history of humanity. Really interesting different take on history. Intriguing.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Hock Tjoa

    Brilliant and fascinating even though one can legitimately wonder what connects all the stories told other than the author's (powerful) imagination. It ranges through much of recent (post 1700) Western history. Brilliant and fascinating even though one can legitimately wonder what connects all the stories told other than the author's (powerful) imagination. It ranges through much of recent (post 1700) Western history.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Al Bità

    This book was first published in 1994, and I must admit I had never heard of it until alerted to it by my good friend Wayne, who gave me a copy, and for which I am extremely grateful. This is a truly wonderful work, and one which should grace the personal library of anyone interested in a history which differs from the usual run of history books. It uses a very readable technique which is immediately charming (the list of chapter titles in the Table of Contents will be enough to intrigue even th This book was first published in 1994, and I must admit I had never heard of it until alerted to it by my good friend Wayne, who gave me a copy, and for which I am extremely grateful. This is a truly wonderful work, and one which should grace the personal library of anyone interested in a history which differs from the usual run of history books. It uses a very readable technique which is immediately charming (the list of chapter titles in the Table of Contents will be enough to intrigue even the most cursory of glances! — the first, for example, reads: How humans have repeatedly lost hope, and how new encounters, and a new pair of spectacles, revive them.) and one’s interest is grabbed instantly, and maintained throughout. Zeldin achieves this in a way I believe is rather unique. The work consists of 25 chapters. Apart from the last, each of the chapters begins with carefully selected and edited stories (at least one, but often enough more than one) of women he interviewed who lived in France during the period of the mid 1990s. Most, but not all, are French, and not necessarily of French cultural backgrounds. These stories are intensely personal. The cleverness of using women for his starting points may indicate an appreciation that they, especially in the ’90s, were more forthcoming about their personal and private lives than men would have been. Even so, the stories do not eschew men’s positions within these stories; they are often part and parcel of the implications and consequences for the women involved, and thus are equally central to the main issues. Consequently, this initial foray in each chapter raises certain issues and these are summarised by the individualistic and quirky chapter heading. Zeldin then proceeds through the second part of the chapter to look at the various ways and means people have in the past dealt with these same issues. This is the main substance and essence of the work, and the range of reactions explored most definitely does not remain in France, nor even just in Europe, nor limited to gender limitations, but embraces all cultures and all regions of the world in various degrees. It also allows Zeldin to inert his own comments and considerations as he sees fit. This part of the chapter, then, can be quite dense with mind-expanding world-wide personal responses, successful or otherwise, which give the reader many concepts and ideas to deal with. One can understand how some people would find that these responses, albeit in general briefly summarised, create a kind of surfeit of information which tends to make one stop and meditate on them (in the sense of ‘think about’). For me, this response made me want to stop reading; made me want to relish the ideas and thoughts expressed; made me want to savour the different flavours of varying responses… I did not want to read on regardless — and this feeling applied to each and every one of the chapters. Delicious! The third part of each chapter (not including the last chapter) consists of rather extensive bibliographies of the issues raised in the chapter. So, if one were particularly impressed by one or more suggested responses, there are many references one can turn to for further exploration. What all this teaches us is that there are many other ways that ‘history’ can be written. Too often, history books deal mostly with what we call the ‘major issues’ — wars, revolutions, politics, etc. — often with a grand overarching theme associated with them. What they tend to leave out is the individual person and their needs and aspirations, particularly if they are not specifically linked to any major trend. Even then, the tendency is to leave such matters to novelists and poets, almost as if these are really only of secondary interest to the ‘true’ historian. Zeldin’s work makes one much more aware that, in the personal lives of people everywhere, there are equally fascinating histories not normally dealt with, and which perhaps are more centrally related to core historical values than one might think. It is, in a sense, surprising how immediate one’s own personal response is to the attempts of people from all countries and cultures in dealing with issues which obviously concern all of them. We understand them! If there is one small niggling aspect which might cause some to be cynical: the fact that the book was written in the mid ’90s, and that Zeldin’s opinions and comments are therefore limited to the ideals and aspirations of the Western world during those comparatively innocent and perhaps hopeful times. To do so, however, would do a disservice to the main thrust of the work. Zeldin is adamant that, regardless of what the ‘big-picture’ history throws up, people and their dreams and aspirations and needs remain steadfast throughout the centuries. He calls for Compassion, Understanding, and Acceptance as being both the ancient, recent and future hope of humanity, and which underlies everything else, no matter how wonderful or how brutal we have behaved to ourselves and to others. There is no sense of sentimentality or softness about this approach in Zeldin’s work. He simply presents his facts, and suggests that those facts, bittersweet as they might be, are universal. For me, this Humanistic understanding makes Zeldin’s work a masterpiece of writing. It slowly and thoroughly weaves its spell on the reader — and we instinctively know that this is a true and honest appraisal of humans everywhere. By opening our minds and our hearts to this message, one cannot help but fall in love with this book. It is very, very beautiful. And if that is not enough for the more cynical among you, consider this: it is the adoption of this humanistic understanding of the world that allows us to read, relish, appreciate, understand and be moved by any literature from anywhere in the world, regardless of the language, culture, religion, politics, or social conditions which generated it. It touches all of us, because it represents the true history of ourselves to ourselves.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Tom Baxter

    A book that stays with you through the years - extraordinary.

  17. 4 out of 5

    John Cross

    Interesting perspective on people as the true component of history. People, not nations and institutions. But it jumps around quite a bit and needed clearer and more unifying themes.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Palmyrah

    I finished this book at the third try; on my first two attempts, made some years ago, I didn't even get to page 50. And though I finished it this time, I really, really disliked it. Prof. Zeldin, like many European intellectuals, appears to have been greatly influenced by Karl Marx at some point in his youth. The influence shows, not so much in his political and economic views, as in his prose. Like Marx, he is fond of giant intuitive leaps, dialectical arguments and dogmatic statements couched a I finished this book at the third try; on my first two attempts, made some years ago, I didn't even get to page 50. And though I finished it this time, I really, really disliked it. Prof. Zeldin, like many European intellectuals, appears to have been greatly influenced by Karl Marx at some point in his youth. The influence shows, not so much in his political and economic views, as in his prose. Like Marx, he is fond of giant intuitive leaps, dialectical arguments and dogmatic statements couched as memorable aphorisms. My own educational background is Anglicized, literary and scientific, which puts me out of sympathy with this approach from the outset. Aware of this — and feeling the need to broaden my mind — I bit back my own critical responses to Zeldin's writing and went at his book with as little prejudice and Anglo-Saxon cultural snobbery as was possible for me. It was not a successful experiment. This book is mistitled. In no way is it a history of humanity, intimate or otherwise. It consists of a series of discussions of the author's conversations with dozens of Frenchwomen whose occupations range from daily maid through counter clerk and executive trainer to mathematician and magazine editor. These women describe their lives and, particularly, their strategies for coping with it. Zeldin then discusses these strategies dialectically, invoking various cultures and historical epochs in which he believes the same strategies were tried, more or less successfully. This part — the actual history — is exhaustively referenced and doubtless accurate, but it is selective, sketchy and not very insightful in terms of historical process. Towards the end of the book, Zeldin attempts to sum up what conclusions he has reached from his conversations with women, and comes up with what he calls six strategies humans beings use to get through life. They are obedience, negotiation, self-sufficient withdrawal from the world, the quest to make sense of things by increasing one's own knowledge, talkative self-revelation and applied creativity. I think we are supposed to believe that this rather idiosyncratic classification contains or underpins all the other strategies any halfway intelligent person could identify, such as religious mania, moneygrubbing or alcoholism, but the author fails to demonstrate satisfactorily how this can be so. Ultimately, Zeldin's thesis is that, while the various ways in which humans have coped with life to date have all been more or less unsastisfactory, better ways are possible through more widespread and meaningful communication, and that, ultimately, this may bring about a step change in human nature, which he regards as mutable and capable of improvement. Here my attempt to be broadminded hit the wall. All the scientific, literary and historical evidence we have indicates to us that human nature is not malleable. You can modify behaviour, but only so far, and usually at a price paid in stress and mental instability. Zeldin never looks this unfortunate fact in the face. At one point the obstinacy of his refusal is so egregious it amounts to stupidity. This is when, in the course of (rightly) rejecting all prescriptive definitions of the ideal family, he states that 'the family is the oldest of all human insititutions because it is the most flexible.' This is very probably true, but it begs the question of what a family is — surely this Protean institution must have some factors that appear in all its numerous manifestations, by which it can be defined? — and worse, it begs the question of why we have families in the first place. Is the answer so obvious it need not be stated? I don't think so. And I think Zeldin's avoidance of the issue identifies the great flaw in this 'intellectually dazzling view of our past and future', as Time magazine apparently called it. The fact is that culture is based on nature, and human institutions are in fact animal institutions, greatly elaborated and extended. Culture — and that includes families as much as any other human institution — is the product of instinct, and it is to biology, particularly evolutionary biology, that we must look for truthful answers to the great questions that have troubled social scientists, theologians and philosophers for thousands of years. That, at any rate, is my view, and though I gave it my best shot, An Intimate History of Humanity failed to shake it, or to provide anything like a credible alternate perspective. On the positive side, Zeldin writes well, and some of his aphorisms are superbly quotable. Unfortunately, not all of them stand up to close scrutiny. But this is a disposable book; unless you're of a mind with the author, you will lose nothing by neglecting to read it.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sertac

    What an incredible book! There have been similar books (e.g. popular Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind) written before / after this, however when you see the amount of footnotes, references and connected-dots you understand how Theodore Zeldin thinks, researches and elaborates the concepts which directly mean a lot for social, daily and business life today. Anyone who wants to find answers to 'why's and 'how's about human behaviour should read this masterpiece periodically. Right before fini What an incredible book! There have been similar books (e.g. popular Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind) written before / after this, however when you see the amount of footnotes, references and connected-dots you understand how Theodore Zeldin thinks, researches and elaborates the concepts which directly mean a lot for social, daily and business life today. Anyone who wants to find answers to 'why's and 'how's about human behaviour should read this masterpiece periodically. Right before finishing this book, I purchased his other provocative book The Hidden Pleasures of Life: A New Way of Remembering the Past and Imagining the Future by Zeldin who has a very unique way of interpreting events, phenomenas and characters. Definitely the best book I've read this year and I've read more than 50 books this year.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lexie

    I've had this book for over a decade now; it's one of my perennials. It's the first book of history that I fell in love with. Still in love! Theodore Zeldin does something so original here that the book is fresh every time I open it. He begins each chapter with a person's story -- often related as though a conversation is in process. The individual story is expanded to encompass all of humanity, across all (recorded) history, and across all cultures. History is all of us; we all impact the larger I've had this book for over a decade now; it's one of my perennials. It's the first book of history that I fell in love with. Still in love! Theodore Zeldin does something so original here that the book is fresh every time I open it. He begins each chapter with a person's story -- often related as though a conversation is in process. The individual story is expanded to encompass all of humanity, across all (recorded) history, and across all cultures. History is all of us; we all impact the larger world: "No history of the world can be complete which does not mention Mary Helen Keller (1880-1968), whose overcoming of her blindness and deafness were arguably victories more important than those of Alexander the Great, because they have implications still for every living person." A few more quotes: ~ You belong with those people with whom you can sympathize, in whatever century they lived, in no matter what civilization. ~ Marco Polo has such curiosity that he forgets fear. ~ Again and again, apparently intelligent people ooze contempt to protect themselves from what they cannot understand, as animals defend their territory with foul smells. (The above three quotes are all lifted from the same page! This book is dense with beautiful ideas...) ~ The most elaborate remedy for gloom so far devised is the consumer society, but it has not succeeded in eliminating it... ~ ...for the last 5,000 years, the vast majority of humans have been submissive, cringing before authority and, apart from short-lived outbursts of protest, sacrificing themselves so that a small minority could live in luxury. ~ The major changes in history have resulted less from revolutions displacing kings, than from individuals ignoring kings and giving their allegiance to spiritual values instead.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Angela

    An interesting and intellectually challenging read. Arranged in short chapters making it convenient to read randomly from anywhere in the book. Great for busy times or when on the move. Catchy and memorable chapter titles such as " Why compassion has flowered even in stony ground", " Why even the rich and successful are somewhat gloomy about life" " How men and women have learnt to have interesting conversations". However, not always entirely convinced by the prescriptions given (which are proba An interesting and intellectually challenging read. Arranged in short chapters making it convenient to read randomly from anywhere in the book. Great for busy times or when on the move. Catchy and memorable chapter titles such as " Why compassion has flowered even in stony ground", " Why even the rich and successful are somewhat gloomy about life" " How men and women have learnt to have interesting conversations". However, not always entirely convinced by the prescriptions given (which are probably tongue in cheek, anyway). Take for example, the chapter on " How curiosity has become the key to freedom" which is a thought provoking chapter.There is an interesting debate emerging here within the context of how the creation of myths, legends and other ideologies can obstruct true understanding of that which we find not instantly explicable. The blinding desire to easily and conveniently explain away life's mysteries. To narrow them down to single factors. Reductionism. The other side of the equation is that there are different ways of "knowing" that may complement or contradict the rational mind.. and that these may or many not be equally valid depending on one's perspective. I would argue that Freedom is definitely more than just an intellectual pursuit. One can be extremely curious but that's not a guarantee that they will achieve freedom. It is possible that there may be such a thing as too much curiosity..... So I would argue that the examples given here have not necessarily proven to me how curiosity has become the key to freedom......... Perhaps it might be useful to start with a definition of what we mean by these words "curiosity", "key" and "freeedom". To heed the advice of Arundhati Roy who urges us not to simplify that which is complicated. On the whole, great chracterisation, engaging dialogue, useful analysis, still relevant today.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Māra

    A great book for those skeptically hopeful ones, who get joy out of life by trying to change something while understanding the smallness of it... The book provides you with many, many different examples from different times in human history of how they have tried to organise themselves better, to love in so many different forms and shapes, to learn to talk to each other, to be better, more alive, more something. The constant urge for change and the many forms that different civilisations have tri A great book for those skeptically hopeful ones, who get joy out of life by trying to change something while understanding the smallness of it... The book provides you with many, many different examples from different times in human history of how they have tried to organise themselves better, to love in so many different forms and shapes, to learn to talk to each other, to be better, more alive, more something. The constant urge for change and the many forms that different civilisations have tried. It can sound depressing as in - ok, it looks like they've tried it all, and nothing works. But it's quite the contrary - the never ending willingness to try is inspiring. Or, as the author puts it at the very end of the book: " It is in the power of everybody, with a little courage, to hold out a hand to someone different, to listen, and to attempt to increase, even by a tiny amount, the quantity of kindness and humanity in the world. But it is careless to do so without remembering how previous efforts have failed, and how it has never been possible to predict for certain how a human being will behave. History, with its endless procession of passers-by, most of whose encounters have been missed opportunities, has so far been largely a chronicle of ability gone to waste. But next time two people meet, the result might be different. That is the origin of anxiety, but also of hope, and hope is the origin of humanity."

  23. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas Whyte

    http://nhw.livejournal.com/786755.html[return][return]I got this ages ago, as it promised to be an interesting investigation of the history of how humans relate to each other. Unfortunately it isn't; it is a series of conversations with French women, one by one, with an attempt by the author to draw universal conclusions from each one individually. I got through less than a tenth of it before I reached my "Tonstant Weader fwowed up" moment, when one of the interviewees confided that[return][retu http://nhw.livejournal.com/786755.html[return][return]I got this ages ago, as it promised to be an interesting investigation of the history of how humans relate to each other. Unfortunately it isn't; it is a series of conversations with French women, one by one, with an attempt by the author to draw universal conclusions from each one individually. I got through less than a tenth of it before I reached my "Tonstant Weader fwowed up" moment, when one of the interviewees confided that[return][return]"When someone broke her favourite teapot, she did feel anger for two minutes, but then she said to herself, 'Everything has a life, everything has an end.'"[return][return]Well, that was certainly the end for me.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    A book by turns illuminating and frustrating, insightful, banal, and tedious. Zeldin drives at the important details of life and has wonderful insights into human existence through history, but the book's format is tiresome. The details from individual women's lives at the beginning of each chapter wore me down over time and took away from his cleverness and wit. In the end I fear I am not generous enough to this book, which is ambitious and attempts to be so all encompassing, but his dismissal A book by turns illuminating and frustrating, insightful, banal, and tedious. Zeldin drives at the important details of life and has wonderful insights into human existence through history, but the book's format is tiresome. The details from individual women's lives at the beginning of each chapter wore me down over time and took away from his cleverness and wit. In the end I fear I am not generous enough to this book, which is ambitious and attempts to be so all encompassing, but his dismissal of religion and his historical errors in the places where I know better lead me to it.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mark Nelson

    Each chapter in this book is split into two distinct parts. First there's one or more pen portraits of people, all of whom are French women. Second there's an attempt by Zeldin to link parts of the portraits to history. For me the portraits were the most consistent part of each chapter. This is a book that will make you think more deeply about your life and the life of others? Each chapter in this book is split into two distinct parts. First there's one or more pen portraits of people, all of whom are French women. Second there's an attempt by Zeldin to link parts of the portraits to history. For me the portraits were the most consistent part of each chapter. This is a book that will make you think more deeply about your life and the life of others?

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    Despite the sexysexy nipple-tastic cover, this is supposed to be a legit fascinating book.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Samantha

    The critical-minded humanities major in me cringed at a lot of the sweeping generalizations and unsupported conclusions in this book. Still, there were some original, inspiring ideas.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Taloot S.

    Extraordinary and marvellous history of how men and women lost and gaine hope through building trust and making life more liveable through human experience.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy Yuille

    If there were a book that lives in both 'read' & 'to read' states, this is it. If there were a book that lives in both 'read' & 'to read' states, this is it.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Prooost Davis

    This, to me, seems like a very eccentric sort of book. I've never read anything quite like it. Maybe I don't read enough history, or enough in the way of social sciences. At first, An Intimate History of Humanity struck me as a self-help book disguised as history, but it has a broader purpose than self-help. Zeldin would like to help as many people as possible break out of the habits of thought that hold them back. What I found eccentric was the structure of the book: each chapter begins with one This, to me, seems like a very eccentric sort of book. I've never read anything quite like it. Maybe I don't read enough history, or enough in the way of social sciences. At first, An Intimate History of Humanity struck me as a self-help book disguised as history, but it has a broader purpose than self-help. Zeldin would like to help as many people as possible break out of the habits of thought that hold them back. What I found eccentric was the structure of the book: each chapter begins with one or more interviews of women, French women to be exact. Zeldin then looks at historical approaches to the problems suggested by the interviews. (A note from Zeldin: "I have chosen to write about women, because I am not one myself, and because I have always preferred to write about subjects which do not tempt me to be so arrogant as to believe I can fully understand them, but above all because many women seem to me to be looking at life with fresh eyes, and their autobiographies, in various forms, are the most original part of contemporary literature.") Some sample chapter titles: 1 How humans have repeatedly lost hope, and how new encounters, and a new pair of spectacles, revive them 6 Why there has been more progress in cooking than in sex 11 How curiosity has become the key to freedom 14 Why compassion has flowered even on stony ground 18 Why friendship between men and women has been so fragile 23 How people choose a way of life, and how it does not wholly satisfy them One of my takeaways from this book is that while we tend to think that the way things are is the way they have always been, the ideas we live with are often relatively new, just a couple of generations old. Really understanding the world takes work, and a broadening of horizons. I think that An Intimate History of Humanity is a visionary work, and I hope it hasn't already fallen through the cracks.

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