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Our Oriental Heritage

The Story of Civilization, Volume 1
Written by: Will Durant
Narrated by: Robin Field
Length: 50 hrs and 17 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (14 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

The first volume of Will Durant's Pulitzer Prize-winning series, Our Oriental Heritage: The Story of Civilization, Volume I chronicles the early history of Egypt, the Middle East, and Asia. In this masterful work, readers will encounter:

  • Sumeria, birthplace of the first cities and written laws
  • the Egyptians, who perfected monumental architecture, medicine, and mummification more than 3,500 years ago
  • the Babylonians, who developed astronomy and physics, and planted the seeds of Western mythology
  • the Judeans, who preserved their culture forever in the immortal books of the Old Testament
  • the Persians, who ruled the largest empire in recorded history before Rome
  • Indian philosophy, Chinese philosophers, and Japanese Samurais
©2013 Will Durant (P)2013 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Starts slow but picks up steam

A true classic. Depending on your interests you may find some of the chapters a little dry but overall what a great book. I wasn't crazy about the early chapters but once they got into Egypt I was hooked. Very interesting to compare perceptions from the 1930's and now 😄

I would recommend this book to those of you who already have some knowledge of ancient history.

#Audible1

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Michael
  • 2013-11-30

Wonderful

I read this series years ago, then listened to them on cassette tape, and have begged for them on Audible for many years. Finally, the first two have appeared. No history is perfect, and history written in the forties cannot help but be dated, yet the authors’ presentation, tone, and focus seem surprisingly up to date. I really like the authors’ quirky sense of humor and matter of fact tone. This series is eleven big volumes totaling something like 500 hours. This history is very easy to listen to and it is hard for me to imagine anyone who would not find a lot of it interesting. Some people dislike the somewhat thematic instead of chronological approach, but I found it engaged me more than most histories. Persians and Chinese may be rightfully chagrined at the short shrift given their influential cultures and I agree with those who argue that the authors focus on exceptional individuals and deemphasize the importance of randomness in history. Nevertheless this is a series that I would recommend to anyone over twelve that wants to learn about western history. For me this was hundreds and hundreds of hours of fun and I did a little dance when I saw these were now available on Audible. Frankly none of the narration is perfect, but Robin Field does a good job in this volume. This volume covers pre-history and the invention of language and art up to the ancient eastern influences on western civilization. Selfishly I want to encourage people to listen to these first two so Audible will get the rest of the series.

109 of 110 people found this review helpful

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  • Gary
  • 2014-01-26

A path towards wisdom by way of history

One of the great books on Eastern Civilizations. This book is a perfect listen for those who don't like history with all of its dates since he tells the story functionally not chronologically. The book looks at history by each civilization and by function (philosophy, poetry, prose, people's language, government and so on). The author seems to excel when he's talking about a country's philosophy and uses it to describe the country's culture. The section on Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism are the best I have ever read.

It's hard to condense 2000 or more years into a digestible understandable format, but the author does it and the listener really gets to understand our place in the universe a little bit better because of it. The author magically takes random events, turns it into information, processes it into knowledge by giving it narrative and then gives the listener wisdom he didn't have before. I did smile out loud when we were told about Akbar the "illiterate intellectual". He would have the great works of his time read aloud to him. After having listened to this work, I too feel like the illiterate intellectual (since reading puts me to sleep and listening does not. Thank you Audible for making this book available!).

I will give a bit of advice to any potential listener that I know I wouldn't follow myself (my favorite kind of free advice). Don't listen to the first eight hours or so of the book on prehistoric man and early prehistory. He's just wrong and full of prejudices of the time. I did listen to it because I have a linear personality and just can't bring myself to not listen to it all, but the only value I got is that how little they knew about that period of man in 1935 and how they would extrapolate falsely and a boatload of the author's Western prejudices sneaked through.

I would be amiss to not comment on some of the incredibly absurd statements that permeate the book (meat eaters stink, "the average Japanese man today has the sensitivity and shrewdness of the Jew", Hindus are a superstitious people, and so on). I would recommend just ignore such statements and take the book as the masterpiece it is. I have yet to find any other book that covers Eastern Civilizations better and I definitely will read the other volumes in the series.

62 of 65 people found this review helpful

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  • jason
  • 2013-12-12

excellent! I'm excited for the entire series!

This is the only book in the series I've had time to read, so listening was a review for me. That being said, I loved it as much the second time as the first. Durant is my favorite author because of the lyrical way he writes history. Some of the many highlights for me are his explanation of Japanese poetry, the gruesome and barbaric ways people have tortured and killed one another (death by boats!), the plunder of India, how civilization creates and morphs religions, and random historical mistakes that travel through time and are a part of our current speech. (jehovah) It's a joy to be able to listen to this series because I will never have the time to read it, but can listen all day long at work. If you love history, this is the gold standard.

14 of 14 people found this review helpful

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  • Richard
  • 2013-12-01

Living, Breathing History

Two caveats. This first volume was written in the 1930’s so some of its information is inevitably dated. Secondly, this book is really more about giving the Eastern context necessary for understanding Western civilization than a comprehensive guide to Eastern civilization.

That being said, it is a beautifully written history, alive with detail, with generous amounts of quoted literature giving the testimony and mindset of the people who lived through these times. One thing I like about Durant’s approach is that while he is always lively and opinionated, he doesn’t create strawmen. He is always sure to present the best case for differing points of view. It would be nice to see more of that quality in these polarized times.

This was thoroughly enjoyable to listen to.

27 of 28 people found this review helpful

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  • leif
  • 2014-04-19

A must listen by anyone.

Any additional comments?

This book was written in the 1930's and it needs to be updated. Other than that, this book is one of the best history books ever written.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Jeff
  • 2013-12-28

MASTERPIECE KILLED BY NARRATION

This 11 vol. World history is without peer- and is one of the greatest works by any measure In history - and on history. I had asked audible to get it when I saw it became available and it wasn't anywhere on their radar. I assumed they (the one who just released the first book-recorded books I think) would either use the one that was around on tape - that had already been done by the incomparable Grover Gardener or at least use someone else of his caliber and suitability for the material as well as being appropriate for such a stunningly important work. What we got was a huge disappointment. The narrator was not suited to the material-at all, and I should know seeing as( very roughly) 300 of my 900 books are history.

Ive been after this series in audible format for 5yrs and while I sincerely thank audible for their efforts in bringing these titles on board It has been a huge let down. Its not audibles fault though.

Audible has really been great, not just for getting this(despite it being a disaster) but also other things Ive requested like the 2 missing books from Robert Caro's years of lyndon johnson biography which by the way was done marvelously by them. If you havnt read that multi-volume biography your life is incompleate!

Audible if your listening-this 11 vol masterpiece is out there on tape by grover gardiner(though he uses anouther name- Alex Alexander or something like that) Just waiting for you to pick it up re-master it and put it out there. Tongues are hanging out in anticipation of someone doing this!

57 of 64 people found this review helpful

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  • Andrew
  • 2015-07-07

From Origin to Industrial Revolution

I imagine this volume had to be the most difficult for Will Durant to produce because of its timeline. He begins his work brilliantly by explaining mankind's apparent need for familial safety and how a family grew to a tribe, from a tribe to a village, village to city, city to state, state to nation, etc. As more people join a culture, though, tasks can be distributed evenly among the citizens, giving some folks a leisurely time to create what came to be known as art or science and, since they were the possessors of such beautiful things, they came to be set at a higher standard, creating caste systems and such cultural labels that are still seen today.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the role of women and how they were the rulers of their families in ancient (or, as Durant calls them, Oriental) days but, with the evolution of castes and religion, they came to be thought of as property (especially in the last century which is a time he called Occidental.)

Robin Field is an amazing narrator with no misunderstanding of sentence structure or diction. I understood him quite clearly and his telling of quotes and notes was fantastic! I can already tell that I'm going to very much enjoy these volumes by Will Durant as well as anything else Robin Field narrates in the future! This book is a prized possession!

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Nurture Learners and Able Observers
  • 2016-08-29

The Eighth Wonder of the World is This Series.

If you could sum up Our Oriental Heritage in three words, what would they be?

Valuable information no person should have to live without. Ignorance when one is part of civilization, about the civilization one lives in, is an unnecessary burden. One does not have the big picture until they understand the cultures one has risen from. Your understanding of mankind just grows in leaps and bounds as you are taken through this marvelous adventure of our beginnings.

What did you like best about this story?

I read the series when it was introduced as a book club incentive in the mid 80's. It was just a great read. Magical! Not like reading a history book at all. Hugely entertaining. When they were published on cassette I had to listen again. Now on audio book, it has been just as great the third time though! The best yet!

Have you listened to any of Robin Field’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

There is humor and wit in the writing that is very subtle.

Any additional comments?

Don't deny yourself this extraordinary adventure of mankind!

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Gray Diamond
  • 2016-08-04

Civilization

I enjoyed the big picture presented with clarity.
I got engaged to the book. suddenly, the book was over. I love this book.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Aziz
  • 2016-06-03

I like the book and the narrator

I'm not an expert to criticize the book professionally but I like it.. I feel that the book goes over every important detail of the Era tackled in this volume the narrator is good and talks clearly.. English is a second language to me yet I easily understand him.. starting volume 2 soon!!

4 of 4 people found this review helpful