Will Durant

On this date in 1885, William J. Durant was born in North Adams, Mass. Durant earned his B.A. from St. Peter’s College in N.J. in 1907 and his Ph.D. in philosophy from Columbia University in 1917. He was an accomplished historian and philosopher who wrote numerous books about history, including The Story of Philosophy (1926) and Heroes of History (2001). However, Durant’s fame was achieved mainly through the comprehensive 11-volume The Story of Civilization (1927–1975), co-written with his wife, Ariel Durant (née Ariel Kaufman). The books document the entire history of Western civilization. The Durants were awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1968 for Rosseau and Revolution (1967), volume 10 of The Story of Civilization, and the 1963 Huntington Hartford Foundation Award for Literature for volume 8, The Age of Louis XIV (1963). He married Ariel in 1913, and they have one daughter, Ethel.

Durant was born into a Catholic family, and spent seven years at the Jesuit St. Peter’s College. However, Durant lost his faith to the point that he could “no longer think of becoming a priest” (quoted in A Dual Autobiography, Will and Ariel Durant, 1977). In his autobiography, Durant wrote: “By the end of my sophomore year, I had discovered, through Darwin and other infidels, that the difference between man and the gorilla is largely a matter of trousers and words; that Christianity was only one of a hundred religions claiming special access to truth and salvation; and that myths of virgin births, mother goddesses, dying and resurrected deities, had appeared in many pre-Christian faiths, and had helped to transform a lovable Hebrew mystic into the Son of God” (A Dual Autobiography by Will and Ariel Durant, 1977). D. 1981

“Does history support a belief in God? If by God we mean not the creative vitality of nature but a supreme being intelligent and benevolent, the answer must be a reluctant negative.”

—Will & Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History (1968)

Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor and Eleanor Wroblewski

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