Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Two Other Surveys of World History: Chamberlain, Quigley

[ Originally written on Nov. 18, 2009 ]

H. G. Wells's The Outline of History is well worth reading again.  There are, however, two other surveys of world history that are worthy of being read once and then read again:  Houston Stewart Chamberlain's Foundations of the Nineteenth Century and Carroll Quigley's The Evolution of Civilizations: An Introduction to Historical Analysis.
Foundations of the Nineteenth Century has a title that may well mislead.  It is not about just the nineteenth century.  Chamberlain wrote his monumental work, two volumes running to approximately 1,500 pages, at the end of the nineteenth century.  For him, the nineteenth century was the contemporary world.  His great work attempts to explain how the modern world came into being.  More remarkably, Chamberlain first wrote the work in German as Grundlagen des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts.  Only later, in 1914, was it translated into English and published in England.  The English edition won the praise of George Bernard Shaw and Theodore Roosevelt.  The first, German edition won the endorsement of Kaiser Wilhelm.

Chamberlain was in one way like Joseph Conrad, the Pole who was born in Poland, moved to England and there became a master of the English language who has few equals.  Chamberlain moved the other way.  The son of an English admiral, he moved to France and Switzerland, then on to Germany where he met and married the daughter of the great composer Richard Wagner.  The most controversial fact about Chamberlain's Grundlagen is that it was extolled by Adolf Hitler.  Oftentimes people can do as little about their supporters as they can about their enemies.
Carroll Quigley's The Evolution of Civilizations was praised by Bill Clinton as one of the most influential books in his life.  We should not let that fact prejudice us against Quiqley's work.  Books can have all kinds of notorious readers.  First published in 1961 by Macmillan, The Evolution of Civilizations was reprinted in 1979 by Liberty Press, a conservative publishing house based at Indianapolis.  Much shorter than Chamberlain's great work, Quigley's book runs to only 442 pages.  It is a very useful tool, though, for prying into the innermost workings of history.

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