From an Amazon customer....
The words of the wisest men in history, March 19, 2002
There is no pre-requisite to the enjoyment of philosophy, and there is no pre-requisite to the Story of Philosophy. Simply bring a mind that is famished for an injection of joy.
"That is very good; but there is an infinitely worthier subject for philosophers than all these trees and stones, and even all those stars; there is the mind of man. What is man, and what can he become?" (Durant summarizing Socrates)
Philosophy is the night that you looked up at those 100 billion stars and 100 billion galaxies and realized that you were beginning to ask the right questions. "To know what to ask is already to know half." (Durant summarizing Aristotle) Philosophy is the one great conversation in your past that echoes in every conversation since. When will that time come again? "All excellent things are as difficult as they are rare." (Durant summarizing Spinoza)
That phenomenon of wonder will return when you open the "Story of Philosophy". A further taste of Durant's warming liquor:
"Every science begins as philosophy and ends as art; it arises in hypothesis and flows into achievement."
"How many a debate would have been deflated into a paragraph if the disputants had dared to define their terms."
"Political science does not make men, but must take them as they come from nature."
"The chief condition of happiness, barring certain physical prerequisites, is the life of reason--the specific glory and power of man."
Durant's approach is linear in time, but immense in breadth. Beginning with Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, we are not only granted access to their treasure chests of wisdom, we are also given insights into the men. Durant introduces the era before he introduces the philosopher, for humanity inspires humanity, and these giants have benefactors of their own. Durant considers history as important an aspect of philosophy as metaphysics, and here he shines with a polished historian's touch (see Will Durant - "Story of Civilization").
"Athens became a busy mart and port, the meeting place of many races of men and of diverse cults and customs, whose contact and rivalry begot comparison, analysis, and thought."
"Traditions and dogmas rub one another down to a minimum in such centers of varied intercourse; where there are a thousand faiths we are apt to become skeptical of them all."
Durant runs the gauntlet of great thinkers (Plato, Aristotle, Bacon, Spinoza, Voltaire, Kant, Nietzsche), and introduces you to some odd-looking but strong-eyed and delightful strangers (Schopenhauer, Spencer, Bergson, Croce, Russell, Santayana, James, Dewey).
"How can we explain mind as matter, when we know matter only through mind?" (summarizing Schopenhauer)
"We often forget that not only is there a soul of goodness in things evil, but generally also a soul of truth in things erroneous." (summarizing Spencer)
"In ourselves, memory is the vehicle of duration, the handmaiden of time; and through it so much of our past is actively retained that rich alternatives present themselves for every situation. As life grows richer in its scope, its heritage and its memories, the field of choice widens, and at last the variety of possible responses generates consciousness, which is the rehearsal of response... Free will is a corollary of consciousness; to say that we are free is merely to mean that we know what we are doing." (summarizing Bergson)
How many of these men have you missed in the crowd of history? And how many days will pass before you make their acquaintance? What will your future be like once you hold their wisdom in your hands? Durant believes it will be a far richer one.
The Story of Philosophy actually contains more summary than quote, and we would normally cringe at such an announcement. Only the bravest of souls would wade into the brine of further philosophical precis. But Durant is the encapsulation of the finest teachers you have met in this lifetime, and his abridgements multiply the reader's comprehension while encouraging cross-referencing with the originals, making the entire experience savory and thoroughly digestible. Durant is the rare case of a man who can interpret wisdom and also construct it anew. The result is maybe the highest ratio of wisdom-to-words of any book in the Library of Humanity.
Compare his extractions of Kant with an original text of the babbling scholar:
"Sensation is unorganized stimulus, perception is organized sensation, conception is organized perception, science is organized knowledge, wisdom is organized life: each is a greater degree of order, and sequence, and unity." (summarizing Kant)
"The real church is a community of people, however scattered and divided, who are united by devotion to the common moral law." (summarizing Kant)
"Kant was too anxious to prove the subjectivity of space, as a refuge from materialism; he feared the argument that if space is objective and universal, God must exist in space, and be therefore spatial and material."
After 50 pages of Durant on Kant, you will be praying for the entire translation. But Durant moved on to other fine thinkers, and, after 500+ pages of wisdom, you will rejoice that the balance of his substantial catalog is over 10,000 pages (Lessons of History, Story of Civilization - 11 vols.).
Within one year of the original printing (1926), the work found its way onto the nightstands of the scholarly and the coffee tables of the middle-class. It inspired a flood of "Story of ..." books whose words are now lost to the past. It was, and still is, the primary text for many university philosophy curricula. For those who have read it, Story of Philosophy is probably their "trapped on a desert island with one book" selection. That the work remains in print and in demand three generations later is a testament to the author and to the subject... both mighty fine creations.