Fallen Leaves: Last Words on Life, Love, War, and God by Will Durant


What should we expect from a last book from Will Durant, the author of the 11-volume Story of Civilization? He hinted at his work on the Fallen Leaves before his death, but it wasn’t found until 32 years after his death when his granddaughter by chance found the manuscript in a box when she decided to move.

“The Story of Civilization”, was a biography that considered the living conditions of everyday people. Durant said that curious readers had challenged him to speak his mind on the timeless questions of human life and fate having spent so much of his life focusing on just that.

Durant wrote the preface to Fallen Leaves when he was 95 years old and in answer to those curious readers he said: “Please do not expect any new system of philosophy, nor any world-shaking cogitations; these will be human confessions, not divine revelations; they are micro- or mini-essays whose only dignity lies in their subjects rather than in their profundity or their size.”

Even though he says that he isn’t going to bring to us deep insight and great depth of knowledge or thought, the book still leaves us waiting for it. The 22 chapters might be considered Durant’s most important work, condensing his thoughts of sixty-plus years of his work, researching the philosophes, religions, arts, sciences and civilizations of the world.

The first eight chapters are insightful when taken together and Durant's voice seems especially clear in them: Our life begins, On Youth, On Middle Age, On Old Age, On Death, Our Souls, Our Gods, and On Religion.

With all that Durant wrote in his life, about human beings and the human condition, this final book is certainly less of a definitive conclusion about life than some may expected and wanted. He said that he was fond of his own unique soul *, but he left some question as to what comes next. He expressed fond memories and gratitude for his Catholic faith.   

                           *See "Is the Soul Eternal" in Essays

He confirmed his love of, and insight into the value of history, saying: “you are what you are because of what you have been: because of your heredity stretching back into forgotten generations: because of every element of environment that has affected you, every man or woman that you have had: all these are accumulated in your memory, your body, your character, your soul.”

In closing Durant’s said “A wise man can learn from other men’s experience; a fool cannot even learn from his own.”   


“The fear of death is strangely mingled with the longing for repose.” 

"I found it impossible to continue my pretenses to orthodoxy” "

Knowledge is power but only wisdom is liberty.”

“Education is the transmission of civilization.”

“To speak ill of others is a dishonest way of praising ourselves. Nothing is often a good thing to say, and always a clever thing to say.”

 “Truth will make us free.”