Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, Volumes 1-13. | Writing Forums
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Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, Volumes 1-13. (1 Viewer)


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It was forty years ago, in 1964, that I bought ten of the thirteen volumes of Toynbee’s A Study of History. Every once in a while I get some time to dip into these volumes, or some commentary on them. Although reading Toynbee is a solid intellectual exercise, not unlike Edward Gibbon who served as his model, he comes closest to providing some perspective on history that seems to be written by a Baha’i. The very fact that he considers the Baha’i Faith one of the two religions of western civilization(Vol.7B, p.771) is enough to give him an honoured place in my pantheon of important historians.

I find, though, that Toynbee is not easy to read. In fact, it took me at least two decades(1964-1984) to be able to read more than a few pages at a time. His writing, like Gibbon's, like Shoghi Effendi's, requires a good deal of exposure in order to acquire the taste of appreciation. I’m sure Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha'i Faith, would have loved him, as he loved Gibbon and kept a volume of his Decline and Fall beside his bed. Sadly, after 1921, Shoghi Effendi was so swamped with work he had little time to follow the literary developments in the social sciences and the humanities.

Toynbee began his Study of History the same year the Guardian come into office and he finished his final "Reconsiderations" in 1961. The thirteen volumes were his tour de force, his life's labour, his source of future renoun. There is something majesterial about this work of erudition. I think it is more than a coincidence that it was written just as the Baha'i Order was being designed and put into its first shaping. It is impossible for the amateur to assess Toynbee’s work, just as it is impossible to truely appreciate this embryonic Order of the Baha'i community.

When the Kingdom of God on Earth began in 1953 according to Baha'i interpretation of history, Arnold Toynbee was just finishing Vol.10. It was as if this Kingdom had been given a fitting history in which to cloth It and give It a context. At the centre of Tonybee’s thesis is the global imperative to federate. Our survival depends on it. History, as the relationship between God and man, found its raison d’etre in the higher religions. They played a critical role in the story of humankind.

I have observed three reactions to Toynbee. The most common one by far is: “who is he?” To most of the post-war generations Toynbee got lost in a sea of print. He is a heavy dude, not the sort of chap you take to bed for a light night-cap. Others have heard of him but, like the Guardian, just got caught up with life and its busy highways and byways. A third group finds him wonderfully stimulating. For me, he is quintessentially the Baha’i historian-if the Baha'is needed one-and for me at least, they do.

The story of the human experience in history is immensely complex and Toynbee gives one a flavour of this complexity. This third group, also contains a sub-group which has found the time to read Toynbee, but disagrees with just about all his major assumptions. In 1955 in responding to a range of criticisms of his work in The History of Ideas, one of the many journals in the social sciences, Toynbee said he was ‘studying history’. One of the many charges that Toynbee responded to was that he was unconventional and tried to write about too much. In closing his brief response of less than a page Toynbee said he felt like a minor poet, a minor historian. He has given us a lifetime of reading. Given his global perspective, the similarity of assumptions and the rich diversity iof his work,he may come to occupy an important position at some future time. Perhaps after these troubled times become more peaceful and we develop a more literate and cultured sensibility.

In the meantime I will continue to dip into his mind from time to time. A second thirty years would do me fine. We still await that federation which Toynbee hoped for but was not convinced he, or we, would ever see. A certain pertinacity, persistence, determination is required in taking Toynbee along for a ride. An elan vital, an energy is crucial to overcome incipient fatigue, concentration’s lapses and one’s own sheer ignorance. If one stays with him, like the Guardian, he becomes part of one’s own backbone. He occupies several essential strands in my intellectual make-up. His paperback volumes are getting warn. Back in the early 1960s they cost three or four dollars a volume. They have become old friends.

This brief exposee is useful here at this "Writing" because it gives readers some idea of the books and authors that have occupied me since coming of age in 1965.


In search of a set of the 13 volumes of the unabridged "A study of History"

Dear Ronprice

I hope you are doing well and in good health. I came across your post recently whilst I was searching online for the availability for the availability of the complete 13-volume set of "The Study of History". However it turns out that only the 2-book set of the abridged 1-10 volumes is available. not even the Oxford University Press, which originally published this work as the unabridged version available now. So i was wondering if you know where the unabridged version might be available and also where you got yours. But am assuming that that place would also not be stocking the original version anymore.

Best regards,