SOCRATES WOULD TAKE HEART

IN A SCHOLAR'S QUIRKY VIEW, CIVILIZATION REALLY IS IMPROVING

After 8,000 or so years of civilization, people can be forgiven for worrying that most of the possibilities for human experience have been exhausted. To the contrary, argues Oxford historian Theodore Zeldin, things have just started to get interesting. In An Intimate History of Humanity (HarperCollins; 488 pages; $25), he offers a quirky but intellectually dazzling view of our past and future by discussing such subjects as the different ways that nations have tried to conquer fear, the reason that humanity has made more progress in cooking than in making love, and the history of conversation. This last subject is central...

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