Synopses & Reviews
This book reflects on Western humanity's efforts to escape from history and its terrors--from the existential condition and natural disasters to the endless succession of wars and other man-made catastrophes. Drawing on historical episodes ranging from antiquity to the recent past, and combining them with literary examples and personal reflections, Teofilo Ruiz explores the embrace of religious experiences, the pursuit of worldly success and pleasures, and the quest for beauty and knowledge as three primary responses to the individual and collective nightmares of history. The result is a profound meditation on how men and women in Western society sought (and still seek) to make meaning of the world and its disturbing history.
In chapters that range widely across Western history and culture, The Terror of History takes up religion, the material world, and the world of art and knowledge. "Religion and the World to Come" examines orthodox and heterodox forms of spirituality, apocalyptic movements, mysticism, supernatural beliefs, and many forms of esotericism, including magic, alchemy, astrology, and witchcraft. "The World of Matter and the Senses" considers material riches, festivals and carnivals, sports, sex, and utopian communities. Finally, "The Lure of Beauty and Knowledge" looks at cultural productions of all sorts, from art to scholarship.
Combining astonishing historical breadth with a personal and accessible narrative style, The Terror of History is a moving testimony to the incredibly diverse ways humans have sought to cope with their frightening history.
"The tone of this book is more ruminative than pedagogic. Ruiz sprinkles his text with personal anecdotes and observations but never advocates one approach over the other. This is not, he stresses, a self-help manual. Although religious in his youth, Ruiz is now a genially tolerant, dark-humored atheist. . . . The comfort--even delight--of this book is that it doesn't scold or trivialize people's often pathetic attempts to escape their own mortality. It simply wishes them to be aware of possibilities. 'In truth, I am as clueless about the world in my advanced years as I was early in life,' Ruiz confesses. He is a seeker, too."--Edward Morris, ForeWord Reviews
"This is an attempt by the erudite Ruiz (history, Spanish and Portuguese, UCLA; Spain's Centuries of Crisis: 1300-1474) to use his knowledge and experience to make sense of our messy lives and our desires to bury a future we cannot control. . . . In separate chapters, he discusses three forms of escape from history: religion, materialism, and estheticism. But the book isn't meant to be history as much as an intensely personal meditation on how we deal with our worries about the world, stuffing inside ourselves our fear of impending extinction. Ruiz uses his own experiences to illustrate points, even including a piece of fiction he wrote when young. More personal than Annaliste history, with which it's best compared . . . serious readers will find it worthwhile for its author's attempt to embrace elusive questions about our personal lives."--Library Journal
"You can't judge a book by its cover, as the old saw goes, but every so often the cover art may stun you into long contemplation. Or horror, in the case of Teofilo R. Ruiz's The Terror of History: On the Uncertainties of Life in Western Civilization (Princeton University Press), which greets the prospective reader by way of Goya's 'Saturn Devouring His Son.' Drawing on the great Dutch medievalist Johan Huizinga's work, Ruiz organizes his musings around three grand strategies for finding happiness, or at least mitigating total dread: 'through belief (in a whole variety of orthodox and heterodox forms), [through] the life of the senses, and/or through culture and the pursuit of the beautiful.' Under each of these headings, he arrays quotations from and reflections on a kaleidoscopic array of ancient and modern authors and phenomena: Sophocles, Proust, utopian communes, witch-burning crazes, The Decameron, an insurrection in Brazil in the 1890s, the Marquis de Sade, and The Epic of Gilgamesh, to give a representative sampling. Plus there are memoiristic bits. He mentions teaching 'a class on world history from the Big Bang to around 400 C.E.' The book seems more ambitious still. . . . [A] short book displaying enormous erudition."--Scott McLemee, Inside Higher Ed
"Ruiz is, first and foremost, a man of letters. His references to literature, film and art, from homer to Goya to Tolkien, will be refreshing to those who crave something more than archival material and footnotes from their history books. . . . There is much to admire about this book. It is the product of a lifetime of hard work and serious thought about life's fundamental questions. Above all, Ruiz does not shy away from the consequences of atheism, a position he has held for four decades since losing the Catholic faith."--America Magazine
"The Terror of History is an absorbing book that will not let the reader skip pages. It challenges the intellect while launching arguments in the mind over content."--R. Balashankar, Organiser
"The Terror of History is an enjoyable book, though disturbing at the same time. As said, it is not an academic book; it covers largely personal reflections and considerations. I would recommend it to any curious reader keen to investigate some of the most dark and challenging moments in the history of humankind and see if and how we coped with them."--Luca Guariento, Kelvingrove Review
"Combining astonishing historical breadth with a personal and accessible narrative style, The Terror of History is a moving testimony to the incredibly diverse ways humans have sought to cope with their frightening history."--World Book Industry
"This is a beautifully written and deeply personal meditation on the horrors of Western history. A senior historian with an existential sensibility, Ruiz is keenly attuned to the terrors lurking in our awareness of time's relentless passing. Reflecting on our individual and collective reactions to disaster, disease, war, and death, Ruiz explores the different ways humans respond to the abysses of history by finding or creating meaning. The Terror of History
is an enlightening and heartfelt work."--Iain Thomson, University of New Mexico
"Very few books dig so deeply into the feelings and experiences that really drive historians. Still less do they explore how events in distant ages, in seemingly distant cultures, can touch the modern reader. The Terror of History does this. Ruiz's voice is very much that of a teacher and scholar committed to the exploration of the human condition. This is a rich book."--Peter Brown, Princeton University
"This is a fascinating and very special book."--Jesús Rodríguez-Velasco, Columbia University
About the Author
Teofilo F. Ruiz is Distinguished Professor of History and of Spanish and Portuguese at UCLA. His many books include Spains Centuries of Crisis and From Heaven to Earth. In 2007, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and selected as one of UCLAs Distinguished Teachers.
Table of Contents
Chapter I: The Terror of History 1
Chapter II: Religion and the World to Come 35
Chapter III: The World of Matter and the Senses 83
Chapter IV: The Lure of Beauty and Knowledge 129