A Study of History

By Arnold J. Toynbee

Words from the achiever

“When I was 14 or 15, we had a wonderful history teacher at school, and I remember Arnold Toynbee made a tremendous impression. I remember that sense of “Enough, Too Little and Too Much,” these great generalizations about why some civilizations made it instead of others, where it was too hot or too cold. Great concepts that were pretty challenging.”

About the book

The British historian Arnold Toynbee’s original work was a ten-volume analysis of the rise and fall of human civilizations, published in installments beginning in 1934. This abridgement of the first six volumes, which met with Toynbee’s enthusiastic approval, was published in 1947.

We have ascertained that civilizations come to birth in environments that are unusually difficult and not unusually easy, and this has led us on to inquire whether or not this is an instance of some social law which may be expressed in the formula, “the greater the challenge, the greater the stimulus.” If we increase the severity of the challenge ad infinitum do we thereby ensure an infinite increase in the response when the challenge is successfully met? Or do we reach a point beyond which increasing severity produces diminishing returns? And, if we go beyond this point, do we reach a further point at which the challenge becomes so severe that the possibility of responding to it successfully disappears? In that case the law would be that ‘the most stimulating challenge is to be found in a mean between a deficiency of severity and an excess of it’.