Note: The edition I did the index for is available for preorder at Amazon. I did not do the index for the currently available edition.
I had meant to retire from indexing. I stopped looking for work. Then a book came along that was really tempting, so I did it. And then some more. So I am still indexing. I have just finished three books that were very time-consuming, so I haven’t blogged for a while. I’d like to mention the last one. It is a Western Civilization text book called just that: Western Civilization. Originally two volumes, it has been condensed to one, and that’s what I indexed. The author is Jackson J. Spielvogel. I had not heard of him, but I sure wanted to find out about him after I started reading. He is now an emeritus professor at Penn State where he has won great renown as an outstanding teacher and textbook writer.
The book Western Civilizaton is extraordinary for a number of reasons. Spielvogel writes about all kinds of people, not just kings and queens and presidents. He often reminds us that throughout history, most people have been ordinary people: not rich, not fancy, not influential in the world, but nonetheless they have been by far the largest number of people, and their fates have often lain outside their own hands: they’ve had to serve in armies, they’ve been victims of disease, they’ve been slaughtered and brutalized and made serfs and enslaved. More or less chronological, the narration nonetheless does not provide a long list of dates to remember. Rather, Spielvogel provides glimpses across the years of a century, say, of the effects events and people had on each other: religion on rulers, loss of meaning on art, the Black Death on people’s attitudes towards being alive. There are few heroes. There is no underlying belief in progress or a happy ending. Rather, currents ebb and flow. Capitalism is not the salvation of man, nor is the Enlightenment idea of progress. In fact, the Enlightenment itself, at this point such an unexamined foundation of much US and western culture is presented as more or less as one of many systems of thought and belief which were efforts to give sense and order to life. That’s not quite fair. Spielvogel addresses the very real achievements of science and art, among other things. But he certainly doesn’t consider Enlightenment thought the path to salvation. I will just stick in here the fact that in Spain at least, the Enlightenment, contrary to its influence in England and France, was used to justify the inequality of human beings: to explain to the peasants and the merchants and the servants that hierarchy was the natural order of things, and they were on the bottom rungs. Groups that receive short shrift in other texts, or at least the ones I know of (and I am WAY out of date) are here in sympathetic detail: Jews, women, prostitutes, for instance. Gays. When he discusses art and music and literature, he introduces people I’d never heard of but who nonetheless in some significant way personified their eras or changed them. Art and music and literature are not apart from history but woven right into its tapestry. It’s a wonderfully readable book. If you want to once again after many years dig into Western Civ, do it with this book. It was so readable I spent too much time reading it and ended up probably giving the index short shrift.