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The Terror of History:
On the Uncertainties of Life in Western Civilization
Teofilo F. Ruiz

Teofilo F. Ruiz, Winner of the 2011 National Humanities Medal

Paperback | 2014 | $17.95 | £14.95 | ISBN: 9780691161990
Hardcover | 2011 | $24.95 | £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691124131
200 pp. | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | 2 halftones.
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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 & 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

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Table of Contents:

Preface ix
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
Conclusion 167
Index 173

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