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Christian Meier, a prolific historian of the ancient world, here delivers a series of lectures on the perennial topic summed up in his subtitle...The two most rewarding chapters are the most specific, about the sources of the intellectual and artistic splendor that was classical Greece and the conditions of the equally incomparable horror that was the Holocaust. An America darkened by ignorant and bigoted religiosity cannot hear too often about the gloriously open-minded rationalists who launched Western civilization in fifth-century BC Athens. Meier draws on a lifetime of scholarship to put the miracle in context. And with proper tact and humility, he looks at his own country's all-too-recent shame, hoping to put it too in context. For that is what historians do; that is the use of history.
— George Scialabba