William H. McNeill (1917-2016)

The Toynbee Prize Foundation mourns the death of William H. McNeill, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Chicago and the recipient of the Toynbee Prize.

McNeill, who passed away June 8th, 2016, is perhaps best known for his work The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community (1963). As one recent obituary in The New York Times stresses,  McNeill’s conceived of The Rise of the West “as an antidote to Oswald Spengler’s gloomy Decline of the West and Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History, which postulated that civilizations marched to their own drummers, largely unaffected by foreign influences.”

However, among McNeill’s numerous other works was a biography of Toynbee Prize Foundation namesake Arnold J. Toynbee, Arnold J. Toynbee: A Life (1989). Indeed, it was in large part on the basis of this latter work—still the leading biography of Toynbee—that McNeill was named the recipient of the Toynbee Prize.

The passing of McNeill has attracted wide commemoration in national media. Beyond the aforementioned New York Times obituary, both The Washington Post, The Chicago Sun-Times and The Chicago Tribune as well as University of Chicago media has covered his death. Readers looking to grapple more with McNeill’s scholarly legacy may also be interested an earlier piece written for The University of Chicago Magazine.

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