Letting the rest of the world go by
The author does a definitive survey of political development through out the world while avoiding the ODTAA ("one dang thing after another") trap survey books of this kind can often fall into. This kind of information often pops up in many of the books I read, but is never covered as a primary topic nor as definitively as this author covers this topic. Usually, it's hard to get a good description of the political history of Islam, India and China, and most authors force the story into their comic book characterization narrative of those societies so that it will fit into their narrative so that they can show the supposed superiority of the West. This book doesn't do that whatsoever and gives each region it's full due respect.
The author not only looks at each major civilization and parts thereof as an end in itself but will contrast it with the familiar when needed.
Political systems need three things in order to prosper fully: accountability, transparency, and "rule of law". All three aren't necessary, but each sure do help. The earliest systems start with a "kin and friend" system and develops from there. The author steps the reader through the process and how it differs depending on the civilization.
The author shows that Rousseau (man is perfect until government corrupts him) is wrong about everything, Hobbes (government is only to protect against violent acts) only gives a barely adequate government, and Locke (live, liberty and pursuit of property) gives the most responsive government, and the author shows how these stages can develop or never existed in this first place as in the worldview of Rousseau for the different societies studied in this book.
The author speaks with authority on the topic and this book filled in a lot of holes on the topic that I got from reading other books which never fully developed the topic.
The author's survey on early civilizations is worth the cost of the book alone. Societies tend toward more complex organization as they spread their cultural memes. The arc of history tends towards working together by utilizing win-win situations. Constructive coordination defeats the second law of thermodynamics (entropy) for the coordinators. Yes, that's a mouthful, but the author is expert at clearly explaining it all.
The two items needed for economic development, cheap transportation and effective communication, are facilitated by higher population density leading to more growth and technological developments hence an evolving of civilizations.
The book was originally copyrighted over 10 years ago (today is 2012). The book only lost my interest when he was topical and futuristic during about 2 hours of the second half. I was ready to give up and I'm glad I didn't. The book then got really interesting by tying together his major theme on the organization of organic processes. He got into the second law of thermodynamics, and how information and the processing of that information at its core is physical.
His real theme is that cultures evolve by constructive coordination (win-win situations) but he supports that by educating the listener through historical narratives, fine points on economic theory and the importance of information processing for growth.
I enjoyed this book so much I've downloaded his next book, "The Evolution of God".
I enjoy the author's approach to our deterministic universe and the perspective of free will with moral responsibility for our own actions. As always, the author is never in your face with his beliefs and practices the art of critical reasoning better than anyone. He puts others contrary viewpoints in their most effective forms and systematically shows why they are not right and are not as effective as they might seem at first glance, and then goes on to build a coherent consistent system.
For me, I enjoy the author's writing style, but I realize it can be dense for others and the author himself refers to some of his previous writing as "obscure and difficult". I guess I like obscure and difficult when I know at the end I'll understand the subject matter better than I have ever before.
He says that "if you make anything small enough than everything will be external". By making the role of the individual insignificant you will make free will outside of the person and free will belongs within us not outside of us. Also, he says that "we all want to be held accountable for our own actions", both at the individual and societal level. That makes free will within us.
As the author steps the reader through the development of freedom, he also gives the listener some of the best takes on why homo sapiens are so different from any other species known in the universe.
Most of what is in this book seems to be covered in his other books I've read, Consciousness, Darwin's Dangerous Idea, and Intuition Pumps. For those who don't have the time to read those three books (2 of which are fairly long listens), this book would act as a great surrogate for them.