It's almost taboo to openly ponder the question of why the "Western World," its customs, institutions, political structures, technologies, and even fashions have come to dominate the world for at least the last 500 years. There is almost an inherent implication that race or at least culture must play some role in the comparative dominance of West. Several authors have recently attempted to explain the ascendancy of the West by focusing on distinguishing factors or circumstances other that the West being predominately "white." Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs, and Steel" is probably the most well known of these attempts. Diamond explicitly rejects race as an advantage and instead posits a theory of initial geographic/environmental advantage that is amplified throughout the course of history by positive feedback loops.
Text: In "Civilization," Neil Ferguson does not see race as worth even a mention, even if to just to discount it. Instead, Ferguson's analysis focuses on what factors that he deems "killer apps" (I know) that the West had and the Rest somehow lacked. These are (1) competition, (2) science, (3) the rule of law including property rights, (4) modern medicine, (5) consumerism, and (6) the work ethic arising from Christian and Protestant values. These "apps" were "downloaded" sometime around the Enlightenment and in conjunction propelled the West to world dominance. The relatively decentralized nature of Eurasian governments allowed competition between and within the political divisions. Competition was not limited to trade but included ideas. In the West, competition often took the forms of warfare and the race to claim colonial possessions. This fostered the rise and application of science and technologies, including the medicine necessary for Westerners survive in the lands they conquered. I found Ferguson's discussion of consumerism as a relatively new and positive societal aspect to be particularly interesting. The word "consumerism" is so negatively loaded these days that it is surprising and refreshing to hear an author intelligently expound its virtues and the positively role it plays as an engine for increasing the quality of our lives. Ferguson goes on to heap praise on the Protestant work ethic as healthy sense of competition and cohesion within communities. He also roundly maligns fundamentalist Islam and its repression of individual freedom. Frankly, I don't have a problem with that. Finally, the author concludes with a discussion of whether the West is in decline - something he points out has happened several times in the last couple of thousand years - and whether civilizations actually follow a cycle of rise and decline at all.
Narration: I always feel a bit of dread when purchasing a book narrated by its author. There are very few who can pull off a reading of their own text, but fortunately Neil Ferguson is one of those authors who can. The listener would be forgiven for thinking this narrator to be a professional actor instead of a gifted author.
Conclusion: "Civilization" is a interesting, sometimes fascinating, analysis of the particular characteristics of the Western World that set it apart and above the Rest of the World.
insightful, unusual, stimulating
doesn't get bogged down
no - but perfect for falling asleep
Really enjoyable bedtime listen - lulls me to sleep in an informative way.
The main narrator for this book did a great job. My problem was with the random guy who filled in as everyone who was quoted in the book. He acted as historical figures from all over Europe, Africa, and even Asia, all the while using the same Germanic-sounding accent and very distinct, wispy voice. This did not translate well at all and at times sounded like a caricature, particularly when he tried to adopt a fake Italian accent. When it came to Japanese, he didn't even try to modify his accent, which was probably for the better.
This book would have been stronger if 1) the main narrater just read everything or 2) there were different voice actors for each country.
The depth at which the subject is tackled.
Niall Ferguson is a strong narrator and because it is his own book he knows just when to put the infection in a sentence. The subject is entertaining and well expressed. There is a pretty obvious bias that Mr. Ferguson acknowledges from the beginning but overall it doesn't show up too often and is not very one sided. there is allot of good history in this book.
The author outlined his concepts in a clear and concise manner. The chapter headings really clarified his position and provided direction in the reading.
The medicine chapter really stood out. The impacts of tropical diseases on the progression of different civilizations left a lasting impression in my mind.
It's difficult to pick out a favorite scene in this book. The chapter on medicine was one of my favorites.
There's a reason why professional actors read audio books. This was a great book that because very annoying because of the author's poor ability to narrate his own book. His ethnic accents were the worst and borderline insulting. Read this one, don't listen to it.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading "Ascent of Money" so thought I would give it a spin. "Civilization" was no disappointment. Ferguson is a great writer & makes the subject matter both accessible and engaging. Like "Ascent", I'm not sure I agree with all his conclusions but it's one hell of a ride to listen to him think about Big Issues.
That said, I have absolutely zero clue as to why the audio producers (Ferguson himself?) insisted on reading the epigrams with those silly accents. Confucius, I am quite certain, spoke no English (especially since English didn't come into existence for more than 1000 years after he died), so why even try to portray him as speaking English like Charlie Chan? Same for all the other nationalities. The French sound idiotic, the Spanish silly, and so on. I'll give a little leeway for allowing Scots to be read in their accent, but that's about it.
Normally not such a big deal, but since this book touches in part on issues of why certain civilizations have fared better than others, it smacks of provincialism, and also there's a ton of quotation that goes on.
Ferguson steps out of the realm of politics, and writes the history of civilization focusing on what works for humans--good medicine, property rights protection, the rule of law, and buying stuff, to name a few. I loved how he asked what North America and South America would look like if the opposites settled the land--the Spaniards in the North, the English in the South. His take on it was very interesting, and not what might be expected.
This is just great read. Ferguson's narration is amazing. I'm not sure if he's doing all the accented voices, but if he is, he's a born actor.
All of them. ( Well, almost: 95% )
If you think, you know pretty much about the story of Civilization, think again, because you are up to a great surprise. Niall Ferguson gives you unexpected, (lead the money), but still very exiting point of view. I am listening to the history lectures for the past 15 years, and this one is in my top 2%. My definition of the best history book is, when you just cannot put it away and always wont to have more of it.
"Civilization: The West and the Rest" is a must-read for any history buff. The book is packed with insights into culture, history, and human nature. The pacing is remarkably good (especially for a history book) and kept my interest throughout. Amusingly, there is so much emphasis put on textiles, clothing, and blue jeans in particular that I found myself thinking that a subtitle about the significant role of blue jeans in modern history wouldn't be unwarranted. However, the book covers the whole of human history with equally fascinating insights.
After listening to this book, I feel better informed about, and have a new perspective on the human world in which we live. It is both intellectually satisfying and entertaining. I highly recommend it.
With respect to the narration—usually, when an author reads his own book, it raises flags of caution, but Niall Ferguson turns out to be a top-notch narrator—in fact, one of the best I've heard. One strange thing about the audiobook, though—there are other narrators brought in from time-to-time to read quotes from historical figures. Not one of these readers approaches the high quality of Mr. Ferguson's narration, and I found myself wishing that these quotes had been read by him instead. When he retires from his teaching position at Harvard, there's a future for him narrating both fiction and non-fiction books for Audible.