This fascinating look into Western Civilization by Niall Ferguson is certain to ruffle some feathers. It is bound to raise controversy. Ferguson asks the question that can’t be asked. The question that must never be asked in our modern world: Why did Western Civilization come to dominate the rest of the world in the last 500 years? After all, five hundred years ago a betting man would have looked at puny Europe and compared it with the powerful Moslem world and the vast Chinese realm and scoffed at the idea that the Europeans would have come to dominate. What caused this? The stock answer today is colonialism. That is of course nonsense. After all the Islamic world was built oni colonialism. China was a vast empire. Why were they not ascendant?
Ferguson comes up with the answer. Western Civilization developed six concept, what he calls “killer applications” that allowed it to grow and dominate. These “killer applications” are competition, science, democracy, medicine, consumerism, and the work ethic. He goes into great detail about each of these concepts, how they developed, and why the lack of these “killer applications” or their underuse lead to the other world powers drop at the same time that the West began to rise. There is some fascinating material here. I am sure that many will argue against Ferguson’s points, but the ability to debate and discus such concepts freely is itself a mark of the West.
One of the things that I like about this book is that it eschews any racial nonsense. The West did not become superior due to any superiority on the part of Western man. Rather it became superior because of it’s ideas. He shows that as nations begin to adopt these ideas they begin to grow. The ascendency in our own time of China is in many ways related to the slow acceptance of these ideas. This is an excellent book and deserves a reading.
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.
Yes. Good Material ... but don't take it too seriously. Ferguson ignores Indian civilization altogether and thus makes some obvious mistakes (e.g. Atheism is a western construct). There's also a bias here towards Christianity and the repreated "The West and the Rest" tagline can be offensive. And he really didn't need to try to appear 'tech-savvy' with terms like Killer Apps. That said, its a good book and I'd recommend it to all with the caveat that it shouldn't be taken as gospel.
I already have! He is a good writer - some biases not withstanding.
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.
Doctor of misanthropy
Say what you will about Ferguson, but you're never going to get the Cliff's Notes version of history from him. Agree or disagree, he manages to come at his history from a fresh, at least to me, perspective on things.
To be honest, I found some of his assertions to be hopelessly... um... unlikely/naive/doctrinaire, but overall, he offered me a new way to look at world history, in particular with respect to the ascendancy of the west, and fresh ideas are always a good thing.
The entire book seems to build to a rather predictable point, but in the end, it's more of the culmination of his arguments, and probably arguments that should at least be considered.
This is my first read of a book by Niall. He certainty has a wide knowledge of history and other social sciences as evidenced by the countless anecdotes and references to historical events from all over the world. His research and analysis is truly insightful and most of it could be seen as supporting his thesis of why the West has dominated the world, although he strays quite a bit from his 6 principles of the west's success and flow of arguments could be better assembled.
I am far from knowledgeable on the history of the world, but find the subject fascinating. Hence my reservations about the thesis is the viewpoint from Niall's apparent British background. Niall portrays an overt dedication, infatuation and awe for the success of the British society (i.e civlization) and liberal criticism of others. He seems almost like a cheerleader for the Empire and raises my doubts on his objectiveness of his presentation (British slavery was bad but others did it too). It would interesting to read a counter point to his interpretation how the western world evolved to its predominance.
As noted by others, he erred in bringing in the annoying the 'other' voices who try to speak english with various accents. This occurs frequently and actually detracts from the narrative rather than helping it.
Being a native of a country with a British tradition, I find myself lucky to have benefited from the British influence of the country and I did enjoy reading Niall's arguments and trip through history. Despite my criticism, it is a well researched book.