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.
I am a clay sculptor and an art instructor at a community college. I mostly listen to audiobooks while I work in my home studio.
The book was interesting. The information was mostly presented in a fresh way, though not all of it was exactly new to me. I have read Guns, Germs and Steel to which Ferguson refers several times, but this wasn't a rehash of that book. There were some ideas in common and the one that I found a bit annoying was the comparison of civilizations to "apps" as in apps for the iPhone. But the comparison gets the point across.
This book hardly changed my world view, but it was an interesting and pleasant listen.
The forthright willingness of Niall Ferguson to argue all sorts of non-PC ideas is refreshingly in era of pervasive ideological censorship. In our time, you are not allowed to claim the Western Civilization has led the world for the last 5 centuries (even though it is obviously true), that Christianity (notably Protestantism) was and is a vest blessing for mankind, that colonialism and imperialism brought benefits along with harm to the people of the world, etc. Niall Ferguson says all of this and a lot more.
This really isn't a book about characters. Plenty show up of course (hundreds to thousands are individually named). However, that's exactly the point. No one character stands out or is meant to. This is a book about the broad forces of history that have created our world.
Niall Ferguson's narration of Niall Ferguson is excellent (he reads his own book). However, the somewhat contrived accents given to other characters are not always a plus.
This is a big book, full of well argued big ideas. It is a necessary book because the author dares to say all sorts of things that need to be said, but rarely are, because of dominant PC (Politically Correct) censorship. The list of big ideas is long and include.
1. The history of mankind for the last five centuries has been dominated by Western Civilization. Europe and later America (North America) have been the driving forces of essentially all progress in science, technology, medicine, commerce, war, politics, art, culture, clothing (Niall Ferguson is obsessed with clothing), etc. since 1500. This is obviously true, not virtually no one dares to say it.
2. Colonialism and Imperialism weren't all bad. Niall Ferguson doesn't trouble himself to deny the downsides, but does show that there were many positive effects as well. The colonial powers could be (and frequently were) brutal. But they also brought public health, education, political stability, infrastructure, etc (in some cases).
3. Christianity was and remains (partially) a powerful force in creating and sustaining Western Civilization. According to Niall Ferguson, Christianity helped to create the moral and intellectual basis of our society. That would be a contentious point these days. However, Ferguson goes further in arguing that Protestant Christianity played a major role in unleashing the productive powers of Europe and later America (North America). This was a commonplace idea 100 years ago (See Max Weber and "The Protestant Ethic") but not mentioned in polite company these days.
4. That North America (Anglo America) was and remains more successful than South America (Latin America) because North America was settled by Europeans whereas South America was conquered by Europeans (who then enslaved the natives and/or imported slaves). Ferguson presents DNA analysis to substantiate this point. According to Ferguson, this difference in origins gave rise to very different systems of land ownership with decisive long term consequences. Ferguson plays down the geographic advantages of North America (big rivers, fertile soil, coal reserves, etc.) that appear to have been material as well (in my opinion) along with the culture differences between the Americas.
5. Ferguson shows that government debt has been a decisive factor in weakening and ultimately destroying nations for a very, very long time. The history of public debt shows that it has been a destroyer and/or crippler of nations across a sufficient ranges of geographies and centuries to make it a general theme. For political reasons, today's liberals don't want to hear this. However, many conservatives (notably "supply siders") have adopted a "debt doesn't matter" ideology. Of course, economic elites have resisted taxation for as long as civilization has existed.
6. That the era of Western Civilization is over. Ferguson chronicles in great deal the relative decline of the West and the rise of East. Ferguson provides a wealth of statistics showing how Asia has overtaken the West to become the core of the global economy (if not global politics so far). Ferguson shows that China is the inevitable dominant power of the 21st century, sure to overtake (soon) and supplant the U.S. as the dominant economy of the world. Anyone who has spent 20 minutes looking at the statistics knows this to be true. However, policy and political elites in Europe and the United States are in almost complete denial on this point.
Overall, this is a good book. Perhaps a very good book. However, it does have its flaws. Ferguson needs a fact checker (19 people did not die for each ton of steel produced under Stalin). The converse is that the "bad facts" don't materially undermine his overall arguments. The broader point is that this book is history in support of an ideology. Ferguson is a liberal cosmopolitan with a typical embrace of free trade, open borders, capitalism, democracy, tolerance, etc. Anything he can extract from history is exploited to advance his agenda. Things that don't fit his worldview are played down at best.
For example, Ferguson goes to some lengths to claim the German eugenic ideology (before Hitler) was responsible for German colonial atrocities. The vastly larger genocide perpetuated by the liberal, cosmopolitan Belgians is barely mentioned. Of course, the fact that Keynes was the head of the British Eugenic society for 7 years (1937-1944) doesn't show up either.
As I have stated before, Ferguson deserves considerable credit for accurately observing the rise of Asia as the economic center of gravity for the global economy. However, he never quite admits that Asia has risen by rejecting much (but not all) of the liberal, cosmopolitan worldview he espouses. Singapore is not notably tolerant and is stunningly successful in spite of (because of) it. China is crassly mercantilist and is stunningly successful in spite of (because of) it. Japan rejected foreign investment during its post-war high growth period and was... The divergence of Asia from Ferguson's policy ideals and its success should be a key theme of a book like this, but is not.
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.
This is a great book, emotionally narrated that helps understanding where we are and why and what comes next. Six apps is what it took for the West to take an unforeseen advantage over much more developed civilizations. But as with almost everything, the current stance is just that, a period in the history; the odds might (will?) change. Nial Fergusson is a passionate historian that helps the reader to connect the dots and bring to a new level of understanding of our common past. A must!
The liason between chpaters. Conclusion is a fabulous chapter
No, I was disappointed by this work.
Unlike "The Ascent of Money," the other work of Niall's I have read/ listened to, this work, "Civilization," seems to be more about promoting a personal agenda than facts. This is disconcerting to me, as now I'm not sure that "Money" is reputable material, either.
I have listened to / read "The Ascent of Money," written by Niall and narrated by Simon Pebble (who did an excellent job). I would recommend that work over this, however, I am concerned in regard to "Money's" validity, now, after taking in "Civilization."
This book could not be made into a movie, perhaps a documentary.
Niall's tangent about Weber's hypothesized "protestant work ethic" is far too drawn out and unnecessary as well as only weakly supportable at best. He admits this, himself, at the beginning of the rant. Something was very odd about this reading, too. I'm not sure if it was Niall doing all the narrating, but quotes are read in very poor mock accents. This detracts from the content.
This book is a fascinating examination of western civilization: its origins, strengths, and weaknesses. As Ferguson sees it, western cultures developed "6 killer applications" that allowed them to succeed as empires. While one might not agree with each and every assertion that Ferguson makes, this book will no doubt stimulate discussion and consideration of these factors. What's more this book does a very nice job taking the history out of the history book and making it relevant to modern events as well as an eye toward the future. This book is well written and interesting. I recommend it for anyone interested in history as well as the intersection of historical processes with current events.