2.5 stars. This book was a puzzle for me. How did I feel about his ideas? His presentation? Is Ferguson a historian of merit or a gimmicky showboater, ping-ponging through and around his theories? I am unfamiliar with any of his other works, so can only regard his mastery over the topics in this particular book. And he does address mmmmmaaaaaannnnnnyyyyy topics, which is partly how he lost . . . a little of my interest, a little of my regard, a little of my attention, and a little of my support and agreement. (Side note about the title: I bought this book with the title Civilization: The West and the Rest, not Civilization: 6 Killer Apps. I never would have looked at it with the latter title. It irritates me even now to read it. Grrrrrr . . .)
Of course, his six stated reasons for the Western rise of the last 500 years (competition, science, property rights, medicine, the consumer society and work ethic) all were major contributors. I totally agree with that and found some of his analyses interesting and not often pointed out in my (rather poor) history classes growing up. Society is complex. I'm sure there are many more than six reasons, though I understand the tendency towards grouping and simplification to make for a readable (and catchy) survey.
My main fault with the book centered on how well he supported those ideas. Not very, in my opinion. He skips all over, introducing ideas and dropping them a few sentences later to pursue some other thought, to a dizzying degree at times. The medicine chapter in particular seemed weak to me. I often forgot what the point of the chapter was supposed to be while in the midst of it. Nothing seemed extremely fleshed out, though he did have a lot of points to make and a reader's interest to maintain--both of which seemed to be his priority over a deeper, more thoughtful (or well explained) analysis.
I was also put off at times due to his (dis)regard for many non-Western cultures. I get that this is a book about the dominance of the Western culture over the past 500 years, and I think that it's everyone's right to express pride about the good things in their culture (and that it's an extremely hard thing to do without offending others), but I was still irritated at times about the superior way he interpreted societies, history, and current times.
When I didn't concern myself with the scholarly depth of his arguments, I often did enjoy his conversational, aggrandizing, and entertaining style. I can completely see him as a very engaging lecturer, and I'm sure his classes are well attended. I think he is capable of a much more cohesive and persuasive book of research, and I suspect his book The Ascent of Money plays much more into his strengths as a financial expert. I also did enjoy the historical tidbits he included about many parts of the world that I am unfamiliar with, and I think the book's stated focus is a worthy subject to ponder--how did our civilization rise, how did others rise, and what might we do to avoid (as long as possible?) a crash.
Despite my settling on 2.5 stars for this book, I think I'd be interested in a book of a more concentrated scope from him, and this book did renew my interest in reading Guns, Germs, and Steel, and further historical surveys.
I am also completely conflicted about him as a narrator. For the most part he is engaging, articulate and I enjoyed it completely. What gradually grew more and more on my nerves, however, were the accents he employed when quoting others. Though some were done well, that mostly drove me crazy.
Two major things - one, the author's agenda sometimes undercut what would otherwise be a very interesting history. Two, some of the accents (apparently done by other narrators, and not Ferguson) were nearly caricatures, distracting, and sometimes cringe-worthy.
Ferguson, when doing the actual narration, was energetic and clear.
I struggled mightily in deciding whether this is three or four stars. The book is imminently readable and Ferguson is passionate, humorous, and fast-paced in his writing. He also offers some very interesting ideas (not all of which are particularly novel, but are packaged well and deployed with verve) to frame the last 500 years of Western dominance in the world. While parts of his arguments are convincing, it is his very framing that left me with mixed feelings on the book. He appears to have entered into the writing of this history with an agenda and a these in mind. This is not always problematic where the author scrupulously lays out why he or she touts the these and carefully builds their case (examining and explaining evidence for and against their conclusions). Ferguson, however, pays short shrift to counterexamples and interpretations that do not match his end goal.
Most disturbing are a number of rather tone deaf and short sighted statements suggesting that Western imperialism was a net positive for much of Africa, all this while hardly acknowledging the brutality and damage (not to mention long-term negative effects) that imperialism in general and slavery in particular caused. Moreover, Ferguson also is dismissive of the contributions of the East and the East's longstanding power that pre-dated Western dominance (and that is when he bothers to mention it at all).
For those who read widely of history, this book is an interesting addition. But I would be hesitant to recommend it to those not already well-versed as the author's agenda can distort the history. While more dry, Frances Fukuyama's diptych exploration and survey of political order and political decay is more rigorously analytical, covers a greater breadth of history, offers a less prejudicial eye to the history, and does not presuppose that modern Western dominance was inevitable or indicative of baseline superiority. Ferguson's passionate and entertaining book was engaging, but it also has some glaring flaws.
Ferguson, the author, clearly understands the main ideas and presents the material in a way that aids comprehension. Sounds like a speech or talk, not reading.
This history highlights the benefits of the West, without ignoring the damage.
Clear, engaging and various emotions - sadness, surprise, conviction, wonder, etc..
Information is detailed, but with enough ideas and repetition to help retention. Well done.
I hope to find Ferguson narrating another book.
Ferguson does an exemplary job of explaining how the West rose to the superior position, but also its abuses and how it might unravel from within.
Ferguson is a wel regarded historian, but this book does nothing to advance his stature. He lists six basic determinants of Western Civilization ascendency. But none of the ideas are new- even to this non-historian reader. His justification of each of them is not particularly convincing and he tails off onto paths far from the central issue. This is still an important topic but better clarity and better packaging is needed.
The performance was irritating- the "quotes" from people of the age were bad cartoons and a bit racist.
The book really makes the case that the West has had an extrodinarily disproportionate impact on World History over the past 500 years. He doesn't crow about it or make value judgement. He just lays out in his evidence in a thoughtful manner that you won't have difficulty following.
I love audiobooks at work when I'm doing muscle memory tasks. nonfiction preferabley
I'm typing this on a small phone so forgive the sloppy review. .. Whenever I listen to, or read a book of history, i ask myself "what is the authors agenda"? Niall strikes me as being a very even... or balanced author. He obviously leans towards free market principles, but doesn't shy away from explaining the downside. He gives facts about the past, but doesn't shy away from the theoretical when discussing future scenerios. In a world where political rhetoric is extreme on the right and left, it's nice to just listen to balanced history. It's also refreshing to hear his opinions backed up by fact.. He writes with a very easily assimilated pros. There's no unnecessary stroking of his or others egos. A great quote of his (not found in this book) is i paraphrase "if you want to know what and why things happened , look at what didn't happen"... really paraphrasing here "the past is a different world, so go back and get inside those people's heads"... I butchered his quote, but that is the kind of brilliance he brings to this book. I would also highly recommend his book "the assent of money ". Warning if you are a believer in socialism or communism this book will illicit negative emotions. I can think of several people who should read this book.. A sad sack backup quarterback (who likes to wear Fidel Castro shirts) comes to mind.... if the only history you consume, is in your "post colonial studies " class, this could be a nice balancing addition to your knowledge.