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Civilization: The West and the Rest | [Niall Ferguson]

Civilization: The West and the Rest

If in the year 1411 you had been able to circumnavigate the globe, you would have been most impressed by the dazzling civilizations of the Orient. The Forbidden City was under construction in Ming Beijing; in the Near East, the Ottomans were closing in on Constantinople. By contrast, England would have struck you as a miserable backwater ravaged by plague, bad sanitation and incessant war. The other quarrelsome kingdoms of Western Europe - Aragon, Castile, France, Portugal and Scotland - would have seemed little better.
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Publisher's Summary

The unabridged, downloadable audiobook edition of Niall Ferguson's provocative best seller, Civilization: The West and the Rest, read brilliantly by the author himself.

If in the year 1411 you had been able to circumnavigate the globe, you would have been most impressed by the dazzling civilizations of the Orient. The Forbidden City was under construction in Ming Beijing; in the Near East, the Ottomans were closing in on Constantinople. By contrast, England would have struck you as a miserable backwater ravaged by plague, bad sanitation and incessant war. The other quarrelsome kingdoms of Western Europe - Aragon, Castile, France, Portugal and Scotland - would have seemed little better. As for fifteenth-century North America, it was an anarchic wilderness compared with the realms of the Aztecs and Incas. The idea that the West would come to dominate the Rest for most of the next half millennium would have struck you as wildly fanciful. And yet it happened.What was it about the civilization of Western Europe that allowed it to trump the outwardly superior empires of the Orient? The answer, Niall Ferguson argues, was that the West developed six "killer applications" that the Rest lacked: competition, science, democracy, medicine, consumerism and the work ethic. The key question today is whether or not the West has lost its monopoly on these six things. If so, Ferguson warns, we may be living through the end of Western ascendancy. Civilization takes readers on their own extraordinary journey around the world - from the Grand Canal at Nanjing to the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul; from Machu Picchu in the Andes to Shark Island, Namibia; from the proud towers of Prague to the secret churches of Wenzhou. It is the story of sailboats, missiles, land deeds, vaccines, blue jeans and Chinese Bibles. It is the defining narrative of modern world history.

©2011 Niall Ferguson (P)2011 Penguin Books Limited

What the Critics Say

"One of the world's leading historians." (Hamish McRae, Independent)

This is sharp. It feels urgent. Ferguson, with a properly financially literate mind, twists his knife with great literary brio - Andrew Marr, Financial Times

A dazzling history of Western ideas - Economist

What Members Say

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  •  
    scmathew 03-31-13
    scmathew 03-31-13 Member Since 2015
    HELPFUL VOTES
    27
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    22
    7
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Oooh, me accent's slippin'!"

    The Good:

    I personally tend to find Professor Ferguson's political leanings distasteful and don't necessarily agree with his ultimate conclusions but this is a good book. Ferguson's overview of the institutional strengths that allowed Western Europe to pull ahead of China, India and the Middle East is valid, insightful and thoroughly entertaining. I appreciated the wealth of interesting anecdotes from obscure nooks and corners of history that made this a superb piece of narrative history. As a review of post-Medieval Western Civ, this is a must-read.

    The Meh:

    As I said earlier I'm not exactly a fan of Ferguson's ideological leanings but this is besides the point- at times Ferguson's smug self-satisfaction with the glories of Western Civ can grate a bit (speaking as an Asian listener) but I have to admit that he's fair in his assessment of how la mission civilisatrice often went horribly wrong, notably in the part of his narrative that concerns German colonial atrocities against the Herero. I do note, however that he steers well clear of any analysis of the British Empire in this section but I suppose he couldn't put his nostalgia aside. Fair enough- in all other respects a generally balanced text.

    The Bad:

    The narration. Dear god, the narration. Ferguson has a pleasant speaking voice and he uses it well...but for some reason he decided to do the accents for all the bits of quoted text. This, in itself, isn't necessarily a problem- Nadia May does a great job with the accents in The Guns of August- but Ferguson can't do accents to save his life! French, Russians and Germans get read out in what devolves into a strangely blended Jamaican patois. And when he quote from East Asian sources he does so in a hilarious Charlie Chan-esque 'me so solly' accent. It funny the first few times but quickly becomes jarring.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Adrian Bryanston, South Africa 03-11-13
    Adrian Bryanston, South Africa 03-11-13 Member Since 2009
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    26
    4
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Fergusson at his best"
    What did you love best about Civilization?

    That the author read the book with the same passion he wrote it.


    What did you like best about this story?

    Filled with thousands of gems and cameos - yet the storyline and line of argument were never compromised or lost.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    The narrative surrounding damages and reparations for slavery . The rich world is culpable yet remains untried and above it all.


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

    The six things that matter


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John Torrensville, Australia 03-28-12
    John Torrensville, Australia 03-28-12 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
    2
    ratings
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    2
    2
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
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    Overall
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    "Great!"
    If you could sum up Civilization in three words, what would they be?

    Simply bloody brilliant


    What was one of the most memorable moments of Civilization?

    Concluding comments make a lasting impact


    What about Niall Ferguson’s performance did you like?

    Has a great voice filled with genuine enthusiasm for his topic


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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  • Amazon Customer
    Kent UK
    4/28/12
    Overall
    "Very entertaining, interesting and informative"

    Reviews of this book on Amazon are mixed but I have always liked Niall Ferguson's wwork so took the plunge. I am glad I did so. I thoroughly enjoyed the book - full of interesting facts and anecdotes, novel and thought-provoking ideas, global in scope and outlook, and very well written. I was genuinely sorry when it finished and I am sure I will read it again.

    A real bonus is the excellent narration by the author himself. He was clearly enjoying himeself, does all the accents very entertainly, paces himself perfectly, and his enthusiasm and energy come through loud and clear. Tremendous stuff.

    Strongly recommended, particularly if you like history.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Nikki Kat
    Wales
    12/29/12
    Overall
    "Civilisation"

    Civilisation by Niall Furguson is a must for any fan of historical non-fiction titles. It's a very enoyable read (listen) and although I didn't necessarily agree with the author on all points it certainly was entertaining, something Niall Ferguson's narration adds to. This book is well worth the asking price - highly recommended.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • M
    Wakefield, United Kingdom
    10/27/12
    Overall
    "Civilised?"

    An epic romp through the last 500 years, trying to explain why western civilisations somehow managed to turn the tables on the rest, which were apparently set to dominate at that time. Usual history books that cover this period (such as After Tamerlane: The Global History of Empire Since 1405) try to chart the clash and crash of empires, but here the author examines the processes that feed these incredibly complex 'organisms', and how the 6 "killer apps" he describes (science, medicine, work ethic, home ownership, rule of law and competition) gave the west the edge. I found his arguments and descriptions compelling as well as enjoyable and would thoroughly recommend this to lovers of history.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  • Jim Vaughan
    Malvern, UK
    5/15/13
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Challenging! Is the West in decline?"

    I really enjoyed this book, after seeing Niall Ferguson's TV series of the same name. If you want to hear him speak, I recommend his 2012 Reith lectures too (on the BBC website). Ferguson is nothing if not controversial, and the central question of the book "why did the West beat the rest?" is the very question posed (perhaps in different terms), by Jared Diamond in his classic book "Guns, Germs & Steel". Their answers are very different, and reflect perhaps the political Right and Left leanings respectively of Ferguson and Diamond. Ferguson's answer lies in his thesis of the 6 "killer apps" which the West perfected, and which he believes we may be in danger of losing our self-belief in. Thus, implicit to his enquiry is "is the West in decline?". It is a bold and interesting thesis, and Ferguson provides copious evidence in support of his "apps" being the midwives of any advanced civilisation with a progressive technology. However, whereas Diamond links cultural advance back to fundamental features of geography (East-West orientation, supporting the spread of cultural innovation), and biology (prevalence of species open to domestication), Fergusons "6 killer apps" thesis begs the question of why these should be the universal properties of an advanced civilisation. Could there be more than six, for instance? Answers on a postcard... Having said that it is an excellent book, made more so by the lively reading by Ferguson himself. He really enjoys reading the book - you can tell - and that enjoyment is infectious.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  • Rupert Matthews
    8/12/15
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Great book very informational"

    Gives you a great insight into civilisation, a span of over 2000 years of history. I learn lots from it and so would you. It's well read and laid out. It starts from pre crist in the east and goes through listing all the great empires and the fall of them, through to the present west dominance and how our civilisation might be on the way out

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Judy Corstjens
    7/28/15
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Quite hard work"

    There are (these days) history books that romp along and build up a convincing story in your head. This one didn't quite achieve that for me; it started slipping into a list of events. Thus I found myself having to re-listen three of four times and force myself to concentrate. Mr Ferguson does try to make it easier by defining the 'killer apps' of Western civilisation, and then structuring the book around these killer apps, but the killer apps are not quite as clear-cut and illuminating as you might hope. Still, a good set of thoughts; I enjoyed the amount of time spent on clothes and the textile industry and the importance of consumer society to our modern civilisation.

    Narration. Ferguson does a fine job on the general narration, but falls down on the (extended and numerous) quotations. They are all done in the same, slightly nasal, all-purpose 'foreign' accent, from Bolivia to Japan. Quite bizarre.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Stavros
    11/16/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Big History at its best!"

    An insightful and robust analysis of what constitutes civilisation and the forces that drive its rise and fall. The author sometimes conflates the rise and fall of national regimes with that of civilisations but that does not affect the overall soundness of his thesis.

    Niall Ferguson is great as the narrator but the overall performance is let down by the use of voice actors to relay quoted text in poorly "accented" English or to mimic the speech of historical figures like Winston Churchill. Again this did not detract much from the overall enjoyment of the book but was sufficiently annoying to be worthy of mention.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Rose
    London, United Kingdom
    9/9/13
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Interesting but unconvincing and bit boring"

    Not a massive fan of this unfortunately, as I thought the premise was exciting and I was looking forward to reading it. There's a lot better books out there on the issue.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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