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

Civilization: The West and the Rest

The rise to global predominance of Western civilization is the single most important historical phenomenon of the past five hundred years. All over the world, an astonishing proportion of people now work for Western-style companies, study at Western-style universities, vote for Western-style governments, take Western medicines, wear Western clothes, and even work Western hours. Yet six hundred years ago the petty kingdoms of Western Europe seemed unlikely to achieve much more than perpetual internecine warfare. It was Ming China or Ottoman Turkey that had the look of world civilizations.
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Publisher's Summary

The rise to global predominance of Western civilization is the single most important historical phenomenon of the past five hundred years. All over the world, an astonishing proportion of people now work for Western-style companies, study at Western-style universities, vote for Western-style governments, take Western medicines, wear Western clothes, and even work Western hours. Yet six hundred years ago the petty kingdoms of Western Europe seemed unlikely to achieve much more than perpetual internecine warfare. It was Ming China or Ottoman Turkey that had the look of world civilizations. How did the West overtake its Eastern rivals? And has the zenith of Western power now passed?

In Civilization: The West and the Rest, bestselling author Niall Ferguson argues that, beginning in the fifteenth century, the West developed six powerful new concepts that the Rest lacked: competition, science, the rule of law, consumerism, modern medicine, and the work ethic.

©2011 Niall Ferguson (P)2011 Tantor

What the Critics Say

"Thought-provoking and possibly controversial." (Library Journal)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

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  •  
    John S. Seattle, WA United States 09-25-12
    John S. Seattle, WA United States 09-25-12 Member Since 2005
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    "I like to think I'm intelligent"

    and am well-educated, but failed to get whatever "point" Ferguson was making here - just lots and lots (and lots!) of historical stories/anecdotes/facts for 14 hours. His reading wasn't a problem for me; although the sections where he read quoted passages in the speakers' accented English seemed weird at times, that did serve to set them off from the "story" itself.

    If I had the choice again, I'd read (skim) the print version instead. I tried breaking it down to listening no more than an hour per day, and even that left me looking at the time-elapsed counter frequently.

    10 of 13 people found this review helpful
  •  
    PixelBrine Henrico, Va, United States 08-27-12
    PixelBrine Henrico, Va, United States 08-27-12
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    "Very interesting with a slightly obvious bias"
    What did you love best about Civilization?

    The depth at which the subject is tackled.


    Would you be willing to try another book from Niall Ferguson? Why or why not?

    sure


    Would you listen to another book narrated by Niall Ferguson?

    sure


    Any additional comments?

    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.

    6 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David I. Williams Keithville, LA, United States 05-07-13
    David I. Williams Keithville, LA, United States 05-07-13 Member Since 2007
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    "Great overview of a touchy topic"

    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.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Stephen New Orleans, LA, United States 02-11-13
    Stephen New Orleans, LA, United States 02-11-13 Member Since 2000
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    "Full of unusual observations"
    If you could sum up Civilization in three words, what would they be?

    insightful, unusual, stimulating


    What did you like best about this story?

    clearly organized


    What does Niall Ferguson bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    doesn't get bogged down


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    no - but perfect for falling asleep


    Any additional comments?

    Really enjoyable bedtime listen - lulls me to sleep in an informative way.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Paul Krasner 07-26-12 Member Since 2005

    I like books that have interesting characters and easy to follow plots. For example, Cormoran Strike, is a great character for me.

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    "Fabulous explanation of why the West won"

    First, I must say that I love the way Niall Ferguson reads this book. On top of that, he makes an excellent argument for why the Western Civilization predominates. Just as scary is his contention that our "king of the hill" status is sliding away. I learned more about world history in the 11 hours than listening to almost any other book I heard. When he describes Western Europe in the 14th century, it is mind boggling that they took over the world. His contention that turning inward and restricting the rest of the world influence is the key to the fall of a great civilization. It is particularly relevant to our times in the US. Our xenophobia is literally setting us up for a fall. My suggestion for interested readers is to listening to the book, "Debt:a history". After these two books, any intelligent person will have a firm understanding of where we've come from and where we're heading as a people. It's hard to not buy into the belief that homo sapiens are essentially war mongers. When watching the movie, "Chronicles of Riddick," it is hard not to think the US is not turning into Necromongers.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    William Waterloo, ON, Canada 06-14-12
    William Waterloo, ON, Canada 06-14-12
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    "Very good author"
    What made the experience of listening to Civilization the most enjoyable?

    The author outlined his concepts in a clear and concise manner. The chapter headings really clarified his position and provided direction in the reading.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of Civilization?

    The medicine chapter really stood out. The impacts of tropical diseases on the progression of different civilizations left a lasting impression in my mind.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    It's difficult to pick out a favorite scene in this book. The chapter on medicine was one of my favorites.


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Fern Richardson California 11-15-11
    Fern Richardson California 11-15-11 Member Since 2005

    Fern Richardson

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    "Authors Should Not Read Their Own Books"

    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.

    9 of 14 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mr Hunters Hill, Australia 08-22-12
    Mr Hunters Hill, Australia 08-22-12 Member Since 2009
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    "Compelling - with obvious Bias"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    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.


    Would you be willing to try another book from Niall Ferguson? Why or why not?

    I already have! He is a good writer - some biases not withstanding.


    Which character – as performed by Niall Ferguson – was your favorite?

    NA


    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Steven newton, MA, United States 02-21-12
    Steven newton, MA, United States 02-21-12 Member Since 2007
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    "What's with the racist caricatures?"

    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.

    6 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ehren D. Stover-wright 08-11-14 Member Since 2012
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    "Solid telling. Terrible accents."
    If you could sum up Civilization in three words, what would they be?

    The entirety of civilization is a big project and as such it is well done. The performance is where I take issue. In the main, it is well done. Any asides are done in a vaguely racist accent. It is a distraction and reminds me that the the perspective is decidedly western and in being such, it feels like the kind slant on the telling my uncle would have made in 1975. Feels out of place today in a way it wouldn't have but for the performances.


    Would you recommend Civilization to your friends? Why or why not?

    I would recommend. I bought this after a visit to Great Britain. It scratched that itch. Carry a length of rope to bite during the ethnically specific quotes.


    What three words best describe Niall Ferguson’s voice?

    He is pleasant.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Sure.


    Any additional comments?

    Seriously. Just read the quotes in your normal lovely voice.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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