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
"Thought-provoking and possibly controversial." (Library Journal)
After listening to this book, I have decided to become a Tailor and take over the world! I too at one time wore blue jeans.
Ferguson delivers on laying out the ugliness of what Western Civilization has done, from slavery to genocide to Nazism. He clearly points to factors that have given Western Civilization an edge. Often by willingly or unwillingly accepting diversity without denying its own cultural heritage. I would love to see a follow up in light of recent events.
Exceeded my expectations. Even though it confirmed my expectation of American collapse, it was enlightening. I highly recommend this book.
Fascinating overview of the contributing factors to the rise - and potential fall of western civilization. I found the influence of the Protestant work ethic - and the impact on saving - particularly enlightening. The impact of mechanization in clothing manufacture was interesting as well. Certainly mind expanding.
Though not immune to criticism - what non-fiction work is not - but critical reading for one that studies or want to learn of a history of civilization & some thought provoking insight into the possible future of the current systems of civilization.
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.
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.
He is pleasant.
Seriously. Just read the quotes in your normal lovely voice.
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.
Report Inappropriate Content