This book is the culmination of 15 years of research and travels that have taken the author completely around the world twice. Its purpose has been to try to understand the role of cultural differences within nations and between nations, today and over the centuries of history, in shaping the economic and social fates of peoples and of whole civilizations. Focusing on four major cultural areas—that of the British, the Africans (including the African Diaspora), the Slavs of Eastern Europe, and the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere—Conquests and Cultures reveals patterns that encompass not only these people but others and helps explain the role of cultural evolution in economic, social, and political development.
Thomas Sowell has taught economics at Cornell, UCLA, Amherst, and other academic institutions, and his Basic Economics has been translated into six languages. He is currently a scholar in residence at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He has been published in both academic journals and such popular media as the Wall Street Journal, Forbes magazine, and Fortune, and he writes a syndicated column that appears in newspapers across the country.
©1998 Thomas Sowell (P)2010 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
“Sowell writes…with grace and clarity.” (Washington Times)
“Thomas Sowell is, in my opinion, the most original and interesting philosopher at work in America. I have learned a great deal from him and his new book is full of insights and wisdom.” (Paul Johnson, author of Modern Times)
“Sowell's scholarship is evident as he examines the interplay of religion, language, education, technology, and other factors in the development of nations….this book bears comparison to Fernand Braudel's A History of Civilization. Its readable style and impressive scope make it suitable for all libraries.” (Library Journal)
Though I have minor issues with Sowell's writing style and organization, which prevent me from giving this five stars, I nonetheless would put this on anyone's "must listen" list.
This book is loaded with facts and figures, often coming rapid-fire, but it never becomes boring in the least. Overall the experience is revelatory -- I'd even go so far as to say life-changing. My world-view will never be quite the same.
Very minor irritation: not infrequently Dean mis-reads the text -- e.g. giving dates that are exactly one century off, confusing WW1 with WW2, etc. It's possible these are typos in the original text but I doubt it. He also over-enunciates almost everything. He's a perfectly adequate reader, but not one of my favorites.
But forget I ever said these things and listen: you won't regret it.
This is the third and last volume in Thomas Sowell's "Cultures" trilogy ("Race and Culture" and "Migrations and Culture" precede it). It is every bit as cogent and well-argued as the first two books - indeed, as every book Sowell has written.
I suggest reading (or listening to: the reader has a baritone similar to Sowell's, not quite James Earl Jones, but in that territory) the whole trilogy; when you've done that, I promise you Sowell's explanations of human cultural history will make sense to you on a gut level like (probably) no history you learned in school ever did.
Sowell has an unsurpassed knack for explaning complex topics in simple, lucid terms; he doesn't obfuscate with jargon or rhetorical sleights-of-hand as do writers won't don't actually have a full grasp of their topics but want to appear smart. There is just no honest way to come away from reading (or listening to) this writer's books and not be convinced that he has mastered his topic and helped clarify your own understanding of it. This should be refreshing to anyone who's had to suffer through the likes of Michel Foucault and his ilk - people who write outrageously complicated nonsense about simple things. Sowell is the opposite of such writers: he writes clearly, lucidly and honestly about complex topics.
Check him out.
Sowell, the acknowledged modern master of cultural analysis, cranks off the conclusion to a trilogy thirty years in the making, and thousands of years in scope. Yet he is talking about you.
How did we get to be the people we are, in anything beyond an individual sense? This work examines the history of events in cultural development in a thoroughly engaging fashion by teasing out the geographic, economic, technologic and other factors which produce not only outcomes, but the events themselves. It is one thing to know why a faction won a battle. It is another entirely to know why that battle occurred in the first place, and still another to responsibly draw causal chains between outcomes and following events.
Why did European trade ships sail past resource-rich Africa to reach less-blessed shores at greater expense and risk? Because sub-Saharan Africa has few natural harbors or navigable rivers for trade, and a physical environment hostile to outsiders. Using the technology of the day, Africa might as well have been the moon. Only items with a spectacular value to weight ratio made it out of Africa for trade, *or in for development*. Exporting cotton or wheat from Africa was out, while gold and slaves were profitable.
Why did the magnificent Inca and predecessor empires remain isolated without trade or travel to speak of? They had the wheel and axle, and used it for children's toys, but they had no draft animals which would have made wheeled transport a productive pursuit. This is part of what doomed them to a rising and falling succcession of independent states, which were more easily picked off than might otherwise have been, both by other Mesoamerican cultures and the eventual arrival of the Europeans.
Why did the people of the British Isles not prosper as the Romans departed? Or for that matter why is this true of *most* post-colonial or post-empire localities? If colonialism is so bad, why do thing fall apart when it ends?
This book proposes and defends answers to questions such as these. If the all-too comfortable answers offered by those with an axe to grind leave you with an uneasy feeling that there is more to the story than is commonly admitted to, then this book is for you. We cannot know who we are without knowing who we were, and more pointedly, whom we were not. We cannot reasonably assess or correct problems in modern society without knowing what our society is, and what it is not.
This book is to culture what Sagan's COSMOS was for the hard sciences. Enlightening, inspiring, authoritative, and a crackling good listen. BUY THIS AUDIOBOOK. I have listened through three times now. There will be more. I am so-o-o-o getting my money's worth out of this.
"fabric artist and quilter"
I didn't realise it when I bought it that this was the third in a trilogy however it stood up to being read as an individual book. His insights were most illuminating and once pointed out its difficult not to think that they are so obvious as to be common sense and why hadn't I thought of it myself.
The conclusion which was the conclusion to all three books ran for 90 mins or more. I found it so interesting and informative that I listened to it twice. I didn't want to misunderstand or forget what was said. A very enlightening piece of research and writing.
Worth the listening but keep your critical faculties in play.Sowell touts his hypothesis about the connection between "culture" and "entrepreneurship", which he seems to consider to be the high point of human achievement, yet leaves glaring holes in the historical narrative that he uses to support it. For example he blames the disappearance of the American Bison on Native Americans without a single mention of characters such as Buffalo Bill who were hired by the railroad corporation to slaughter the bison herds en masse, partly to feed their work crews and partly to rid themselves of a physical obstruction to the building and maintenance of the railroad itself. Another more puzzling omission is that of "The Canal Age", an 80 year span that was of great importance economically, in Sowell's account of the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain.Sowell often derides the "cherry-picking" of authors with a different thesis than his own, while indulging in the same tactics himself.On the other hand, the reading is mellifluous and engaging plaudits to Robertson Dean.
I intend to listen to this book again because it is difficult to absorb all of the wisdom he imparts in one sitting even though he is a master of explaining very difficult concepts in simple terms.
Civilization - the West and the Rest
I did not find it moving - I had very little emotional response to it - but I found the explanations of the early cultures and how we got to where we are today from those points in history, very compelling.
I loved this topic and the information provided was superior. I found the content to be well-researched and the flow of the information was very smooth. The historical content explained a lot of things about how different cultures affected others and interacted with others through exploration and conquests.
I did, however, feel that because this book is packed with details and facts, I had to rewind sections to relisten to them if I became distracted by something or if a stray thought popped into my mind. As much as I enjoyed this, I think it would have been better to have read the print version instead of the audiobook.
Regardless of the media you choose, this book is highly insightful and worth reading if you're interested in world history, cultural interactions or world conquests. I'm recommending it to my friends!
Likes audio books
The author has put together facts and observations from so many times and places in human history. He has discerned fascinating patterns and painted an enlightening picture to share with us, listeners. If you like to learn about the history of the human race then do not miss this book.
I greatly admire and hold Dr. Sowell's intellect in the highest regard, that said, this book contains some glaring historical omissions and errors. Granted Dr. Sowell is an economist and observer current events par excellent, and not an historian, some of the errors regarding the plans Indian, too much, for example: Dr. Sowell blames the near extinction of the plains buffalo on the Indians, with repeating rifles on horseback. The true destruction of Buffalo was brought about by the government, The railroads, and The cattle / beef industry. The omitted; The Seminole & Creek wars, and President A. Jackson's pro-slavery (prototype Democrat), and Spanish Florida. I listened to this, the last book of the trilogy first, so I can't comment on the whole, regardless of my above comments, I still like the book overall, and learned a lot. The book was well worth my time listening to it.
F.C. Howland Jr.
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