Sometime around 1750, English entrepreneurs unleashed the astounding energies of steam and coal, and the world was forever changed. The emergence of factories, railroads, and gunboats propelled the West’s rise to power in the nineteenth century, and the development of computers and nuclear weapons in the 20th century secured its global supremacy.
Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, many worry that the emerging economic power of China and India spells the end of the West as a superpower. In order to understand this possibility, we need to look back in time. Why has the West dominated the globe for the past 200 years, and will its power last? Describing the patterns of human history, the archaeologist and historian Ian Morris offers surprising new answers to both questions. It is not, he reveals, differences of race or culture, or even the strivings of great individuals that explain Western dominance. It is the effects of geography on the everyday efforts of ordinary people as they deal with crises of resources, disease, migration, and climate. As geography and human ingenuity continue to interact, the world will change in astonishing ways, transforming Western rule in the process.
Deeply researched and brilliantly argued, Why the West Rules - for Now spans 50,000 years of history and offers fresh insights on nearly every page. The book brings together the latest findings across disciplines - from ancient history to neuroscience - not only to explain why the West came to rule the world but also to predict what the future will bring in the next hundred years.
©2010 Ian Morris (P)2010 Tantor
"A formidable, richly engrossing effort to determine why Western institutions dominate the world." (Kirkus)
I was so impressed with Ian Morris' viewpoint and breadth that I purchased the hardcopy to re-read and share with friends. As the cover says, this is possibly the closest we'll ever come to a grand unified theory of history. Even more enjoyable if you're familiar with the basics of complexity theory as his arguments (seemingly unintentionally) flow very much along those lines.
The only quibble - and this is a minor one - is that there is significant discussion of various diagrams throughout the book This of course doesn't come across in the audio-format however they are generally explained well enough to be not completely lost.
I loved the way Ian goes back to the very begining of man - Out of Africa. It was very informative to me to get this broad persopective on the evolution of our race and our society. And he makes a very compelling argument for what the next 100 years will bring. Loved the last chapter.
This is one of those audiobooks that will leave you thinking, and probably irritating your friends with little historical anecdotes and observations.
Like the other reviewers, I was bothered by aubible's failure to provide the book's figures as a pdf download. You can get Morris' central chart of societal development from his webpage though.
There's a lot to quibble about in this book, and his predictions for the future at the end get downright bizarre, but the book is a truly admirable summary of both eastern and western history, and a worthy heir to Guns Germs and Steel, picking up where Jared Diamond leaves off: explaining why Europe ultimately beat China.
I think Morris could have been clearer and more explicit in places (emphasizing in the introduction, for example, the central role he'll later claim that firearms played in facilitating Europe's rise from about the 15th century on), I think the particular methodology he uses to construct his social development index is faulty and using the underlying energy capture index alone is probably more revealing, and the book is just plain too long; nevertheless, it's well worth reading and I highly recommend it.
mostly nonfiction listener
Ian Morris' Why the West Rules--for Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future is perhaps the best argument for why we should keep investing in training PhDs and allocating resources to our institutions of higher learning.
Morris is a Stanford professor, a Cambridge University PhD, and the author of 10 books and "more than 80 articles on archaeology and history." He is a guy who gets his hands dirty, leading digs in places like Monte Polizzo, Sicily - as well as a gifted writer.
Should you invest the 24 hours and 41 minutes necessary to listen to this book?
Yes if you often wonder "how did I get here," in the sense of owning all this crap, burning all this fuel etc. etc., while most of the world (at least the vast numbers of rural poor in Asia), today live quite different lives.
Yes if you've ever argued out loud (or thought to yourself), that the reason we Westerners have so much crap and burn so much fuel was either an inevitable development due to geography, climate, species, disease patterns etc. (long-term lock-in), or the result of actions and decisions by both great and incompetent historical actors (short-term accident).
Yes if you wonder why social development in the Eastern world (as measured by energy capture, information exchange, war making capacity, and city size) outstripped the Western world from the 1,000 years between 600 CE and 1600 CE, only to fall radically behind the West by 2000.
Yes if you think it is important to take the really long view, from the beginning of agriculture (8,000 to 5,000 BCE), rather than starting the story at the beginning of the industrial revolution in late 18th century England.
Yes if you have the sense that real story of the 21st century will happen in Asia, and that if we want to be working where the big changes in higher ed will be occurring we better be prepared to work in East or South Asia.â€¨â€¨Yes if you love history, sociology, archeology, and economics - and like books that integrate theories, ideas and facts from across the disciplines.
Yes if you want to escape, if only for a few hours, the world of fast changing technology (where my 6 month old iPad is already out-of-date), and place your brain inside much larger time scales thinking about much bigger questions
After an extensive first third of the book dealing with prehistory to dispel any still possible existing claims of racial superiority between East and West, the book becomes mainly a comparative history between "East" and "West".
Of course this description does not do full justice to the scope and ambition of the author, whose main theory is that progress in history is a product of geography and social development, with one feeding on each other, creating both splendor and collapse; he comes up with an index to measure civilizational development and concludes that there is no foundation for one culture claiming superiority over another.
Mr. Morris wildly overreaches in staking a claim for geography as the main driver of history: he concludes that great men, and culture in general, have played no crucial part in civilization, and that history would have taken pretty much the same course whatever these men or women did: would really history have been the same without Napoleon, George Washington or Isaac Newton? This gives his theory a sometimes disturbingly materialistic and deterministic bent.
His definitions of East and West are highly debatable: since for him culture is not important, he does not make a difference of the split between Christianity and Islam, and sees both as part of the West; obviously, he does not make a big deal of the subsequent schism between Catholics and Protestants. Just look at the huge differences between Europe and the Arab World, or the US and Latin America and the claim that these divergences have not had a major role in shaping history seem wildly unrealistic, .
That said, Mr. Morris is a compelling narrator, and in some cases his arguments are definitely persuasive. The close attention he gives to both the rise of the East and the West provide a much needed balance to existing world histories, and shed light on the interconnectedness of the World starting in Antiquity. His final thoughts are quite dazzling. Well worth a listen.
It allows for listening on the go
I like the audio format I have various listening/play back devices and I can multi-task and get more things done, including finishing books.
If only the reading of the Chinese words are closer to the proper pronunciation, and the numbers presented are not too subjective.
At first, it may sound objective enough with all the statistics being presented. After a while you'll realize the numbers are pretty much subjective to begin with. I don't trust the numbers at all.
Most of it!
The narrator totally bungled it up, all the pronunciation are terrible especially when it come to Chinese "ping-yin" he should have practice how to read pinyin properly before reading the book. The abhorrent pronunciation adds to the argument that the book is very biased to begin with, don't even know how to pronounce proper location, names and common Chinese words. If you think this book is balanced, it totally disagree, it is very subjective to the opinion of the author.
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