Symptoms of decline are all around us today, it seems: slowing growth, crushing debts, aging populations, anti-social behaviour. But what exactly is amiss with Western civilization? The answer, Niall Ferguson argues, is that our institutions - the intricate frameworks within which a society can flourish or fail - are degenerating. To arrest the degeneration of the West's civilization, Ferguson warns, will take heroic leadership and radical reform.
The Great Degeneration is the latest, provocative work from Niall Ferguson, best-selling author of The Ascent of Money.
©2012 Niall Ferguson (P)2013 W F Howes Ltd
"Brilliantly written, full of wit and virtuosity, stuffed with memorable lines and gorgeous bits of information. A great read" (The Times)
"Brings history alive for the reader with a dazzling knowledge... peerless" (Independent on Sunday)
I really enjoy listening to the author on the news and talk shows. Very interesting guy who doesn't overreach in the interest of getting air time. From what I can tell he works hard and has mastered a fairly rare combination of fields. History, economics, and writing, to name three. This is a gentleman who beyond the pedigree has written books that survey in sometimes painful depth his field of study. I have tried to read his prior books and just couldn't get through them. Great material, great writing, but really boring tedious stuff to listen to. This book, however, I could not put down.
I think the author has some very good points. You'll find a bunch of negative reviews because of the last few pages of the book, he gives a rather hefty slam of Obama's "you didn't build that" speech. He really could have done without those few pages and I think you would find Republicans and Democrats interested in finding a solution to our country and world's problems finding common ground with many of the ideas in this book.
I am somewhat off-putted by the frameworks that the author uses. I am used to more of the more systematic Stuart Mill, etc frameworks and he always seems to have some rather higher level "fresher" way of reframing what are probably issues that could fit within these other frameworks. Interesting, refreshing, thought provoking but leaves me wondering how this lines up to historical methods of analysis. And where did the ideas come for these nouveau analyses? Might be footnoted, but that is a hazard of audio books. Anyway, many of the reviews at Amazon capture the specifics. I enjoyed this book and if you haven't read the author yet, would highly recommend starting here. If you have like me tried an not been able to get through the prior works, perhaps like me you'll find a gem here. If you're reading and listening to the author right now, you may be a little disappointed as the book is a bit of an overview of a number of speeches / discussions he has had recently. Might not be enough new material to interest. I really enjoyed it.
With reservations this is one of the best short listens you can make. Those limits relate to Ferguson's history and his place therein. In short, his model of the future means an extension of the past, by better management of the present. For example he believes that the world will become more urbanized because cities are essentially more culturally diverse and therefore better places to live. Except—he assumes we will have no problem feeding 9 billion souls, in whatever urban utopia we may choose.
Outside his bubble, in the present future, usable water and agriculture to feed the masses, are areas where Ferguson has a significant blind spot.
That being said, the collapse of historic local community structures is an awesome addition to the discussion, but again Niall seems to miss the connection with a rural economy in the good old days; for they don't really fit within the present urban culture, which perhaps fits a violent jungle mentality, rather than a cohesive human community.
My only complaint is that it wasn't longer.
Anyone that has seriously given thought to the modern problem of bread and circuses needs to listen to this. If the other cited authors are not familiar, then this book can serve as a primer and some of those other books can be read as a follow up.
"Buy the hard copy"
I bought this following on from (the brilliant) Ascent of Money, and was a bit disappointed. It is so brief that I felt useful details had been left out, and yet I also felt it was quite hard to follow as an audiobook. Ferguson follows the 'institutional' paradigm of successful societies, and refers repeatedly to 'Why Nations Fail' by Acemoglu and Robinson. In a sense this book is an appendix to theirs (explaining why our societies are poised for failure) and I'd recommend the first one, if you haven't read/audioed it, and then try applying their criteria for success to your own society.
Maybe the worst thing was the tone of the narration. Paul Slack reads in a 'Jeremy Clarkson sarcasm' voice throughout, which made me feel that the degeneration of the legal system and collapse of civil society was my own, personal, fault.
"Worth a listen"
good listen and an interesting critique of modern institutions - to an extent it is a thorough PEST style analysis but has some interesting insights. Very libertarian and pro free market, which I mostly agree with, but this occasionally seems like a Ron Paul type libertarianism - though arguments are well reasoned and compelling
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