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)
Revised my thinking
Having heard him live, that same charisma he projects comes through the audio.
Not necessarily. But I did listen to the book more than once.
I have always found Niall Ferguson, in his books and lectures, to be insightful and thought-provoking. 'Civilization' may be the best example of this to date. Here is one example of a perspective that I found very instructive, Ferguson includes in his list of explanatory variables for the acceleration of civilization in the West the role of Protestant churches. But he goes beyond the obvious, the Protestant work ethic, to explain how church communities and the mutual trustworthiness they engendered enabled smaller merchants early access to credit and so develop early forms of supply chains in the fledgling free-markets of the colonial US (and Northern Europe). He also differentiates between monopolistic and ‘free market’ religions. The former refers to the state religions common in Europe, the latter to the open market for religion in the US. And clearly, churches and church-going have flourished in the US where free-market competition compelled churches to adapt to the changing needs of their congregations. Without that competitive motive, churches in Europe have stagnated or declined.Agree with Ferguson or not, this is a highly informative and enjoyable listen. And I must add, the voices used for quotes that several reviewers complained about I found neither distracting nor offensive. Niall’s reading of the text was articulated very clearly and sufficiently animated, enhanced all the more by that Scottish accent that I have come to enjoy.
This is an interesting and comprehensive treatment of Ferguson's examination of the dominance of the West for the last half-millenium. It is well-written and mostly engaging, though it does cover some of the same ground as his "Ascent of Money," to be expected as Ferguson's interest is largely material history rather than intellectual or political history. The narration by Ferguson is for the most part good and easy to listen to. However, the rendition of the non-Scottish voices (whether by Ferguson or someone else, I can't tell) should have been dropped for a straightforward reading. The "foreign" accents are in most cases not believable, in many cases rather badly done, and in some cases risible and even offensive to the nationalities being portrayed. I still recommend the book and wish it a wide audience. It raises very important questions about the nature of "civilization" and the properties that make a civilization both viable and potentially victorious.
Associate Professor at 4 yr. university in educational history and educational administration. Love reading historical books of all genres!
This captivating story of the origins and demise of civilizations in the West and East starts off a little slow, but as you listen, it begins to unfold and explain how so many countries in the West outpaced and produced so much more than other nations existing during the same time.
The unifying theme of the 'killer apps' is appropriate for postmodern readers, giving a clear direction and 'visual' picture of how the West continues to lead the world. The most riveting parts of the book include Ferguson's discussion about the United States' perpetual dependency on religion, specifically Christianity. Why are other Western nations withdrawing from religious activity and the US is not? Is there a correlational connection between capitalism and religion or is the relationship causal?
This book is not for generalists hoping for an easy read, but perhaps would best suit someone who has a particular interest in anthropology and sociology from a historical perspective.
In any case, I really enjoyed the author's lively narration of his work.
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.
Guns, Germs, and Steel explains how Eurasians nations had an geological head start over rival nations, but it paints too simplistic a stroke to explain the last 500 years of western dominance. This book will finish your introduction to civilization competition throughout human history and why those that won - won and those that lost - lost by providing a detail understanding of why western civilization progressed past the rest.
Some answers are as you might expect but some may surprise you.
Read Guns, Germs, and Steel first then read this book. together you will have a much better understanding of how the current geopolitical situation has come about and then you can truly begin to postulate on where it is going and what policies you should support if you wish to change its progress or keep it on track.
lots of intriguing detail of rarely referenced non western sources which bear further investigation
Gold God and Guns - WRM
Simon Bolivar - hard to believe the stereotype I was taught in school was such anti democratic figure in reality - lots of good quotes
I was touched by the in depth look at slavery in North and South America with the different forms this evil took in different cultures
looking forward to the second half
I am really surprised at some of the other comments saying that Niall didn't do a good job reading this one, I thought he did exceptionally well.
I like this book much better than Ferguson's last book the Ascent of Money, it is much more readable and engaging. Well researched and full of history I'd never heard. Definately worth the read.
I thought this book would be more of the same as previous books in this genre such as Guns Germs and Steel and 1493. The theme is the same, but this book brings a lot of new information to the table.
I like apples
mostly nonfiction listener
While Niall Ferguson's new book, Civilization: The West and the Rest, is mostly about the past, it true importance is what it says about our future. Nowadays it is hard not too worry about the future, as we struggle from one funding crisis to the next, watching resources for public investments (like education) erode. The most powerful antidote to depression about our future is a good understanding of our past, particularly the changes in the past 5 centuries that are Ferguson's main subject. Five hundred years is really not that long of a time, but within this time frame we can trace a transition from a world dominated by scarcity, hunger, and disease to one characterized by health and abundance.
Ferguson asks two key questions in Civilization:
1) Why is it that a relatively few number of people living in a few small countries in the West became so wealthy and powerful in the last few hundred years as compared to people in Asia, South America, and Africa?
2) Will the 21st century belong to non-Western civilizations, and is it possible that the U.S. and Western Europe could even share the same fate of decline and fall as the Roman Empire?
Ferguson's answer to the first question, why the West got wealthy, basically comes down to institutions. The West developed a set of key institutions (Ferguson calls these killer apps), that the others lacked. The killers apps include: competition, science, democracy, medicine, consumerism and the Protestant work ethic. The book is (loosely) organized around these themes, with Ferguson jumping (sometimes confusingly) across centuries and continents in support of the narrative.
On the second question, will "The Rest" catch-up, Ferguson is guardedly optimistic. While the non-Western world may not have all the structures in place for sustained growth (most obviously the lack of democracy in China), the overall trends are all going in the right direction. The BRIC's (Brazil, Russia, India, China) are rapidly integrating into a world energy, consumer and production market, although none of these societies enjoy all of the institutional underpinnings that have sustained Western growth. It was not solely the availability of coal or oversees markets that drove the development of the British Empire, but also the presence of property rights, a free press, and representative government.
Making sense of why some countries are wealthier today than others, and who will be wealthy tomorrow, requires the skills of an economically literate historian. Ferguson is as good a guide as anyone writing on these questions today. Civilization is not a systematic or deep investigation of a few narrow questions, but rather a simultaneously concise and sweeping narrative around big questions and large trends. Enjoyable but not overly taxing.
Avid audiobook addict!
Extremely interesting book. Some of the historical date etc recitation is a little dry, but overall a refreshing antidote to the standard recitation of how bad western culture is taught in universities. Most authors should resist the temptation to narrate their own books, however. This guy's accents are terrible, and his phlegmy delivery of the other parts was excrucating to listen to.
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