If in the year 1411 you had been able to circumnavigate the globe, you would have been most impressed by the dazzling civilizations of the Orient. The Forbidden City was under construction in Ming Beijing; in the Near East, the Ottomans were closing in on Constantinople. By contrast, England would have struck you as a miserable backwater ravaged by plague, bad sanitation and incessant war. The other quarrelsome kingdoms of Western Europe - Aragon, Castile, France, Portugal and Scotland - would have seemed little better. As for fifteenth-century North America, it was an anarchic wilderness compared with the realms of the Aztecs and Incas. The idea that the West would come to dominate the Rest for most of the next half millennium would have struck you as wildly fanciful. And yet it happened.What was it about the civilization of Western Europe that allowed it to trump the outwardly superior empires of the Orient? The answer, Niall Ferguson argues, was that the West developed six "killer applications" that the Rest lacked: competition, science, democracy, medicine, consumerism and the work ethic. The key question today is whether or not the West has lost its monopoly on these six things. If so, Ferguson warns, we may be living through the end of Western ascendancy. Civilization takes readers on their own extraordinary journey around the world - from the Grand Canal at Nanjing to the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul; from Machu Picchu in the Andes to Shark Island, Namibia; from the proud towers of Prague to the secret churches of Wenzhou. It is the story of sailboats, missiles, land deeds, vaccines, blue jeans and Chinese Bibles. It is the defining narrative of modern world history.
©2011 Niall Ferguson (P)2011 Penguin Books Limited
"One of the world's leading historians." (Hamish McRae, Independent)
This is sharp. It feels urgent. Ferguson, with a properly financially literate mind, twists his knife with great literary brio - Andrew Marr, Financial Times
A dazzling history of Western ideas - Economist
I personally tend to find Professor Ferguson's political leanings distasteful and don't necessarily agree with his ultimate conclusions but this is a good book. Ferguson's overview of the institutional strengths that allowed Western Europe to pull ahead of China, India and the Middle East is valid, insightful and thoroughly entertaining. I appreciated the wealth of interesting anecdotes from obscure nooks and corners of history that made this a superb piece of narrative history. As a review of post-Medieval Western Civ, this is a must-read.
As I said earlier I'm not exactly a fan of Ferguson's ideological leanings but this is besides the point- at times Ferguson's smug self-satisfaction with the glories of Western Civ can grate a bit (speaking as an Asian listener) but I have to admit that he's fair in his assessment of how la mission civilisatrice often went horribly wrong, notably in the part of his narrative that concerns German colonial atrocities against the Herero. I do note, however that he steers well clear of any analysis of the British Empire in this section but I suppose he couldn't put his nostalgia aside. Fair enough- in all other respects a generally balanced text.
The narration. Dear god, the narration. Ferguson has a pleasant speaking voice and he uses it well...but for some reason he decided to do the accents for all the bits of quoted text. This, in itself, isn't necessarily a problem- Nadia May does a great job with the accents in The Guns of August- but Ferguson can't do accents to save his life! French, Russians and Germans get read out in what devolves into a strangely blended Jamaican patois. And when he quote from East Asian sources he does so in a hilarious Charlie Chan-esque 'me so solly' accent. It funny the first few times but quickly becomes jarring.
That the author read the book with the same passion he wrote it.
Filled with thousands of gems and cameos - yet the storyline and line of argument were never compromised or lost.
The narrative surrounding damages and reparations for slavery . The rich world is culpable yet remains untried and above it all.
The six things that matter
Simply bloody brilliant
Concluding comments make a lasting impact
Has a great voice filled with genuine enthusiasm for his topic
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