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Publisher's Summary

A brilliant recasting of the turning points in world history, including the one we're living through, as a collision between old power hierarchies and new social networks

Most history is hierarchical: it's about emperors, presidents, prime ministers, and field marshals. It's about states, armies, and corporations. It's about orders from on high. Even history "from below" is often about trade unions and workers' parties. But what if that's simply because hierarchical institutions create the archives that historians rely on? What if we are missing the informal, less well documented social networks that are the true sources of power and drivers of change?

The 21st century has been hailed as the Age of Networks. However, in The Square and the Tower, Niall Ferguson argues that networks have always been with us, from the structure of the brain to the food chain, from the family tree to freemasonry. Throughout history, hierarchies housed in high towers have claimed to rule, but often real power has resided in the networks in the town square below. For it is networks that tend to innovate. And it is through networks that revolutionary ideas can contagiously spread. Just because conspiracy theorists like to fantasize about such networks doesn't mean they are not real.

From the cults of ancient Rome to the dynasties of the Renaissance, from the founding fathers to Facebook, The Square and the Tower tells the story of the rise, fall, and rise of networks, and shows how network theory - concepts such as clustering, degrees of separation, weak ties, contagions, and phase transitions - can transform our understanding of both the past and the present.

Just as The Ascent of Money put Wall Street into historical perspective, so The Square and the Tower does the same for Silicon Valley. And it offers a bold prediction about which hierarchies will withstand this latest wave of network disruption - and which will be toppled.

©2018 Niall Ferguson (P)2018 Penguin Audio

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Ferguson's unique perspective of world history

As Ferguson states, this is an honest (and, IMO, successful) attempt to reclaim the framing of world history as the result of big men and bigger institutions from that told by conspiracy theorists to those with rational perspective. An expertly narrated and well told enjoyable read.

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

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  • Rosemary
  • Greenwich, CT, United States
  • 02-09-18

Ferguson is always great but this narrator is zero!

I could not get into this book at all due to an overlong and boring introduction and mostly because of the very prissy voice of the reader. I love English voices. I prefer them. Ferguson’s own voice is terrific but this fellow made me return the book after half an hour listening.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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excellent reading

excellent reading, insightful and a real eye opener!! a must to read. no more words

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You did not understand modern history before this

What did you love best about The Square and the Tower?

There is a clear line that is drawn through modern history that illuminates the processes that brought us to where we are today. Great Book. Better than his work on the history of money.

What other book might you compare The Square and the Tower to and why?

The history of money

What three words best describe Elliot Hill’s performance?

good but not great.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I was surprised at what i did not know

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  • Steven
  • Germantown, MD, United States
  • 02-13-18

Superb historical review

This is an outstanding historical review of the relationship between distributed networks and hierarchical power. The journey this book provides resets a perspective networks are a creation of the digital age and demonstrates this historical competition for power is trending more toward Democracy than capitalistic Monarchy despite the current crop of digital sovereigns.

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Not his best by a long chalk: Read Steven Pinker.

As much as I've enjoyed Niall Ferguson's other books, this one is a clunker. To begin with, he cherry-picks historical evidence worse than Michel Foucault in his prime. The core of his thesis appears to be based on network theory, but his actual analysis seldom seems to use it; he seems more like a social scientist waving a math book around from a podium. The exposition rambles badly; many times I found myself thinking, "Why is this germane?" I detected enough factual errors, particularly in his descriptions of the history of computer networks and the history of the Iraq war, to make me wary of any other interesting claims he might make. His anti-Islamic diatribes were not only shocking vitriolic but seemingly greatly in excess of what would be warranted to support his arguments.

All in all, read Steven Pinker, a scholar that Ferguson appears to take pot-shots at whenever possible.

Oh, and the narrator. His voice lacks what singers call a “point”, and every phrase is uttered with breathless intensity. His pauses for “air quotes” were long enough for cat-naps.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Listen to mass media

Reinforces the official narratives produced by mass media while doing a poor job of proving them wrong. Overall a great listen.

1 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Unsupported claims

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

I would recommend the book, with a word of caution: seek the underlying message and overlook the propaganda. In an apparent attempt to seem relevant to current network implications in the modern political landscape, the author implicates the Trump administration, on multiple occasions, of illegal communication with the Russian government and its alleged attempt to influence the 2016 election. Since the book was published, congress has released a memo indicating much of the Russian collusion allegations were based upon a dossier and propaganda by the Clinton candidacy and Obama administration's DOJ. Wile the book's underlying premise--networks are a historic reality and modern networks are essential to social and political life--is accurate, the author's eagerness to tie the current administration to wrong-doing through networks misses the bigger allegory--the dark (not evil, hidden--see Cunningham and Everton by keyword in title, "dark networks") networks at play under the previous administration. The bias detracts from the story.

How would you have changed the story to make it more enjoyable?

Bias in story--seeks to portray academic flavor which is lost because if developing facts

What about Elliot Hill’s performance did you like?

Good tone and tempo, not nasally

Was The Square and the Tower worth the listening time?

Yes

Any additional comments?

No

0 of 5 people found this review helpful

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This book sucks

Blah blah blah. Nothing here that is substantially new That anyone with any sort of wisdom wouldn’t already know. Very boring work. Disappointed again by this author.

3 of 30 people found this review helpful