Civilization

Civilization

The West and the Rest

Book - 2011
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A history of Western civilization's rise to global dominance offers insight into contributing factors and the development of such specific concepts as competition, modern medicine and the work ethic, arguing that Western dominance is being lost to cultures who are more productively utilizing Western techniques.
Publisher: New York : Penguin Press, 2011.
ISBN: 9781594203053
Characteristics: xxx, 402 p., [24] p. of plates : b ill., maps ;,24 cm.

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j
John_M
Nov 11, 2015

A reasonable premise for an explanation of the rise an dominance of western countries in the world. Lots of interesting history. At times I got frustrated when he seemed to wander off the point of a chapter. For example, in discussing the ascent of medicine in western Europe he starts discussing atrocities of Germans in early 20th century in what is now Namibia.

s
StarGladiator
Jun 01, 2013

[Updated critique, Part II: ] Read the book, The Creation of Inequality by Flannery and Marcus, the voluminous data presented blows away Ferguson's opinion.] [First review] I appreciate Spacegopher's comments below and agree with them - - Ferguson is an idiot! His other book should be titled: "The Harvard Theory of Money," and so on. His two-volume work on the Rothschild family was puff piece and certainly not informative! Joseph Tainter's work is much, much superior. Subtract all the predatory capitalism with its resultant mass murder, and Ferguson's premises and thesis falls apart!

s
Spacegopher
Jan 25, 2013

Ferguson provides a good explanation for the rise of the West through the 19th century. However, the closer he approached the 21st century, he seemed to provide more opinions than facts.
He points to the rapidity of the fall of Rome as a warning to the West, perhaps with good reason. However, his solution seems to be greater church attendance (preferably to a Protestant church) to improve morals and the work ethic and the formation of alliances between the US and Asian nations to prevent China from dominanting world economics.

s
stewstealth
Dec 04, 2012

The best part of this book is the narrative style of writing history,. The author outlines his views on why the West has dominated the world for the last 500 years. Whether you agree with his conclusions or not the book is well worth reading.

d
damab
Sep 18, 2012

The most comprehensive book on the last 500 years of (mostly) western history that I've read. Explains quite thoroughly how and why western civilization became the most successful of that time period.

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dr_syntax
Jun 29, 2012

Left off on page 109 under Property.

j
jmikesmith
Jun 20, 2012

In this book, Niall Ferguson offers his theory on why the "West" managed to dominate the world for the past 500 years in terms of economic, military, and political power. He boils it down to six of what he calls the "killer apps" of Western civilization:

- Competition, between companies and between European nation-states, fostered innovation and new technologies;
- Science, which supported innovation that worked in the real world;
- the Rule of Law, specifically the establishment of personal property rights, which gave citizen landowners a stake in political governance;
- Consumerism, which drove economic growth and led to better living standards;
- Modern medicine, particularly public health and vaccination, which increased lifespans;
- the (Protestant) work ethic, which ensured that Western citizens were more productive than peers in the "Rest" of the world.

The book concludes with a chapter on the possible future of the "The West". He suspects that the West may be in decline, but its values and "killer apps" are being adopted by other nations, notably China. So, in a sense, "the West" will continue, but from a new geographic location.

Each "killer app" gets a chapter of its own. Some are much better than others. The chapter on medicine in particular had very little to say about medicine, but much about the American and French revolutions and European colonization of Africa. The consumerism chapter focused on Western fashion for the most part. The style of the text ranged from informative and interesting to glib and trendy to tedious (especially in sections full of dates or economic statistics).

The "killer app" idea is interesting (although the label is silly), but I think Ferguson underestimates the role of luck (see Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel). And he doesn't really explain how those "apps" came to be or why they didn't arise in the "the Rest", just that they did. This is an uneven book at best that I don't think does enough to support its hypothesis.

z
zipread
May 31, 2012

Civilization: the West and the Rest. --- by Niall Ferguson. ----- In writing this thought provoking book Ferguson mines a vein that has been excavated by others who have come before him and those who will, no doubt, follow come after him. But this is not to discredit this book: in fact this book is well worth reading because it is, in fact, enlightening as well as entertaining in a cerebral sort of way. Quickly, Ferguson takes on a voyage through the history of what he designates as the West. He Pays major attention to social and technological history; less so to the mars and battles and the vagaries of states. This is an ambitious and tall order --- one which will, no doubt, leave the historically challenged in the dust. His main interest: what has allowed the West to achieve its ascendency? Some interesting sidelights: the growth of Christianity in China; the Meiji restoration; and the jeans genie. So finally, where is this book leading? China of course. Is this a re-hash of the “yellow peril”? Perhaps. There are cautionary tones in the wind about the amazing growth of China from Mao’s Great Leap forward that cost 45 million lives in the 1i960s to be world’s second largest automotive market. In the end, yes, this is a fine little book (a manageable 350 pages), virtually free of econo-babble (someone tell me, what are network externalities --- p. 215, line 8)? A good book that takes you on a historical tour-de-force. Like I said, thought provoking. In the very end, the book's more re-assuring than frightening: "we should not be too fatalistic".

l
Lukeinvancouver
May 02, 2012

Niall Ferguson is a brilliant historian, whether you agree with his interpretations or not. (Sometimes, one may even quibble with the data he selects, e.g. number of Africans shipped across the Atlantic as slaves.) In a way, most importantly, he puts "story" back into history. He is a superb teller of stories! Anybody interested in the history of humanity should read this book.

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