Civilization: The West and the Rest

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Overview

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. ...
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Overview

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. These were the "killer applications" that allowed the West to leap ahead of the Rest, opening global trade routes, exploiting newly discovered scientific laws, evolving a system of representative government, more than doubling life expectancy, unleashing the Industrial Revolution, and embracing a dynamic work ethic. Civilization shows just how fewer than a dozen Western empires came to control more than half of humanity and four fifths of the world economy.

Yet now, Ferguson argues, the days of Western predominance are numbered—not because of clashes with rival civilizations, but simply because the Rest have now downloaded the six killer apps we once monopolized—while the West has literally lost faith in itself.

Civilization does more than tell the gripping story of the West's slow rise and sudden demise; it also explains world history with verve, clarity, and wit. Controversial but cogent and compelling, Civilization is Ferguson at his very best.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

In his latest book, bestselling author Niall Ferguson (The Ascent of Money; Virtual History) aims at distilling the deep lessons of five centuries of world history in a single, accessible book. With persuasive clarity, he describes the rise to global predominance of Western civilization and ascribes it to six powerful new ideas that were lacking elsewhere: competition, science, democracy, consumerism, medicine, and the work ethic. Not content to rest on that story of laurels, he warns that the tables have now been turned; that the West has lost the monopoly on its greatest inventions. A major work by a major historian.

BOSTON GLOBE

“[W]ritten with vitality and verve… a tour de force.”
THE ECONOMIST

"A dazzling history of Western ideas."
THE FINANCIAL TIMES

 “This is sharp. It feels urgent. Ferguson, with a properly financially literate mind, twists his knife with great literary brio…Ferguson ends by suggesting the biggest threat is not China but ourselves – our cowardice, drawn from ignorance, even stupidity, about our past. He is right. But as he shows himself, that can be fixed.”
Boston Globe
“[W]ritten with vitality and verve… a tour de force.”
The Economist
"A dazzling history of Western ideas."
The Financial Times
 “This is sharp. It feels urgent. Ferguson, with a properly financially literate mind, twists his knife with great literary brio…Ferguson ends by suggesting the biggest threat is not China but ourselves – our cowardice, drawn from ignorance, even stupidity, about our past. He is right. But as he shows himself, that can be fixed.”
THE ECONOMIST

"A dazzling history of Western ideas."

BOSTON GLOBE

“[W]ritten with vitality and verve… a tour de force.”

THE FINANCIAL TIMES

 “This is sharp. It feels urgent. Ferguson, with a properly financially literate mind, twists his knife with great literary brio…Ferguson ends by suggesting the biggest threat is not China but ourselves – our cowardice, drawn from ignorance, even stupidity, about our past. He is right. But as he shows himself, that can be fixed.”

Michiko Kakutani
As usual, Mr. Ferguson…uses his powerful narrative talents in these pages to give the reader a highly tactile sense of history…[Ferguson has a] knack for making long-ago events as vivid and visceral as the evening news, for weaving anecdotes and small telling details together with a wide-angled retrospective vision.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Ferguson (Colossus), Harvard historian, polymath, and bestselling author, joins others who’ve tried to explain the rise and dominance of the West, “the pre-eminent historical phenomenon of the second half of the second millennium after Christ.” He also has his eye on an increasingly pressing concern: the threats, from inside and outside, to Western hegemony. Ferguson attributes the West’s supremacy and the spread of Western ways to six factors: competition, science, property rights (the rule of law), medicine, the consumer society, and the work ethic. It’s a grab bag of plausible conditions that differ from reasons cited by other students of the subject, but all hard to prove. Ominously, from Ferguson’s perspective, “the fortuitous weakness of the West’s rivals” is turning to strengths, threatening Western supremacy. Turning from historian to seer, Ferguson thus foresees the West’s decline and fall (of which he seems convinced) arising from both self-inflicted wounds (such as self-indulgence and weakening educational systems) and the strengthening of nations, such as China, that are modernizing and improving the education of their young people. Perhaps. The book would have gained by greater focus and less of a jumble of details. The reason for Ferguson’s fear of “the rest” isn’t clear, but those who share his concern will find that he has penned a sobering caution. Illus. (Oct.)
David M. Shribman

And along with the historical tour d'horizon that makes this volume a tour de force, it is full of interesting diversions, such as Ferguson's meditation on why people around the world now wear the same clothing - fitting, he says, because the Industrial Revolution was rooted in textiles.
Boston Globe

From the Publisher
"Thought-provoking and possibly controversial." —-Library Journal
Library Journal
In the 15th century, Asia and the Middle East seemed to possess tremendous advantages in power and intellect, while the disorganized cluster of nations that made up the West lagged behind. How then did Western civilization come to dominate? According to Ferguson (The Ascent of Money), who holds professorships at Harvard, Harvard Business School, and the London School of Economics, it was six "killer applications"—competition, science, property rights, modern medicine, consumerism, and the work ethic—that enabled the West to charge ahead. Furthermore, he asserts, as many of these "apps" have now been globally assimilated, the time of the West's ascendancy may be over. It's an interesting thesis, sure to generate debate, but Ferguson's arguments lack thorough, consistent development, and at times the six-application structure seems a stretch, with a reliance on vivid but tangential subjects to cover the gaps; e.g., the chapter on medicine ostensibly focuses on how colonization of Africa led to improved treatment of disease but gives far more space to discussions of the French Revolution and the horrors resulting from eugenic theory. VERDICT Fans of Ferguson will find him as engaging as ever, but numerous digressions and simplistic treatments mar the book's potentially intriguing points. [See Prepub Alert, 5/2/11.]—Kathleen McCallister, Univ. of South Carolina Lib., Columbia
Kirkus Reviews

Ever-nimble historian Ferguson (History/Harvard Univ.; The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World, 2008, etc.) examines the factors that led to the rise of the West rather than the East.

The author boldly takes on 600 years of world events, keeping an eye always to the pertinence of the material in relation to the modern era, so that the history lesson remains fresh and compelling. The consideration of why Western Europe took predominance from around 1500 onward is not new, for example, having been undertaken by the likes of Samuel Johnson and Max Weber. Ferguson's six factors are fairly standard, yet tidily presented and contextually developed in discrete chapters: competition, science, property rights, medicine, the consumer society and the work ethic. Although China had developed enormous innovations early on—in medicine, the printing press, paper and gunpowder—the colossus had closed its door to exchanging ideas with the rest of the world; the Arab world, despite being the custodian of classical knowledge, innovator in mathematics and astronomy and conqueror of many lands, was finally turned back at the Siege of Vienna of 1683, marking the long Ottoman eclipse and the ascent of the West. While the "heirs of Osman" began looking at freethinkers and scientific inquiry as blasphemous to the Koran, England and France had established scientific academies sponsored by the crown, and rulers like Frederick the Great of Prussia welcomed religious tolerance and free inquiry. The Enlightenment took off, and through numerous brilliant works which Ferguson touches on briefly but comprehensively, important civilizing tenets were encoded in the West, such as the separation of church and state, the importance of literacy, the protection of private property, the rule of law and representative government. The author looks at the effect of the Protestant work ethic and compares it to the Chinese sense of labor and thrift—culminating in projections of similar ascent for China.

A richly informed, accessible history lesson.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143122067
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 10/30/2012
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 129,238
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

NIALL FERGUSON is one of Britain's most renowned historians. He is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University and William Ziegler Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, a Senior Research Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford, and a Senior Research Fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He is the bestselling author of Paper and Iron, The House of Rothschild, The Pity of War, The Cash Nexus, Empire, Colossus, The War of the World, The Ascent of Money, and High Financier. He also writes regularly for newspapers and magazines all over the world.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

List of Maps xii

List of Figures xiii

Preface to the UK Edition xv

Introduction: Rasselas's Question 1

1 Competition 19

Two Rivers 20

The Eunuch and the Unicorn 26

The Spice Race 33

The Mediocre Kingdom 44

2 Science 50

The Siege 50

Micrographia 60

Osman and Fritz 71

Tanzimat Tours 85

From Istanbul to Jerusalem 90

3 Property 96

New Worlds 96

Land of the Free 103

American Revolutions 115

The Fate of the Gullahs 125

4 Medicine 141

Burke's Prophecy 142

The Juggernaut of War 157

Médecins Sans Frontieres 168

The Skulls of Shark Island 175

Black Shame 185

5 Consumption 196

The Birth of the Consumer Society 196

Turning Western 218

Ragtime to Riches 227

The Jeans Genie 240

Pyjamas and Scarves 252

6 Work 256

Work Ethic and Word Ethic 256

Get your Kicks 265

The Chinese Jerusalem 277

Lands of Unbelief 288

The End of Days? 291

Conclusion: The Rivals 295

Notes 326

Bibliography 348

Index 379

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 24 )
Rating Distribution

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(10)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 24 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2011

    Well done

    The point of this book is not to say that the west is innocent, but rather that the same criticisms of the west were happening everywhere else in the world. We are taught (incorrectly) that the ills of the west have created the modern problems of the world. Slavery was happening in every country in the world, so was genocide, so was paternalism. All of that without the western influence.

    11 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2012

    Interesting Take on History

    Very interesting take on history. I was most fasinated by his critique of American Protestantism and it's historical influence. Clearly not a politically correct rendering of history and tilted toward British & American prominance I found it very interesting and well written.

    Agree or disagree there is a lot of truth in this book. It will offend conservatives and particularly liberals as well as Kensians and particularly followers of Hayek.

    6 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 6, 2012

    A better title would have been: Civilization - Britain and the rest

    If you are an anglophile and like the Queen and 5o'clock tea, then you might be delighted by this book, which praises above all, the great British civilization.

    If you were hoping to find a well written explanation about the ascendance of western civilization, you will be disappointed.

    1) The author does not really stay on the message. In discussions of his so called "killer applications" of western civilization (which of course were all invented by the English), he digresses into unrelated historical anecdotes, which having nothing to do with the topic he set out to discuss

    2) There are many factual errors in the text, which undermine the overall argument. Some mind boggling correlations are made, e.g. number of hours worked per year (i.e. "work ethic"), e.g. more Protestants = more hours worked, which he then applies to countries like China, Taiwan and South Korea (10%, 4.5%, 18% of the respective population).

    3) Finally, he does seem to contradict himself in some places, e.g.
    in the discussion of medicine, he equates belief in eugenics with the belief in man-made global warming, later on, global warming is discussed as a key threat to western civilization. Religion is presented as stalling one of his "killer apps", science, only to be later portrayed as the essence of "killer app" work ethic.

    Overall, a disappointing read and ultimately only cannon fodder for the anti-westerners. Not worth the money.

    6 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 7, 2011

    Very readable, clear

    Both pessimistic and hopeful at the same time.

    6 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 2013

    First rate and thought provoking

    Ferguson had done an excellent job explaining the rise of Europe to global power and its decline. Concurrently, the rise of the United States and China are equally included as well. Although one may disagree with Ferguson' s thesis, readers will surely find the work thought provoking and not easy to dismiss. Should be read in conjuction with and as a counter to Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 30, 2012

    Great book

    He knocked another one out of the park. He is one of the best.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2012

    Eye opening n knowledge filled

    Interesting, hard to put down n thought provoking

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 21, 2012

    Cassandra

    Ok *smiles* bye ily

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 21, 2012

    Niall

    U cant tell anyone. * kisses back* ive gtg ttyl* kisses hard* bye

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 21, 2012

    Review

    Boring !!!

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2012

    Very gelral...

    I love one direction

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2011

    Imperialist claptrap

    If you take out all the genocide, greed, hypocrisy,paternalism and brutality then the story of the "West" really is a fairy tale.

    0 out of 20 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted December 6, 2012

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