Civilization: The West and the Rest

Civilization: The West and the Rest

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by Niall Ferguson
     
 

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From one of our most renowned historians, Civilization: The West and the Rest is the definitive history of Western civilization's rise to global dominance—and the "killer applications" that made this improbable ascent possible.See more details below

Overview

From one of our most renowned historians, Civilization: The West and the Rest is the definitive history of Western civilization's rise to global dominance—and the "killer applications" that made this improbable ascent possible.

Editorial Reviews

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.”
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 Publishing Group
Publication date:
10/30/2012
Pages:
432
Sales rank:
184,043
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“[Ferguson] uses his powerful narrative talents in these pages to give the reader a highly tactile sense of history. … The author [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” – New York Times

“A dazzling history of Western ideas” –The Economist

“Mr. Ferguson tells his story with characteristic verve and an eye for the felicitous phrase.” – Wall Street Journal

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

“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 Financial Times

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