Civilization: A New History of the Western World

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Overview

Ever since the attacks of September 11th, Western leaders have described a world engaged in "a fight for civilization." But what do we mean by civilization? We believe in a Western tradition of openness and freedom that has produced a fulfilling existence for many millions of people and a culture of enormous depth and creative power. But the history of our civilization is also filled with unspeakable brutality-for every Leonardo there is a Mussolini, for every Beethoven symphony a concentration camp, for every Chrysler Building a My Lai massacre.

Sweeping in its scope and comprehensive in its coverage, Roger Osborne tells the story of the Western world from its origins to the present, from the siege of Troy to the Gettysburg Address, from the Enlightenment to the September 11th terror attacks, from Aristotle to Einstein, Voltaire to Marx. At such a dangerous time in the world's history, this brilliant book is required reading.

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Editorial Reviews

William Grimes
Civilization is not a recitation of greatest hits, or a checklist of events and dates. Mr. Osborne, with great skill, ties his disparate topics together into a coherent narrative, as absorbing as any novel, with felicitous turns of phrase, and tidy summations, on virtually every page. Theoretically it should be impossible to describe the life, thought and influence of Thomas Aquinas in less than two pages, but Mr. Osborne does it, showing no signs of strain. It would be hard to imagine a more readable general history of the West that covers so much ground so incisively.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
This stimulating survey steers a middle course between triumphal pageant of progress and postmodern bricolage of clashing perspectives to attempt a coherent narrative of Western history. Historian Osborne (The Floating Egg: Episodes in the Making of Geology) traces a lucid, thoughtful overview of European and American history from Stonehenge and the Greco-Roman era to the present. Tying together his account are a few broad themes, most prominently the development of rationalism the use of abstract reasoning to uncover universal laws governing nature and society from its Platonic origins to its apotheosis in Western science and its malevolent influence on Soviet communism. This often sinister rationalism works in counterpoint, and sometimes opposition, to what he sees as the redeeming organicity of Western culture, its rootedness in human adaptation to changing environments and practical needs in a multitude of contexts, from the growth of medieval towns to the rise of Hollywood and rock 'n' roll. Some pronouncements, like Osborne's insistence on the unique ferocity of Western warfare, aren't persuasive, and the paragraph he accords the Rolling Stones' 1969 Altamont concert is one too many. But one judges such a book less by its historiographical synthesis than by the wealth of provocative insights it throws up, and by that measure Osborne succeeds admirably. Photos. (Dec.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
On the journey from hunter-gatherers to investment bankers, we have become more dangerous to one another. Osborne (The Floating Egg: Episodes in the Making of Geology, not reviewed) set himself a daunting task-to confine to fewer than 500 pages the sprawl of western history. The result: vast historical events and supreme personalities merit only sentences or paragraphs. The author begins with one of George W. Bush's statements after 9/11 about the choice between civilization and chaos. Osborne wonders, What is civilization? He answers that it's a narrative we tell ourselves about ourselves, and he concludes that our current narrative "is simply not credible." The author highlights familiar historical events and characters: Pericles, Socrates, Julius Caesar, Jesus, Charlemagne, Machiavelli, Martin Luther, Cortes, Galileo. He recognizes the immense influence of Christianity on western culture, but he may put off non-Christians with his presentation of Jesus Christ's ascension into Heaven as fact rather than belief. He very broadly traces the contribution of artists and writers through the ages and notes the great influence of African-American musicians on the culture of their country. (Women, however, have a very minor role here.) Osborne-an Englishman-blasts the U.S., most notably for what he calls the genocide of Native Americans and for slavery and its aftermath. He believes our evolving culture of militarism and our belief that our political systems are superior to all others are among the world's great dangers. The paradox he sees: The more rational we try to be, the more deadly the result. Incomplete. Agent: Jane Kirby/Random House Ltd
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781933648767
  • Publisher: Pegasus
  • Publication date: 3/1/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 544
  • Sales rank: 513,801
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Roger Osborne was a publisher of scientific, medical and technical books before becoming a full-time writer. He is the author of The Floating Egg and The Deprat Affair.

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Table of Contents

Illustrations     ix
List of Maps     xii
Prologue     1
In the Beginning: Prehistory and Illiterate Societies     20
A Torrent of Words: Change and Custom in Classical Greece     46
The Birth of Abstraction: Plato, Aristotle and the Rational Mind     72
The Universal Civilization: Rome and the Barbarians     94
Augustine's Vision of Christianity: From Rebel Sect to Universal Faith     113
Religion as Civilization: The Establishment of Western Christendom     134
Another Way of Living: The Medieval Town and Communal Life     162
Art as Civilization: Wealth, Power and Innovation in the Italian Renaissance     180
The Search for the Christian Life: The European Reformation as a New Beginning     213
Kings, Armies and Nations: The Rise of the Military State     236
Us and Them: Colonization and Slavery     256
The Rational Individual: Theory and Practice in Making Society     281
Enlightenment and Revolution: Politics and Reason in France and America     305
Industrialization and Nationalism: British Dominance and the Ideology of Freedom     341
From Rural Colonies to Industrial Continent: The Making of Modern America     369
Towards the Abyss: Technology, Ideology, Apocalypse     397
The End of Civilization: Depression, Extremism and Genocide in Europe, America and Asia     428
The Post-War World: From Social Cohesion to Global Marketplace     454
Acknowledgements, References and Further Reading     493
Index     507
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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2010

    One of few general histories of western civ available

    I found this while searching for a book for teaching high school honors English students. They take a two year survey of western literature; I sought a history text that would give them background. The reason I've settled on Civiization is because the following: it covers all the periods; it's very readable; it's very recent, as is its tone; its purpose is to provide a historical narrative rather than to argue a specific interpretation. I would have read it for fun anyway.

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