Five Cities that Ruled the World: How Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, London, and New York Shaped Global History


In Five Cities that Ruled the World, theologian Douglas Wilson fuses together, in compelling detail, the critical moments birthed in history’s most influential cities —Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, London, and New York.

Wilson issues a challenge to our collective understanding of history with the juxtapositions of freedom and its intrinsic failures; liberty and its deep-seated liabilities. Each revelation beckoning us deeper into a city’s story, its...

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Five Cities that Ruled the World: How Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, London, and New York Shaped Global History

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In Five Cities that Ruled the World, theologian Douglas Wilson fuses together, in compelling detail, the critical moments birthed in history’s most influential cities —Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, London, and New York.

Wilson issues a challenge to our collective understanding of history with the juxtapositions of freedom and its intrinsic failures; liberty and its deep-seated liabilities. Each revelation beckoning us deeper into a city’s story, its political systems, and how it flourished and floundered.

You'll discover the significance of:

  • Jerusalem's complex history and its deep-rooted character as the city of freedom, where people found their spiritual liberty.
  • Athens' intellectual influence as the city of reason and birthplace of democracy.
  • Rome's evolution as the city of law and justice and the freedoms and limitations that come with liberty.
  • London's place in the world's history as the city of literature where man's literary imagination found its wings.
  • New York's rise to global fame as the city of commerce and how it triggered unmatched wealth, industry, and trade throughout the world.

Five Cities that Ruled the World chronicles the destruction, redemption, personalities, and power structures that altered the world's political, spiritual, and moral center time and again. It's an inspiring, enlightening global perspective that encourages readers to honor our shared history, contribute to the present, and look to the future with unmistakable hope.

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  • Five Cities that Ruled the World
    Five Cities that Ruled the World  

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781595551368
  • Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
  • Publication date: 11/3/2009
  • Pages: 236
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Douglas Wilson is a senior fellow of theology at New Saint Andrews College. Wilson isthe author of numerous books on education, theology, and culture, including: The Case for Classical Christian Education, Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning, Mother Kirk, and Angels in the Architecture, as well as biographies on both Anne Bradstreet and John Knox.

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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 1, 2009

    Five Cities That Ruled The World by Douglas Wilson

    I wasn't sure what I would think of this book when I first picked it up. I was intrigued by the title and the cover, but I'm not necessarily a history buff so I had mixed feelings. Overall, I enjoyed reading this book and would definitely recommend it to anyone who is interested in history and learning about past and present cultures. Although it was a little difficult for me to get through certain parts of the book, I thought the author did a great job of showing how each of these five cities have shaped our knowledge of the world today. The five main cities he discussed were Jerusalem [a spiritual legacy], Athens [a cultural legacy], Rome [a legacy of law], London [a literature legacy] and New York City [a legacy of wealth and commerce]. Definitely check this book out if you enjoy learning and love history.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 6, 2011


    excellent historical and biblical read. loved this book

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  • Posted February 6, 2010

    A better title: Freedom is Good--Five Exemplars

    How could a man this smart, how could as good a writer as Douglas Wilson write a book this bad? Five Cities that Ruled the World is a popular history giving an overview of Jeruselum, Athens, Rome, London, and New York. In the introduction Wilson informs the reader that he will be showing how "Jeruselum has bequeathed to us a legacy of spirit; Athens, reason and the mind; Rome, law; London, literature; and New York, industry and commerce." He also intends to explore the Platonic ideal of city with Revelation's Babylon and the heavenly City of God marking opposite ends of the spectrum.

    He then takes each of the cities in turn and . . . does what? Okay, so he writes about Jeruselum and spirit--but the concept of "spirit" is vague enough that one could write about just about anything and tie that in. The section on Athens is supposed to be about its legacy of reason and intellectual influence, but he's halfway through the chapter and spent a number of pages retelling the stories of the War with Troy and the Battle of Salamis before he even touches on their intellectual history. The chapters on Rome, London, and New York are even less tied to the "legacies" promised in the introduction. In each chapter Wilson meanders back and forth across history, from pre-history to modern times, cherry-picking battles, quotes, myths and incidents in pursuit of some agenda sensed but never quite articulated. It makes for increasingly bizarre reading because Wilson's prose is actually very good. He's often laugh-out-loud funny and his paragraphs are well constructed. But his paragraph and larger sections seem to have little or no connection to each other--at least in light of the schema he purports to be following. Where are the transitions? Where is the connective material?

    Finally, mercifully, the reader gets to the epilogue in which Wilson essentially says, "Aha! See what we've accidentally discovered along the way! Isn't it providential?" Well, no. It's not. We all learned the core of essay-writing in junior high school: 1. Tell me what you're going to tell me. 2. Tell it to me in detail. 3. Tell me what you just told me. Not: 1. Tell me what you're going to tell me. 2. Wander across 5000 years of history telling me things that almost have something to do with what you said you were going to do but not quite, and then 3. Suprise! Tell me you were really on about something else all together. The book is really about . . . Freedom. Freedom is good.

    I was still in the first chapter when the similarities with The Mainspring of Human Progress (a screed which constituted a large portion of my "Economics" education at my conservative Christian high school) struck me. The breezy narrative style and casual treatment of history are unmistakeable in their flavor. And I am grieved because I sympathize with the libertarian instincts of both these books. And bad books do not serve to advance the causes of good ideas; rather the reverse. And this poorly structured, agenda-heavy, historically dubious text, I am afraid, will do little but persuade Wilson's choir that their cause has been adequately defended, when it hasn't.

    Two stars out of five, because at least his retellings of many historical incidents are very good as scatter shot pieces of world history--whatever purpose they're supposed to be serving.

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  • Posted January 28, 2010

    more from this reviewer


    Read Douglas Wilson's 5 Cities That Ruled the World yesterday. It's a fine but superficial review of metropolitan history considering Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, London, and New York.

    Each city receives approximately 40 pages of attention. So, not much new or deep here (a quick look at Wikipedia would provide a similar amount of information).

    I did find the book readable and interesting. Wilson's voice is casual and comic, making history accessible. Unfortunately, he seems to oversimplify complex events, and his casual approach lacks authority.

    It's rare to encounter a history written through Christian eyes, refreshing really. Wilson seems acutely aware of God's role in bringing cities to power (and in destroying them).

    I liked what Wilson has to say about a city's rise and fall:
    "The life span of a city's greatness is characterized by risk, courage, and sacrifice at the beginning, and by luxury and self-indulgence at the end."

    I'd give the book a weak 3/strong 2 out of five.

    Okay. No fireworks.

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  • Posted January 16, 2010

    Really amazing insights

    5 Cities that Ruled the World is an exceptional book. A must-read for anyone planning to visit any one of the five. Humorous, an easy read, but fully researched. Elegant language and a compelling mix of history, culture, and psychological insight. Don't miss this book.

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  • Posted December 2, 2009

    Not very good at all

    I have no doubt that Douglas Wilson is a good man, and possibly even a great theologian and teacher. He has pastored Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, for many years; he is on faculty at New St. Andrews College; and he as debated Christopher Hitchens.

    All that being said, his most recent book 5 Cities that Ruled the World is a poor reflection on his life of ministry. It is poorly edited and choppy, contains unsubstantiated historical myths (like the sowing of Carthage with salt) and by in large appears to be only superficially researched. There are huge tractates without so much as a footnote or indication of the source and then tiny, obscure references footnoted ad infinitum.

    Rather than approach the subject of Judeo-Christian western civilization (which is what this book is actually about) objectively, I felt that Wilson came to the facts with a very definite agenda. He was going to prove that the entire history of the world revolves around the emergence of the 'Christian nation' of the United States.

    I will give him credit; he tries to appear impartial; but the evidence is everywhere. This is a book with an agenda, and history is often made to reinforce that agenda whether it wants to or not.

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  • Posted November 18, 2009

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    An in-depth look into how the past shaped the future

    5 Cities that Ruled the World provides us with an in-depth look into the five cities that help to shape the world we see today. Opening with a quote from the French theologian Jacques Ellul stating that "all of man's history is not limited to the history of the history of the city and it's progress, but they have never the less intermingled, and neither can be understood alone." Douglas Wilson used that quote as a diving point as he starts to unearth the rich history of these five remarkable cities. Chronicling the rise and fall of Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, London and New York as well as highlighting the contributions each provided to the modern world. Douglas Wilson takes us on a journey into the past lives of five mighty cities that provides us hope for the future.

    5 Cities that Ruled the World, is truly a remarkable read that informs readers not only of world history but Biblical history as well. Well researched and remarkably written 5 Cities that Ruled the World, is sure to enlighten readers. From the opening line Douglas Wilson has you hooked. 5 Cities that Ruled the World is am amazing find that all should read.

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  • Posted November 17, 2009

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    Interesting and well-researched

    Do cities and their inhabitants have to conquer the world in order to rule it? No. "5 Cities that Ruled the World" establishes the powerful influence that Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, London, and New York have had on history. Her we see examples of faith, the rule of law, democracy, literature, theater, commercial enterprise, and wealth that were new or different. While not always popular, and many times under attack, the people of these cities brought about change. Do they still rule the world? Probably not, but their gifts still do.

    Douglas Wilson spent a great deal of time researching his subject. This is a very readable book filled with information on the history of each city, clearly defining the reason each became so powerful and influential.

    I really enjoyed this book because Mr. Wilson drew me in. He re-introduced me to people I had studied in history classes, sometimes showing me a new side of them. I enjoyed how he showed that the population of these cities provided influence and information that are still so important today. I you enjoy history, you will enjoy this book.

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  • Posted November 10, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Five Cities that Ruled the World

    In Douglas Wilsons, book Five Cities that Ruled the World. He briefly discusses the history and impact of five majestic cities: Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, London and New York. In addition, he introduces us to their nation's history and the world during the time that the city ruled.

    I enjoyed reading this book. Besides from liking history it was easy to read and understand and at times mildly humorous. As with any other good book it should make you think and this one made me think about how the five cities shaped our current world. It covers a lot of ground in 200 pages so do not expect a lot of in depth information. This is great for those who enjoy history and want something that will not take a lot of time to read. When reading history it should remind us that God is sovereign over all things and this book precisely did that.

    I received a free copy of this Bible for being a member of Thomas Nelson's Book Review Blogger program. Find more info here

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  • Posted November 8, 2009

    Five Cities that Ruled the World by Douglas Wilson

    I just finished reading the book Five Cities that Ruled the World by Douglas Wilson for the Thomas Nelson Book Review program.

    The point of the book was to show how five cities (Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, London & New York) had a major impact on the world we live in today, especially in reaching a state of liberty. The book was interesting and entertaining, but did a bad job of proving it's main point.

    When reading it I found that the author assumes the reader knows quite a bit about history all ready. He sometimes goes off on some very entertaining stories that seem to have nothing to do with the book. There also seems to be a lack of research done by the author. Most likely he has researched more than he let on in the book, but there are a LOT of assumptions with nothing to back them up. It seems that he tried to cover the lack of research by using big words and quotes from people that you may never have heard of (without telling us why these people should be believed.)

    That being said, as a history book or a random trivia book about these five cities, it is well worth the read. 3/5 Stars.

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  • Posted November 2, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    When the lights go down in the city

    Following five major world changing super powers by spending time walking the streets of their main cities is a nice way to tour history. I gained many insights into the significant impact each empire had on their own times and subsequent generations. Wilson is a good writer, fine historian and excellent story teller. This is not an in depth history of each culture for 200 pages could never tell an adequate story of one of these cities let alone five. But within these pages the reader enjoys a world tour, a trip through time like a carriage ride in Central Park on a crisp fall evening daring a look at views of history like so many interesting quips from the driver. I came away from the book with not so many, "Oh I never heard that before!" but more reminders of how people, cultures and their main cities shape the world we inhabit and prod us to understand their influence on us.

    A few notes of interest about Wilson's views on life will, I hope, encourage you to give this book a try. His view of the first city, Jerusalem was indeed very interesting. During King Solomon's reign he believes that the world was their play ground even over to the American continent in search of riches and trading partners. As I read the book I was once again reminded that ancient man was not as primitive as we always assume because they lacked some novel electronic or motorized gadget. Where they lacked in harnessing electricity they made up for in resourcefulness and industry. He continued to lure me in to his story by adding zingers such as 'the Helen' being a unit of feminine beauty and "in the long run, stupidity doesn't work."

    His final words on liberty make for modern application and will allow this book this same liberty to reach modern minds who may indulge in seeing an aspect of history that may challenge many preconceptions. Jerusalem, the model of spiritual liberty reminds us that the city itself is not necessary for liberty. Athens' intellectual liberty encourages us to continue reaching for reason and logical answers in a day of self truth making. Rome with a reminder of the limitations of liberty is a neon sign of repetitious history does so because we forget that it does. London liberty of words lives on to this day as does its many words even in this book and this blog on this book. Finally New York, the liberty of commerce and trade it is indeed. The freedom to earn money, make a living, and do what we please with the money captures our interest and cautions our liberty in excesses and what we are going to allow to bridle our freedom. Stupidity does indeed wear out its welcome in due time.

    "The truth will set you free," Jesus said, and if that is indeed the case, then allow this book the liberty to liberate your view of history. Will this book influence anyone in two generations? Probably not. Will these five cities influence anyone in two generations? Oh most certainly. A taste of liberty has a way of moving us off the porch and into the streets of freedom.

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