Power and Greed: A Short History of the World

Overview

With purposeful brevity and intellectual liveliness Philippe Gigantes examines the progress of humanity through the centuries, and behind every critical event, in every culture and every era, he finds repeatedly the same two driving forces—omnivorous human greed and the quenchless thirst for power. In an engaging journey through four millennia Gigantes focuses first on the great rule-makers of history—Moses, Plato, Solon, Jesus, the Brahmans, the Buddha, Lao-tzu, Confucius, and Muhammad—who by the first century ...

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Overview

With purposeful brevity and intellectual liveliness Philippe Gigantes examines the progress of humanity through the centuries, and behind every critical event, in every culture and every era, he finds repeatedly the same two driving forces—omnivorous human greed and the quenchless thirst for power. In an engaging journey through four millennia Gigantes focuses first on the great rule-makers of history—Moses, Plato, Solon, Jesus, the Brahmans, the Buddha, Lao-tzu, Confucius, and Muhammad—who by the first century A.D. had laid down virtually all the principles that advance a fair and just society. Gigantes then revisits the sometimes destructive deeds and often amazing accomplishments of history's ruthless rule-breakers. These Grand Acquisitors, as Gigantes calls them, range from the warring chieftains of tribal societies to the robber barons of the nineteenth century and superpower nations of the twentieth. With a kind of historical inevitability, the actions of these dynamic acquisitors result in crusades and jihads, in revolutions and long, bloody military conflicts, in two world wars and catastrophic terrorist attacks. Defying historical orthodoxy, Gigantes argues that we humans have continually failed to benefit from the lessons of our own history. And we continue to invest power in politically and economically greedy acquisitors. In the reasons why, Gigantes hopes we cannot only gain further insight into what lies behind today's news headlines but also realize the means to a more civilized future.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
According to Gigantes, an author and former assistant to Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, the history of the world can be told as the story of greedy and power-hungry conquests. In spite of the efforts of leaders like Jesus or Buddha or Solon to offer principles of structure and order to societies, history has been shaped, he argues, by Grand Acquisitors who have broken society's rules in order to gain power. Gigantes first offers brief sketches of the rule-makers: among them are Moses, who introduced the 10 Commandments, Solon, who introduced democratic principles, and Jesus, who introduced the radical rule of forgiveness. Then the author briefly surveys history's Grand Acquisitors, ranging from the Roman empress Agrippina (who manipulated her husband, the emperor Claudius, and her son, Nero, in her quest to rule) to the conquest of Latin America by Cort s and Pizarro, to what he views as today's corporate exploitation of postcolonial countries. Gigantes discusses the Crusades as an example of the greedy desires of the Christian Church to expunge all heretical sects and to maintain power over the known world. While the book contains interesting moments, Gigantes's thesis that insatiable greed and unquenchable thirst for power underlie all of history does not offer an especially new way of reading world events. Better, more detailed sketches of his rule-makers and his Grand Acquisitors can be found elsewhere (in Anthony A. Barrett's Agrippina, for example). Gigantes provides no startling new insights into why this way of thinking is any more helpful than other ways of reading history. (Sept.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Powerful people have done-and will probably always do-bad things to accumulate more power and riches and opportunities for sex: that's the not-very-startling thesis of this bite-sized history of the world. After declaring that history is fun, former Canadian public official, journalist, and academic Gigantès proceeds to prove the opposite as he writes dreary section after dreary section, beginning with Moses and ending with the ongoing "Irish problem." In what might better have been subtitled World History for Dummies, Gigantès assumes his readers know nothing. He tells us that Jesus was born about 2,000 years ago, that Nero and Caligula were not Boy Scouts, that the historical Richard III does not much resemble Shakespeare's villain, that Cortés and Pizarro killed lots of innocent people, that the US has not solved its social problems, that Hitler "will be remembered as a monster," that Communism didn't work. Worse, he seems unable to find a fresh phrase anywhere. We read of craws with things stuck in them, of nuggets of wisdom, of ticking bombs. Gigantès does try to come up with a catchphrase: "grand acquisator." He acknowledges that "acquisator" is not really a word, but he likes it, so he uses it throughout to describe the most rapacious of human beings. Among them are Napoleon and Hitler-both of whom, he reveals, launched disastrous invasions of Russia. He also tweaks his American neighbors to the south, reminding us that for all our posturing about human rights, we still have corrosive civil-rights problems of our own, especially with Native Americans and African-Americans. And he believes, as expressed in yet another hackneyed phrase, that the "one faint beacon of hope" for thefuture is . . . the European Community, which has, he announces, decided that cooperation is better than world war. Old news in stale language-not a happy combination.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786710775
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 7/28/2002
  • Pages: 258
  • Product dimensions: 5.95 (w) x 8.42 (h) x 1.01 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements
About This Book
1 Moses (c. 14th-13th century BC) 3
2 Solon (c. 630-560 BC) 10
3 Plato (c. 428-347 BC) 22
4 Jesus (c. 5/1 BC-AD 30/33) 34
5 Brahminism, The Buddha, Lao-tzu, Confucius, Muhammad (3102 BC-AD 632) 41
6 Decline of the Roman Empire (1st century) 63
7 The Byzantine Empire (6th century) 77
8 Islamic Incursions into Europe (711-1603) 87
9 The Crusades (1095-1204) 99
10 Conquering Latin America (16th century) 112
11 The Conception and Birth-pangs of Protestantism (1517-1610) 128
12 Where the Sun that Never Set, Did Set (1783-1865) 142
13 The French Revolution and its Aftermath (1789-1821) 155
14 Prometheus and the Pax Britannica (19th century) 171
15 Three World Wars: Two Hot, One Cold (20th century) 187
16 The Global Village (21st century) 204
Epilogue 225
App. A Sobering Chronology of War 229
Notes and Sources 233
Bibliography 243
Index 251
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