The Measure of Civilization: How Social Development Decides the Fate of Nations

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Overview

In the last thirty years, there have been fierce debates over how civilizations develop and why the West became so powerful. The Measure of Civilization presents a brand-new way of investigating these questions and provides new tools for assessing the long-term growth of societies. Using a groundbreaking numerical index of social development that compares societies in different times and places, award-winning author Ian Morris gives a sweeping examination of Eastern and Western development across 15,000 years ...
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The Measure of Civilization: How Social Development Decides the Fate of Nations

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Overview

In the last thirty years, there have been fierce debates over how civilizations develop and why the West became so powerful. The Measure of Civilization presents a brand-new way of investigating these questions and provides new tools for assessing the long-term growth of societies. Using a groundbreaking numerical index of social development that compares societies in different times and places, award-winning author Ian Morris gives a sweeping examination of Eastern and Western development across 15,000 years since the end of the last ice age. He offers surprising conclusions about when and why the West came to dominate the world and fresh perspectives for thinking about the twenty-first century.

Adapting the United Nations' approach for measuring human development, Morris's index breaks social development into four traits—energy capture per capita, organization, information technology, and war-making capacity—and he uses archaeological, historical, and modern government data to quantify patterns. Morris reveals that for ninety percent of the time since the last ice age, the world's most advanced region has been at the western end of Eurasia, but contrary to what many historians once believed, there were roughly 1,200 years—from about 550 to 1750 CE—when an East Asian region was more advanced. Only in the late eighteenth century CE, when northwest Europeans tapped into the energy trapped in fossil fuels, did the West leap ahead.

Resolving some of the biggest debates in global history, The Measure of Civilization puts forth innovative tools for determining past, present, and future economic and social trends.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Stanford University classicist and historian Morris follows up Why the West Rules—for Now with a sophisticated volume designed to add quantitative muscle to his earlier arguments. A big-history theorist working in a vein similar to Niall Ferguson or Jared Diamond, Morris measures societies’ historical “abilities to get things done in the world.” With an impressive data array, he calibrates energy resources, social organization, war-making capacity, and information technology over time to compare the East and West. In the 21st century, he foresees a shift in global power and wealth from West to East, much as it shifted from East to West in the 19th. Morris argues from a materialist view to frame social development, minimizing the achievements of European civilization. His graphic display of energy use, for example, illustrates why the Industrial Revolution in Europe reshaped the economic world as no event did before it, though Morris seems more interested in Song China’s early metallurgy. The author’s grand narrative of Western and Eastern hegemony is less determined than he might have it, and his proposition that “cultural peculiarities of the two regions did not make much of a difference” in development is highly contestable. However, the ingenuity and style of his arguments will make economists and historians stand up and take notice. Agent: Sandra Dijkstra, Dijkstra Literary Agency. (Jan.)
New York Times Book Review - Orville Schell
Praise for Ian Morris: "Morris is a lucid thinker and a fine writer . . . possessed of a welcome sense of humor that helps him guide us through this grand game of history as if he were an erudite sportscaster.
Foreign Affairs - Niall Ferguson
Praise for Ian Morris: "Morris is the world's most talented ancient historian, a man as much at home with state-of-the-art archaeology as with the classics as they used to be studied.
The New York Times Book Review
Praise for Ian Morris: "Morris is a lucid thinker and a fine writer . . . possessed of a welcome sense of humor that helps him guide us through this grand game of history as if he were an erudite sportscaster.
— Orville Schell
Foreign Affairs
Praise for Ian Morris: "Morris is the world's most talented ancient historian, a man as much at home with state-of-the-art archaeology as with the classics as they used to be studied.
— Niall Ferguson
Foreign Affairs
Praise for Ian Morris: "Morris is the world's most talented ancient historian, a man as much at home with state-of-the-art archaeology as with the classics as they used to be studied.
— Niall Ferguson
The New York Times Book Review
Praise for Ian Morris: "Morris is a lucid thinker and a fine writer . . . possessed of a welcome sense of humor that helps him guide us through this grand game of history as if he were an erudite sportscaster.
— Orville Schell
From the Publisher
"Stanford University classicist and historian Morris follows up Why the West Rules—for Now with a sophisticated volume designed to add quantitative muscle to his earlier arguments. A big-history theorist working in a vein similar to Niall Ferguson or Jared Diamond, Morris measures societies' historical 'abilities to get things done in the world.' With an impressive data array, he calibrates energy resources, social organization, war-making capacity, and information technology over time to compare the East and West. In the 21st century, he foresees a shift in global power and wealth from West to East, much as it shifted from East to West in the 19th. . . . The ingenuity and style of his arguments will make economists and historians stand up and take notice."—Publishers Weekly

"Buttressed with numerous graphs and engagingly written, this work provides much food for thought . . ."—Choice

"Using a groundbreaking numerical index of social development that compares societies in different times and places, award-winning author Ian Morris gives a sweeping examination of Eastern and Western development across 15,000 years since the end of the last ice age. He offers surprising conclusions about when and why the West came to dominate the world and fresh perspectives for thinking about the twenty-first century. . . . Resolving some of the biggest debates in global history, The Measure of Civilization puts forth innovative tools for determining past, present, and future economic and social trends."—World Book Industry

Praise for Ian Morris: "Morris is the world's most talented ancient historian, a man as much at home with state-of-the-art archaeology as with the classics as they used to be studied."—Niall Ferguson, Foreign Affairs

Praise for Ian Morris: "Morris is a lucid thinker and a fine writer . . . possessed of a welcome sense of humor that helps him guide us through this grand game of history as if he were an erudite sportscaster."—Orville Schell, New York Times Book Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691155685
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 1/27/2013
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 640,149
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Ian Morris is the Jean and Rebecca Willard Professor of Classics and professor of history at Stanford University. His most recent book is the award-winning "Why the West Rules—for Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal about the Future" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) which has been translated into eleven languages.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix
List of Tables xiii
Preface xv
1 Introduction: Quantifying Social Development 1
2 Methods and Assumptions 25
3 Energy Capture 53
4 Social Organization 144
5 War-Making Capacity 173
6 Information Technology 218
7 Discussion: The Limits and Potential of Measuring Development 238
Notes 265
References 321
Index 375

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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