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Civilization: The West and the Rest [Hardcover]

Niall Ferguson
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Nov. 1 2011
Western civilization’s rise to global dominance is the single most important historical phenomenon of the past five centuries. All over the world, more and more people study at Western-style universities, work for Western-style companies, vote for Western-style governments, take Western medicines, wear Western clothes, and play Western sports. Yet six hundred years ago the petty kingdoms of Western Europe seemed like miserable backwaters, ravaged by incessant war and pestilence. It was Ming China or Ottoman Turkey that had the look of world civilizations. How did the West overtake its Eastern rivals? And has the zenith of Western power now passed?

In Civilization: The West and the Rest, acclaimed historian Niall Ferguson argues that, beginning in the fifteenth century, the West developed six powerful new concepts that the Rest lacked: competition, science, the rule of law, modern medicine, consumerism, and the work ethic. These were the ‘killer applications’ that allowed the West to leap ahead of the Rest; opening global trade routes, exploiting new scientific knowledge, evolving representative government, more than doubling life expectancy, unleashing the industrial revolution, and hugely increasing human productivity. Civilization shows exactly how a dozen Western empires came to control three-fifths of mankind and four-fifths of the world economy.

Yet now, Ferguson argues, the days of Western predominance are numbered because the Rest have finally downloaded the six killer apps the West once monopolized – while the West has literally lost faith in itself.

Chronicling the rise and fall of empires alongside the clashes of civilizations, Civilization recasts world history with verve and wit. Boldly argued but also teeming with memorable characters, this is Ferguson at his very best.

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Civilization: The West and the Rest + The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die + The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World
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“[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

About the Author

NIALL FERGUSON  is one of Britain's most renowned historians. He is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University and William Ziegler Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, a Senior Research Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford, and a Senior Research Fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He is the bestselling author of Paper and Iron, The House of Rothschild, The Pity of War, The Cash Nexus, Empire, Colossus, The War of the World, The Ascent of Money, and High Financier. He also writes regularly for newspapers and magazines all over the world.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A well researched, well written tour de force Jan. 5 2012
By Ian Robertson TOP 100 REVIEWER
Prolific Oxford, Harvard and Stanford professor Niall Ferguson continues his excellent string of publications with a well researched and erudite tour of the past 500 years of western civilization. The book is very, very detailed (over 700 end notes, plus a 30 page bibliography), but extremely readable. Its many facts are both interesting and woven together logically and chronologically to support a central thesis - that the West has predominated because it developed six killer apps: competition, science, property rights, medicine, the consumer society, and the work ethic.

Not just another book trumpeting the West's superiority, Ferguson highlights the West's good luck as well as it's superior political and economic structure. He notes the West's willingness to have its killer apps downloaded by other countries, which will mean more wealth for all but also a change in the balance of power.

Like all history books, the content is filtered through the author's particular lens - in this case a right wing, British Empire loving polymath and wit - but Ferguson is thorough in supporting his thesis, confronting other historians' theories and mistakes head-on, and documenting his own views with ample political, economic and cultural references and a fair amount of humour. The prolific references range from esoteric to pop-cultural (e.g. Sid Meier's Civilization V computer game).
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
By Patrick Sullivan TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Ferguson sets out to explain how and why, Western Civilization became the world`s dominate force. Ferguson also outlines, why other areas of the globe remained an economic backwater. Ferguson boils down the last five hundred years of western success, to a list of six essential components.

Here is the list

Each ingredient has its own chapter. Ferguson then takes the reader through various historical lessons. These historic episodes help the reader understand, how these listed factors applied to western success. Some of the history will be very familiar to reader. I am also willing to bet, most readers will also discover a few new areas of history, that Ferguson uncovers.

The conclusion of the book is all about how other countries, have started to apply western methods of success. Will the rise of strong Asian economies eclipse the growth of the west?

This book should really be part one of a series. Part two could be all about how current western societies, have moved away from the six factors of economic prosperity.

One caution I may make to a prospective reader of this book. The over all theme is a somewhat Libertarian message. This will be the deciding factor, in your potential enjoyment of the book.
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1.0 out of 5 stars What a disappointment. Oct. 7 2014
Format:Kindle Edition
This is the worst book that I had come across in the last 6 months. (I read about 10 books in the last 6 months). I tried to, at least finish it, but could not hold my patience until the end of chapter 4, Medicine, but to give up reading any further. My expectation is that the author will try to articulate the difference between the West and the Rest in the 6 parameters enumerated in the Introduction. Actually I tend to agree with the author that difference between the West and the Rest in the 6 listed points. The author will argue how and why the West protects property right, or what the West had done to foster the development of science and medicine, against the opposite of the Rest, etc. I do not anticipate however that the author will provide why property right and/or advancement in science and medicine could help advance the "civilization" and/or economic development. To my disappointment, the author did not depict how the West and the Rest do differently in these parameters (at least in the first four chapters, as I just could not continue reading the balance of the book). It is disappointing that the author only pull some historical facts here and there. I am also puzzled why the author spend some much pages on the Spanish war in South America and American revolution in the chapter of Property; German medical exploration on human races in the chapter of Medicine. To me, these are totally irrelevant to the theme and title of the book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars History doesn't repeat. It rhymes. March 22 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As with the `Ascent of Money' and previous books by Dr. Ferguson, Civilization was conceived from the start as both a television series and a book. One senses exactly where the adverts will be inserted and cringes slightly at the theatrical flair (e.g. "born again" morphed into "porn again"). The upside is the story moves along at a good clip without getting bogged down in excessive details or alternate interpretations. The downside is frequently being left hungry for greater substantiation. For example, at one point Dr. Ferguson acknowledges some historians attribute Great Britain's rise to global supremacy to an early start with the industrial revolution but maintains the real reason was the systems developed to amass and invest capital. While that seems plausible it would be more convincing with some evidence and discussion to back up the statement.

The stated purpose for Dr. Ferguson's book is revealing the "six killer apps" that account for Western dominance but he strays, not infrequently, to a more general look at Western history. Case in point: while he describes medicine as "the West's most remarkable killer application" the chapter devoted to medicine spends more time examining the French revolution and subsequent imperialism than on the supposed subject of the chapter.

One of the more interesting revelations and one that Dr. Ferguson examines in greater detail is the importance of the Protestant Ethic to the West's success and the surprising widespread adoption of Christianity in Asia, particularly China. For me, this section alone was worth the price of admission.

Despite the minor shortcomings the book is attention-grabbing, readable and timely.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent info though a bit difficult
great historical reading. He really lays down the reasons for why the West is dominant rather than the East. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Byron Dueck
4.0 out of 5 stars A good overview of history
Just wish I could remember the details! I heard Ferguson interviewed on CBC and was impressed with his knowledge, but one can't help wondering how long the current primary players... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Anne Stewart
4.0 out of 5 stars History & the world of economics
Great, well written book- Very interesting and easy to understand. Niall Ferguson is well versed in this topic- a real expert
Published 15 months ago by LarryH
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read
Civilization by Neil Fergson was an excellent read for an overview of the past 500 years.
Only problem I had with the book was that I almost had the feeling he thinks Jews... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Ben
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating read
A bit of a warning in this book-- things are changing and the west is in a confidence and world view crisis. We are taking an axe to our roots.
Published 19 months ago by Kevin
5.0 out of 5 stars Two semesters of college history in three hundred fascinating pages
How does he do it! Civilization: The West and the Rest. How can one authour in one book provide such an intesting, readble and imaginative review of the history of the world. Read more
Published 22 months ago by James Gillies
4.0 out of 5 stars Thorough and informative
Niall Ferguson takes the reader across the globe, tracking the rise of Western civilization in a thorough, yet accesible manner. Read more
Published on Aug. 26 2012 by Jack Dashwood
3.0 out of 5 stars Too clever by half
The problem with TV-series-driven writing is the blurring of priorities. I had a hard time pinpointing what was I not enjoying about this undoubtedly well written book. Read more
Published on July 22 2012 by Vlad Thelad
5.0 out of 5 stars Analysing Our DNA Through History
I have always admired Ferguson as one of those few historians who offers his readers a very balanced, big-picture context for understanding the lessons a study of history might... Read more
Published on Feb. 7 2012 by Ian Gordon Malcomson
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good choice
I bought this item as a Christmas gift for my daughter-in-law. Both of us have read the two previous books of Guillermo del Toro and she was delighted to have the latest o the... Read more
Published on Jan. 9 2012 by C. Lira Fuchs
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