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Civilization: The West and the Rest. Niall Ferguson Hardcover – Jan 3 2011

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Hardcover, Jan 3 2011
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Product Details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (Jan. 3 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846142733
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846142734
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.5 x 4.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 662 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #750,767 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

This title has been nominated for "Daily Telegraph" Books of the Year. If in the year 1411 you had been able to circumnavigate the globe, you would have been most impressed by the dazzling civilizations of the Orient. The Forbidden City was under construction in Ming Beijing; in the Near East, the Ottomans were closing in on Constantinople. By contrast, England would have struck you as a miserable backwater ravaged by plague, bad sanitation and incessant war. The other quarrelsome kingdoms of Western Europe - Aragon, Castile, France, Portugal and Scotland - would have seemed little better. As for fifteenth-century North America, it was an anarchic wilderness compared with the realms of the Aztecs and Incas. The idea that the West would come to dominate the Rest for most of the next half millennium would have struck you as wildly fanciful. And yet it happened. What was it about the civilization of Western Europe that allowed it to trump the outwardly superior empires of the Orient? The answer, Niall Ferguson argues, was that the West developed six "killer applications" that the Rest lacked: competition, science, democracy, medicine, consumerism and the work ethic. The key question today is whether or not the West has lost its monopoly on these six things. If so, Ferguson warns, we may be living through the end of Western ascendancy. "Civilization" takes readers on their own extraordinary journey around the world - from the Grand Canal at Nanjing to the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul; from Machu Picchu in the Andes to Shark Island, Namibia; and, from the proud towers of Prague to the secret churches of Wenzhou. It is the story of sailboats, missiles, land deeds, vaccines, blue jeans and Chinese Bibles. It is the defining narrative of modern world history.

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4.1 out of 5 stars

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Ian Robertson TOP 500 REVIEWER on Jan. 5 2012
Format: Hardcover
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By RondoReader on 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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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Patrick Sullivan TOP 500 REVIEWER on Jan. 23 2012
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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Format: Paperback
This was the second book I have read by Niall Fergusson, a prominent economic historian. The first book of his that I read a couple of years ago was The Ascent of Money. While it was quite dense, I thought it was a useful and informative book that focussed on what the title would have you believe it was about. It was certainly good enough for me to take a second crack at Fergusson, but unfortunately, Civilization is just not up to snuff. The book itself actually had very little to do with "civilization". He probably should have just gone with his subtitle - The West and Rest. His book distills Civilization (really affluence, economic progress or economic power) down to six specific areas. Or, as he puts it, six killer apps. Although I would say there is much more to do with civilization than these six areas he focusses on (competition, science, property, medicine, consumption and work), I won't fault him for underscoring what HE believes were the six drivers that brought the West to the dominant position it enjoys today. My main problem with this book is that after laying out these six killer apps, he meanders through each chapter without really focussing on any of these six subject areas. For example, in the chapter on property, I was really expecting a much more focussed and sophisticated argument in support of how property rules and rights have been instrumental to the West's success. I was sort of expecting an argument along the lines of what you found in De Soto's "The Mystery of Capital". But there was little effort made to link his argument back to the title of the chapter, let alone how it contributed to civilization. There was more discussion of slavery (yes, seen as a form of property at the time) than anything to do with property.Read more ›
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