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

4.2 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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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: 4.2 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #644,124 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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Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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
1)Competition
2)Science
3)Property
4)Medicine
5)Consumption
6)Work

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: Hardcover
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 teach us. To get to that level of appreciation, Ferguson, in honour of an earlier great historian, suggests that the events of the past have a very instructive way of re-appearing in the present in order to point us to the future. To enforce this point, Ferguson focuses this comparative study on how western civilizations - those large cultural units in time and space - have come to dominate the modern world scene, and how they are now facing a very uncertain future based on a growing competition from new global forces. If the West is seen through the lenses of progress, Ferguson has news for us his readers. All is not rosy. To get where they are today, western nations like Britain, the US, France and Germany have had to use all kinds of competitive concepts to assert their superiority: war, industrialization, capitalism, science, intellectual property, democracy, and exploration. Along the way, the results of modernization have at best been mixed. With a succession of financial crisis, the expansion of global economy, and the growing failure of military technology to secure social and political stability may suggest that the world is about to undergo a major historical shift from west to east. The West's ability to design, order and control its future is very much in doubt, given the fact that other cultures are looking for their place in the sun and may have the means to achieve it: capital, education, population, and technology.Read more ›
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