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Why the West Rules---for Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future MP3 CD – Audiobook, MP3 Audio, Unabridged


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  • MP3 CD
  • Publisher: Tantor Audio; MP3 - Unabridged CD edition (Dec 14 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400169984
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400169986
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 1.5 x 18.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 136 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,477,695 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Review

"A formidable, richly engrossing effort to determine why Western institutions dominate the world." ---Kirkus Starred Review

About the Author

Ian Morris is the Jean and Rebecca Willard Professor of Classics and a professor of history at Stanford University and the author of a number of scholarly books, including The Dynamics of Ancient Empires.

AudioFile Earphones Award winner Antony Ferguson, a native of London, England, is a classically trained actor and has appeared in numerous productions in London, Off-Broadway, and regional theater. As a voice actor, he has over fifty audiobooks to his credit.

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Vlad Thelad TOP 500 REVIEWER on Jan. 16 2011
Format: Hardcover
In this extraordinary book you will find the answer to the title question "Why the West Rules." It is written in a clear and light, yet rigorous, fashion, and Morris lays down his case without shying away from controversy. The validity of his measuring tool (the social development index) is convincingly stated, and wonderfully argued, as he displays all the empirical evidence through chapter after chapter of entertaining narrative. The second part of the title question ("For Now") leads to another equally clear answer... which I will not disclose in this note. This very ambitious book, with its broadest of scopes and a flair for the anecdotal detail, is a very enjoyable read, one I do not hesitate to fully recommend.
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Very rarely I dont finish a book but this one I could not. It is packed with information but just too much detail. I would have preferred the conclusion not the explanation. If you are anthropologist I guess it is a must. I am not.
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A thought-provoking look at the history of Europe and reasons for its influence on the rest of the world, up to now...
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14 of 26 people found the following review helpful By P. Salus on Oct. 20 2010
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The Economist [UK] gave this a favorable (not a rave) review. The blurb tells me that "In this magnum opus, eminent Stanford polymath Ian Morris answers this provocative question, drawing on 50,000 years of history, archeology, and the methods of social science, to make sense of when, how, and why the paths of development differed in the East and West and what this portends for the 21st century." Perhaps.

I found that Morris writes more like a journalist than a political scientist or historian. And he is far too flip about events and his own originality. "Why the West Rules -- For Now" contains a lengthy bibliography. What a surprize not to find Hegel nor Spengler nor Toynbee! Nor, in fact, a reference to Nelson's "Evolutionary Theory of Economic Change."

This might not be serious, but Morris purports to be studying the "Patterns of History" -- without noting the others who have expounded both cyclicity and patterning before him. There is no mention of Vico (who said in the 17th century that civilization develops in a recurring cycle of three ages), nor of Herder, nor (indeed) of Isaiah Berlin.

This is a 600+-page ego-trip for Morris.

Not recommended.
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235 of 248 people found the following review helpful
Like playing Sid Meier's Civilization Oct. 29 2010
By Bernard Kwan - Published on Amazon.com
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As can be seem by both the summary and and various book reviews, this is big history, encompassing the dawn of the first homonids (or ape-men as the author put it) to present day, with a chapter conjecturing about the future.

I was going to try and compare it to some of books in the same genre that I have read, but this book takes, disproves and/ or builds on their arguments - books such as Kennedy's Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, Pommeranz's the Great Divergence, Landes' The Wealth and Poverty of Nations - and they are all cited in his book and Morris takes pains to show how they only focus on one small piece of the picture. Indeed the feeling of reading this must have been similar for those who read Marx's Das Kapital for the first time (although the language is much more accessible and the conclusion is open ended) in that it attempts to set out underlying laws of history.

In the words of the author - "History is not one damn thing after another, it is a single grand and relentless process of adaptations to the world that always generate new problems (in the form of disease, famine, climate change, migration and state failure) that call for further adaptations. And each breakthrough came not as a result of tinkering but as a result of desperate times, calling for desperate measures." There may be set backs and hard ceilings, with free will and culture being the wildcards that may hinder social development but eventually the conditions give rise to ideas that allow progress to be made.

Indeed the motor of progress is not some economic logic, but what he calls the Morris Theorem - (expanding an idea from the great SF writer Robert Heinlein) to explain the course of history - Change is caused by lazy, greedy frightened people (who rarely know what they are doing) looking for easier more profitable and safer ways to do things. And it is geography that is the key determining factor where something develops first - Maps, not Chaps.

Now all this sounds academic and boring and in the case of the Morris theorem a little oversimplistic, but the presentation definitely is not. As professor Jared Diamond states, it is like an exciting novel (told by a cool eccentric uncle) and he uses a wide range of popular media to support his case, at one point talking about the movies Back to the Future, 300, the Scorpion King or making references to novels such as the Bonesetters Daughter and Clan of the Cave bear to bring conditions to life. Indeed the emotional similarities (and sheer sense of fun!) to playing early versions of the Sid Meier's Civilization Computer Game are uncanny.

There is a wide range of material here to satisfy a range of interests - his summaries of the fossil record, and early middle eastern and Chinese history are succinct and clear. Especially on the Chinese side, I had to read 2 books - the Golden Age of Chinese Archaelogy and the Cambridge History of Ancient China to gain the same understanding of what he summarizes in about 7-8 pages. He discourses on the role of the Axial religions, on whether democracy was important to the rule of the west, the role of free will in history, and on provocative ideas like the Qin and Roman empires expemplifing what he calls the paradox of violence: when the rivers of blood dried, their imperialism left most people, in the west and the east better off. I could go on and on and, of course, there may be many experts who take issue with his interpretations (and his predictions) but it will definitely stimulate thinking.

If I had to make a criticism of the book - it is that, like Marx, it is fundamentally materialistic in its approach, ideas are like memes that facilitate social development and culture is something that can help or hinder development but has no value in itself. The great religious ideas are glossed over as a product of or reaction to their times. It has precious little to say about the spiritual life and spiritual discoveries such as ethics, meditation or psychology. It may be these discoveries and qualities that will be required to get us through the challenges - of climate change, overpopulation, resourse shortages and potential nuclear war.

It is worthwhile comparing the book to two writings that he cites as inspiration (1) Herbert Spencer - Progress its Law and Cause and (2) Isaac Azimov's Foundation series. In each case they try to identify the forces that drive humanity but Spencer just doesn't have the data in the 19th century and the historian Hari Seldon is joke amongst professional historians as the novels seem so implausibly optimistic about what history can do. I don't know if Ian Morris has succeeded in identifying the laws of history but this book could only have been written now, at the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, drawing together the strains from archaeology, genetics, linguistics as well as sociology and economics to create something altogether new and wonderful and accessible to that elusive thing - the educated lay reader.
217 of 244 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating as a history book, failure in terms of its target Dec 27 2010
By PK - Published on Amazon.com
It is hard to decide how many stars to assign to this book. Ian Morris' book would deserve 5 stars if it were merely a world history book. It succeeds in creating a unified, comprehensible narrative of world history from the stone age to the present day in a way that no other book I am aware of has done. For this reason, it would deserve to be classified as a classic.

However, on the other hand, the aim of Ian Morris has not been to write a comprehensive history of the the major world civilizations from the stone age to the present. It has been to explain the Western predominance of the last centuries and to predict what the future will look like. His discussion of the future is quite admirable and thoughtful indeed. However, I have found his answer to the central question the book poses to fall below ordinary academic standards on two fronts: it trivializes the question, and lacks novelty.

1. It trivializes the question. The central question of the book is answered by an argument of geographic reductionism and determinism. In short, the Western "rule" of the last few centuries is attributed to the shorter breadth of the Atlantic Ocean as opposed to the Pacific. This shorter breadth made the Americas more easily accessible to Europeans than to Asians, hence the former created an Atlantic economy, therefore faced different challenges than the latter, responded to them by the scientific and industrial revolutions, and hence rule. I find this argument to be rather simplistic, and I do not think that there was a need to write such a long book if its sole purpose was to put this argument down (after all, it has been said before - see below). The problem with this argument is that it stops exactly where the truly important questions should be asked. A case in point is Columbus: the author makes fun of him, calling him the best candidate for a "bungling idiot", because he thought he had arrived to the (by then obsolete) "land of the Great Khan", while he had only reached Cuba. However, the author fails to notice that Columbus did not reach the Americas merely due to the short breadth of the Atlantic Ocean: he ventured in the open sea aiming to sail as long as it took him to reach the other end of Eurasia, knowing that he should end up there eventually. Even if he had to cross the Pacific instead of the Atlantic, there is a high chance he would make it. It is surprising that, while the author tackles so many "what if" scenaria to prove his thesis, he fails to consider this fundamental "what if" question for his main argument: Would Columbus fail to reach the Americas if he had had to cross the Pacific instead? Given that Magellan did cross both the Atlantic and the Pacific a few years later, the answer appears to be in the negative. This observation by itself appears sufficient to refute the author's trivial main argument. The same reasoning applies to several other arguments in the book. For example, the author tries to argue that Newton thought what he thought because of the Atlantic economy, and he has no room for any cultural factor in it; he maintains that "each age gets the thought it needs". In essence, he maintains that thought is geographically determined. I find this fancy argument hard to accept, as I have not seen any convincing evidence for it. Last, but not least, some of the claims in the book are factually wrong: he attributes the invention of the wheelbarrow to China and claims that it was brought to Europe in the Middle Ages; however, there is evidence of wheelbarrows in construction sites in Ancient Athens.

2. It lacks novelty. The central argument of geographic reductionism and determinism that Ian Morris espouses is not new. It has been made by Jared Diamond in "Guns, Germs, and Steel" and by J. M. Blaut in "Eight Eurocentric Historians" before. Surprisingly, the author fails to give proper credit to these authors for making similar arguments, although he does at least cite Diamond. Moreover, the so-called "advantage of backwardness" of Western Europe, which forms a secondary argument in the author's thesis, has also been made by Patricia Crone in "Pre-industrial Societies". At least Morris does a good job of bringing these arguments together in a coherent way, but does not go beyond them to deeper issues that need to be addressed (as discussed above).
36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
From ape-men to, perhaps, the Singularity Nov. 19 2010
By Jay C. Smith - Published on Amazon.com
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Ian Morris' Why the West Rules is certainly audacious. As the subtitle suggests, Morris ventures to explain all of human history and, apparently still unsatisfied, to see into the future as well. He appears to have read widely and deeply to match his scholarship to his ambition. His exposition is clear and often seasoned with a light touch.

This is not the sort of book many will be inclined to read fully in just a few long stretches, but on balance it is likely to engage and challenge persons with a serious interest in mega-history. While some specialists in particular domains (say the British industrial revolution, for example) may disagree with some of Mr. Morris' interpretations or find them insufficiently nuanced, that is to be expected for works of broad historical synthesis such as this one.

Morris starts with pre-human "ape-men" (he can turn a phrase) and traces comparative East-West "social development" to the present and beyond. He has devised his own method for measuring it, a quantitative index that takes into account (1) energy capture (calories used); (2) organization, as measured by urbanization; (3) information processing, represented by literacy rates; and (4) the capacity to make war. He graphically plots his estimates of the index scores of the East versus those of the West since 14,000 BCE. The main body of the text describes the historical forces and events underlying the graphical patterns.

There are many objections that might be raised against the quantitative index and Morris is aware of them. He has stated that he nevertheless chose to construct it to help make more explicit what he means when he describes social development in any given period or region. In my opinion, he could have well done without it: it leaves an overall impression of being artificially contrived and unnecessary, a sort of Rube Goldberg approach to assessment of historical development.

Moreover, the question of who was "ahead" in any given epoch, East or West, turns out to be rather secondary to the salient lessons Morris draws from the sweep of history. There is no "long-term lock-in," he concludes, no factor established long-ago that has subsequently determined comparative advantage in perpetuity. The "five horsemen of the apocalypse" -- climate change, disease, famine, migration, and state failure -- have at times radically disrupted development and could do so again. So too, ascendant regions face the "paradox of social development" -- adaptations create new problems that call for further adaptations, possibly undermining the very forces that contributed to past success. Prior backwardness can even become advantageous (for a contemporary example think of low wages as an attraction to capital investment in China, an "advantage" that is eroding as Chinese development progresses).

His rejection of long-term lock-in theories is creditable and well-supported, but Morris also contends that short-term accidents and human leadership do not matter much either in the longer term. We could substitute "bungling idiots" for great men or vice-versa, he says, and at most things may have moved at a different pace to the same destination. Nor, in his opinion, do ideas or culture ultimately help shape development; rather, it is the other way around. These views are contestable, at the very least, and are bound to elicit objections from many other historians.

For Morris the operative factors are biology and sociology, which explain global similarities, and geography, which explains regional differences. Geography has determined the probabilities of where development would rise fastest, but social development changes what geography means, he proposes. For instance, when social development reached the stage where trans-oceanic commercial voyages were feasible, Western societies positioned on the Atlantic gained geographic advantages that in turn spurred further development.

How is it, then, that the long history of comparative development might inform our current prognoses? Morris projects that his index will soar, but faster in the East than the West, with a crossover to Eastern leadership by 2103 at the latest (he is that precise). Yet, according to Morris, the East-West framework may or may not turn out to matter much. Perhaps there will be an all-out East-West war, where even winning would be catastrophic, or maybe arguments about "who rules" will become passé as we will see a need to cooperate further to address global problems.

Morris shifts gears and reframes the question. As he sees it, the world's future pretty much comes down to two possibilities: "Nightfall" or the "Singularity." If we can hold off the worst-case climate change outcomes and nuclear disaster (Nightfall) long enough, he suggests, we might morph into a post-human species (Ray Kurzweil's Singularity, where the full contents of our brains can be uploaded into computers), which he seems to regard as salvation.

I have to say I found this eventual conclusion to be a bit surprising, even peculiar, a big leap from where readers were left before reaching the final chapter. The chasm underscores a fundamental antinomy in Morris' message: we should study history to prepare for the future, but development will now accelerate so fast that history will leave us unprepared.
53 of 59 people found the following review helpful
A true masterpiece Oct. 25 2010
By M. Wang - Published on Amazon.com
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History is a fascinating subject, if it is told in the right way. To me, the right way means--instead of rotely reciting the facts or twisting them to fit into a narrow thesis--tapping into the big trend, showing the big picture, making connections between seemingly unrelated events and giving objective insights into the multifaceted dynamics of large groups of people interacting with one another. While there have been some great titles available to 21st century readers, none comes close to being as grand, broad, deep and innovative as this book.

The question of why the West rules the world for the past two centuries has always been an intriguing one, at least to people of Chinese descent. In recent years, it has taken on significantly greater urgency and relevance to mainstream Americans. But the various answers to date have been narrow, incomplete analysis like those given by the blind men who tried to describe an elephant. To reach a comprehensive understanding, Ian Morris has had to combine multiple disciplines, including physics, botany, economics, anthropology, paleontology, archaeology and history, and invent his own index of "Cultural Development". Just this metric is a great contribution to mankind's knowledge base, as it finally gives a concrete, quantitative measure to the general concepts of advanced versus backward and rise versus decline.

To convince the readers of his conclusion, the author retells the entire history of mankind, from ape-men to the year 2010. I am totally amazed by his ability to do so in 645 fun-filled pages and still to cover practically every relevant detail. Even more impressively, he often sheds new light on these familiar facts for me so that I finally can see the history in the right context. For example, who are the Hittites? What is their relevance? Well, not until I read this book did I understand that they represent the infusion into the core of western civilization (Mesopotamia/Egypt) a new weapon (chariot) driven by a new large domesticated mammal (horse) that is the only major natural resource missing in the blessed region militarily, agriculturally and economically since the dawn of history.

What is the author's conclusion after going through the entire human history with his new fine-tooth comb, the index of cultural development? He finds that, although individuals vary from one another greatly, large groups of people are often very much alike. He shows convincingly that this is definitely the case between the west (Europeans and Americans) and the east (Chinese, Japanese and Koreans). Differences exist in styles but not in substance. Whatever causes one to lead the other in cultural development is always exogenous, mainly climatic and geographical factors. He also illustrates clearly that each level of development brings about new challenges, which can be overcome only with the right organization using the right technology under the right circumstances. Those who fail at these challenges either stagnate or sink into dark ages, allowing the "advantage of backwardness" to be realized.

Extrapolating from recent trends, the author thinks that the east will most likely catch up with the west by the end of this century. This, in itself, is not too surprising, but the stories that leads to this conclusion are full of parallels and lessons for modern societies facing problems originating from their own development process. Anyone who cares about the fate of his nation and/or this earth will surely benefit from this book.
32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
Interesting but not the full answer Jan. 22 2011
By Amrit - Published on Amazon.com
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This is a contribution to the body of writings addressing the question of why the "West" rose and came to dominate the "rest". This is a question that has interested scholars - especially Western scholars - for at least a hundred years. Different answers have been produced. Some early scholars looked to biological superiority although there are few takers for this line of thinking these days - expect in far right fringe groups. Others look to cultural attributes such as the Protestant work ethic (Weber and RH Tawney) but also more general attributes of Western Christendom going back to the Middle Ages (David Landes). Karl Marx emphasised the importance of the development of industrial capitalism in the West in making it a leader. Another school looks at material factors such as the easy availability of coal in places like England (Pomeranz) or the discovery of the Americas and the "free kick" provided to the West in the harnessing its resources (Pomeranz and Frank).

For Morris, the answer is geography. This does not mean a crude geographic determinism that permanently locks in advantage. Rather, while the West has led in social development, that is the sum competencies of a society for at least 14 millennia according to Morris, the "East" not the West led between 550CE and about 1775CE. It was "brute material forces" determined by geography and their intersection with social factors that explains the waxing and waning of the respective leads of "East" and "West".

The authors methodology is to assess and rate on a numeric scale the respective capabilities of West and East over a long period by means of a number of measures. These are energy capture (manifested for example in the ability to produce goods and deploy force), urbanisation (as a proxy for organisational ability), the ability to process information and the ability to deploy military force. He uses this to construct a kind of historical human development index to measure the capability of societies over millennia. This of itself is an ambitious task and resembles Angus Maddison's work to construct a measure of the size of economies in the past including the distant past.

The author commences his argument by looking at what he says were the natural advantages of the "hilly flanks" area in the Middle East, namely the wider variety of crops and animals available for domestication compared with other parts of the world and more favourable climate. The argument is that these circumstances gave the Western descendants of the Hilly Flanks an early advantage. He goes on to survey the subsequent rise of the two "Western cores", namely Mesopotamia and Egypt to show an early lead for the West in the achievements of these two societies.
The East then plays catch up and by the time of the Han Dynasty had just about caught up.

The advantage given to the West by access to the resources of the Americas which were easier to get to from Western Europe than the Middle East or China is the key turning point giving the West its later advantage. It goes on to develop this advantage and eventually crowns it in the nineteenth century with the industrial revolution. The industrial revolution allows the West (led by England) to accumulate huge amounts of wealth and power and use this to dominate the East and the rest of the world.

That advantage however is short lived. The East is quick to absorb and assimilate the technological and organisational capabilities of the West and begin rolling back the tide - even without the advantage of American resources or an equivalent. Japan leads the way with its crash programme of modernisation commencing in the 1870s. China begins modernising in the 1950s and India in the 1990s. He sees India's lag as a product of the fact that it was directly colonised by the West so holding it back. China and Japan avoided this fate and could begin to modernise earlier. He sees the West's lead rapidly coming to an end. Some scholars refer to this process as the "Great Convergence" as a mirror to what is called the "Great Divergence" when the West after the 1770s took the lead.

The attempt made by Morris to answer the question he poses is interesting. He covers vast ground and collects together a huge amount of information. This of itself makes his book worth reading although for anyone with some basic knowledge of world history, there might be too much basic information that is not really necessary to make the points that Morris wishes to make. There is also nothing really new in his ideas (other than perhaps use of a historic HDI) but his work is an easy to read synthesis of other writings. Morris however makes a good case to convince the reader that in the end it is not matters of culture and race that matter but the "brute material" elements, consideration of which he skilfully weaves into the narrative to explain why some develop faster than others and achieve dominance. In this regard, Morris may be closer in his broad approach to that of Frank, Pomeranz and Jack Blaut than the cultural determinism of David Landes and Max Weber, particularly his emphasis on the key advantages gained by Europe in first getting to the Americas and harnessing its resources to get one over the "East".

The main weakness of the book is the focus on Europe and North America on the one hand and China on the other as the basis for his argument. If the task is to explain who led and why, the limits that the author places on his enquiry - which he himself admits - becomes problematic, in particular, the omission of any serious consideration of India and Islam. For parts of the period in question, there is a strong case that India was the leader not China or the West. India not China contained the world's largest economy for much of the period after 200BCE and held that position until the early modern times according to data complied by the economist Angus Maddison. That economic power was also mirrored by the cultural pull of India - "soft power" we would say these days - from the time of the Mauryas. Indian culture and influence spread far afield - into South East Asia, Central Asia and even China. Chinese or Western influence at the time did not have so wide a reach - as Morris acknowledges. Indian science was also widely admired and studied for example at the House of Wisdom in Abbasid Baghdad and in China. There is little evidence of a reverse movement of knowledge and ideas until much later strongly suggesting that the "centre" at the time arguably lay in India at least until the Tang era in China and the Abbasid in the Middle East. India therefore was at least as much a leader if not more so during the earlier period in question.

The omission of Islam also is a deficiency even if there is greater coverage of Islam than of India. Under the Ummayads and Abbasids, a case for Islam as the leader can also be made in all fields using measures of economic power, political power and cultural reach. During the High Middle Ages, it was Westerners who studied Arabic and learnt from Islamic science rather than the converse. It was also the case that the Islam by the end of the period had established dominance in India and parts of Europe and was banging at the gates of China. Even in the sixteenth century, the Ottomans arguably were the dominant political power in Europe not Spain or the Austrian Hapsburgs.

A narrative based on the Euro-American and Chinese world may not therefore be well suited to addressing the basic question posed. "Who lead and why?" Morris' narrative is the "G-2" version. A "G-20" version might do better in dealing with the subject. The work of world history by the father and son McNeill team "The Human Web" might better answer the question at hand using a much broader canvass even if this work of history does not expressly set out to answer the question posed by Morris.

There is also a question of what Morris means by the "West". He makes the statement that for all but two of the last 14 millenia, the West has led the way. This statement requires inclusion of the Fertile Crescent area of the Middle East as belonging to the "West". This no doubt accurately reflects the canonical view where the story of the West is said to begin in Mesopotamia. However, the problem is that what is today the Islamic world of the Middle East also traces its beginnings to the same roots and arguably has a better claim to these roots as theirs rather than belonging to the "West". Mesopotamia was also linked to the beginnings of Indian culture in the cities of the Indus with a direct and more immediate connection than that of Europeans to Mesopotamian culture. Indeed, it is not uncommon to understand the entire area of the Fertile Crescent and the areas of Iran and the Indus Valley as a common hearth where agriculture and urbanisation underwent a common process of development. Mesopotamia in this sense belongs more to the Middle Eastern "core" (Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Anatolia and the Levant) and to a lesser extent India, than it does to Euro-America. Morris seems to deal with this problem at times by implying a broader concept of what is the "West" by including in it Europe as well as the Middle East. This is an idea that deserves further exploration going against the usual definition of what is the "West".

What though do Asians and Africans make of the whole debate? Intriguingly, the best known writings on the question "why did the West lead" come from Western sources. There appears to be a lacuna in scholarship on the problem by the "rest". The answer as to what the rest thought however may be found most easily not in the work of scholars but in the writings of early Asian and African nationalists and nation builders. They did in fact address the question in detail and come up with some answers. The question for them was "How did the West do it?" and the complementary question of "what do we need to do to catch up?" For the Chinese reformers during the late Qing era, the Meiji era Japanese and nineteenth and twentieth century Indian reformers, it was a matter of mastering and applying Western technology and institutions in a selective way without the need to assume Western culture as such. No large non-Western society saw the solution to the problem of "catching up" in a wholesale absorption of Western culture such as through conversion to Christianity. They gave a more narrowly focused attention to technology and selective adoption of Western institutions. Indeed, it cannot be said that those who have adopted Western religion and culture in a more wholesale manner such as in Christian Africa or the Philippines have as a result acquired advantages over those who have not done so - such as Japanese, Indians (and even Chinese despite their adoption of Marxist-Leninism for a while).

The proof of the pudding lies in the eating in that the simple formula used first by the Japanese has proved effective including China and India of today. These societies have narrowed the gap or caught up without taking to heart the message of Max Weber, David Landes or RH Tawney. Non-Western nation builders have narrowed or closed the gap not by reading Calvin's institutes but by paying attention to and reading engineering and science manuals - and also adopting some of the instruments of social mobilisation first used in the West, importantly the nation state and all its trappings. Morris' emphasis on brute material forces therefore adds up when tested against the actual record is asking why do societies rise and fall. Indeed, Morris at the end of his book poses the complementary question "How did the rest start catching up"? The simple formula pioneered by the Japanese and followed by others comes close to the answer - and this becomes apparent to anyone in the world of business who has some first hand knowledge of the rapid industrialisation of China and India - even just in witnessing what was one day a field worked by farmers becoming an efficient modern factory virtually overnight. This happens against a context of largely continuity and evolution of the local culture. The same forces that allowed the West to rise went on to allow the rest to catch up or start catching up - without the wealth of the Americas.

Finally, there is another question. Why did the West at the point of its dominance have to let go of its empires in Asia and Africa? As the leader by such a margin employing the four point index suggested by Morris, should the West have not been able to easily hold on using its huge advantages? However, it did not. This may suggest that Morris' indexes of capability need to be tested further to explain how a less capable society through mobilisation of its own (on Morris' argument) lesser resources can get rid of the more capable society's political dominance? The answers may involve more than just an aggregation of quantifiable material capabilities as a survey of the history of colonial nationalist movements and their eventual success against powerful Western empires suggests. How the weaker can overcome the stronger is not easily understood using Morris' index. If history could indeed be reduced to the ability to understanding its processes through a capability index, this would make the historian's task so much easier - but less satisfying. If there is a master key to history, it may not be reducible to a capability index of the kind devised by Morris (and he does not make that claim) - and that master key is yet to be found.

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