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Civilization
Cover of Civilization
Civilization
The West and the Rest
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From the bestselling author of The Ascent of Money and The Square and the Tower
“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

Western civilization’s rise to global dominance is the single most important historical phenomenon of the past five centuries.
How did the West overtake its Eastern rivals? And has the zenith of Western power now passed? Acclaimed historian Niall Ferguson argues that beginning in the fifteenth century, the West developed six powerful new concepts, or “killer applications”—competition, science, the rule of law, modern medicine, consumerism, and the work ethic—that the Rest lacked, allowing it to surge past all other competitors.
Yet now, Ferguson shows how the Rest have downloaded the killer apps the West once monopolized, while the West has literally lost faith in itself. Chronicling the rise and fall of empires alongside clashes (and fusions) of civilizations, Civilization: The West and the Rest recasts world history with force and wit. Boldly argued and teeming with memorable characters, this is Ferguson at his very best.
From the bestselling author of The Ascent of Money and The Square and the Tower
“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

Western civilization’s rise to global dominance is the single most important historical phenomenon of the past five centuries.
How did the West overtake its Eastern rivals? And has the zenith of Western power now passed? Acclaimed historian Niall Ferguson argues that beginning in the fifteenth century, the West developed six powerful new concepts, or “killer applications”—competition, science, the rule of law, modern medicine, consumerism, and the work ethic—that the Rest lacked, allowing it to surge past all other competitors.
Yet now, Ferguson shows how the Rest have downloaded the killer apps the West once monopolized, while the West has literally lost faith in itself. Chronicling the rise and fall of empires alongside clashes (and fusions) of civilizations, Civilization: The West and the Rest recasts world history with force and wit. Boldly argued and teeming with memorable characters, this is Ferguson at his very best.
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  • From the book China seems to have been long stationary, and had probably long ago acquired that full complement of riches which is con- sistent with the nature of its laws and institutions. But this complement may be much inferior to what, with other laws and institutions, the nature of its soil, climate, and situation might admit of. A country which neglects or despises foreign commerce, and which admits the vessels of foreign nations into one or two of its ports only, cannot transact the same quantity of business which it might do with different laws and institutions . . . A more extensive foreign trade . . . could scarce fail to increase very much the manufactures of China, and to improve very much the productive powers of its manufactur- ing industry. By a more extensive navigation, the Chinese would naturally learn the art of using and constructing them- selves all the different machines made use of in other countries, as well as the other improvements of art and industry which are practised in all the different parts of the world.
    Adam Smith

    Why are they small and yet strong? Why are we large and yet weak? . . . What we have to learn from the barbarians is only . . . solid ships and effective guns.
    Feng Guifen

    Civilization

    Two rivers The Forbidden City (Gugong) was built in the heart of Beijing by more than a million workers, using materials from all over the Chin- ese Empire. With nearly a thousand buildings arranged, constructed and decorated to symbolize the might of the Ming dynasty, the For- bidden City is not only a relic of what was once the greatest civilization in the world; it is also a reminder that no civilization lasts for ever. As late as 1776 Adam Smith could still refer to China as 'one of the rich- est, that is, one of the most fertile, best cultivated, most industrious, and most populous countries in the world . . . a much richer country than any part of Europe'. Yet Smith also identified China as 'long sta- tionary' or 'standing still'.1 In this he was surely right. Within less than a century of the Forbidden City's construction between 1406 and 1420, the relative decline of the East may be said to have begun. The impoverished, strife-torn petty states of Western Europe embarked on half a millennium of almost unstoppable expansion. The great empires of the Orient meanwhile stagnated and latterly succumbed to Western dominance.

    Why did China founder while Europe forged ahead? Smith's main answer was that the Chinese had failed to 'encourage foreign com- merce', and had therefore missed out on the benefits of comparative advantage and the international division of labour. But other explana- tions were possible. Writing in the 1740s, Charles de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu, blamed the 'settled plan of tyranny', which he traced back to China's exceptionally large population, which in turn was due to the East Asian weather: I reason thus: Asia has properly no temperate zone, as the places situ- ated in a very cold climate immediately touch upon those which are exceedingly hot, that is, Turkey, Persia, India, China, Korea, and Japan. In Europe, on the contrary, the temperate zone is very extensive . . . it thence follows that each [country] resembles the country joining it; that there is no very extraordinary difference between them . . . Hence it comes that in Asia, the strong nations are opposed to the weak; the war- like, brave, and active people touch immediately upon those who are indolent, effeminate, and timorous; the one must, therefore, conquer, and the other be conquered. In Europe, on the contrary, strong nations are opposed to the strong; and those who join each other have nearly the same courage. This is the...
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    September 12, 2011
    Ferguson (Colossus), Harvard historian, polymath, and bestselling author, joins others who’ve tried to explain the rise and dominance of the West, “the pre-eminent historical phenomenon of the second half of the second millennium after Christ.” He also has his eye on an increasingly pressing concern: the threats, from inside and outside, to Western hegemony. Ferguson attributes the West’s supremacy and the spread of Western ways to six factors: competition, science, property rights (the rule of law), medicine, the consumer society, and the work ethic. It’s a grab bag of plausible conditions that differ from reasons cited by other students of the subject, but all hard to prove. Ominously, from Ferguson’s perspective, “the fortuitous weakness of the West’s rivals” is turning to strengths, threatening Western supremacy. Turning from historian to seer, Ferguson thus foresees the West’s decline and fall (of which he seems convinced) arising from both self-inflicted wounds (such as self-indulgence and weakening educational systems) and the strengthening of nations, such as China, that are modernizing and improving the education of their young people. Perhaps. The book would have gained by greater focus and less of a jumble of details. The reason for Ferguson’s fear of “the rest” isn’t clear, but those who share his concern will find that he has penned a sobering caution. Illus.

  • Kirkus

    September 1, 2011

    Ever-nimble historian Ferguson (History/Harvard Univ.; The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World, 2008, etc.) examines the factors that led to the rise of the West rather than the East.

    The author boldly takes on 600 years of world events, keeping an eye always to the pertinence of the material in relation to the modern era, so that the history lesson remains fresh and compelling. The consideration of why Western Europe took predominance from around 1500 onward is not new, for example, having been undertaken by the likes of Samuel Johnson and Max Weber. Ferguson's six factors are fairly standard, yet tidily presented and contextually developed in discrete chapters: competition, science, property rights, medicine, the consumer society and the work ethic. Although China had developed enormous innovations early on—in medicine, the printing press, paper and gunpowder—the colossus had closed its door to exchanging ideas with the rest of the world; the Arab world, despite being the custodian of classical knowledge, innovator in mathematics and astronomy and conqueror of many lands, was finally turned back at the Siege of Vienna of 1683, marking the long Ottoman eclipse and the ascent of the West. While the "heirs of Osman" began looking at freethinkers and scientific inquiry as blasphemous to the Koran, England and France had established scientific academies sponsored by the crown, and rulers like Frederick the Great of Prussia welcomed religious tolerance and free inquiry. The Enlightenment took off, and through numerous brilliant works which Ferguson touches on briefly but comprehensively, important civilizing tenets were encoded in the West, such as the separation of church and state, the importance of literacy, the protection of private property, the rule of law and representative government. The author looks at the effect of the Protestant work ethic and compares it to the Chinese sense of labor and thrift—culminating in projections of similar ascent for China.

    A richly informed, accessible history lesson.

     

    (COPYRIGHT (2011) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

  • Library Journal

    June 1, 2011

    China and Ottoman Turkey had advanced empires at a time when Europeans were living in mud huts, but things have since changed. Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University, Ferguson explains the rise of the West by saying that it developed six key concepts, or "killer applications" (love that technospeak): competition, science, the rule of law, consumerism, modern medicine, and the work ethic. Now the "rest" of the world has latched onto those apps. Thought-provoking and possibly controversial; I'm dying to see.

    Copyright 2011 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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