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Synopsis

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
Average rating
4.3 / 5
1 person found this helpful
No Surprises...
January 14th, 2013
Ferguson is thorough, if nothing else. His descriptions of the six factors that caused the west to advance so far so fast (500 years) and to stay ahead so long is an interesting exhaustive cultural journey. He makes a case that the end of this lead is approaching, well maybe. Several authors make the case that the west's lead is shrinking and they call this the "decline" of the west. If underdeveloped societies advance and close the gap, that is good news for them and for the west. More equality, more prosperity, more competition, more innovation ... All good.
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