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Civilization: The West and the Rest

3.77  ·  Rating Details  ·  4,312 Ratings  ·  510 Reviews
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”—co
Hardcover, 402 pages
Published March 1st 2011 by Allen Lane
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48th out of 82 books — 310 voters
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5th out of 11 books — 4 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Paul Bryant

Niall Ferguson is exhausting. He leaps, darts, pirhouettes, swandives, uses statistics as Molotov cocktails, he quotes, he hectors, he nudges, he booms, he hollers, he balances, he bulldozes, his book is like 500 years of history considered as a switchback ride, most of which is spent upside down going at 120 miles per hour.

The argument of this book is clear. NF wishes to explain why the West dominated the Rest for the last 500 years,
Jan 10, 2012 Harpal rated it did not like it
Ferguson’s latest book, grandiosely entitled “Civilization”, is a vapid, meandering, and mostly pointless effort that falls woefully short of its ambitious goals. His stated intention is to explain the rise of “the West” from the 15th century backwater that was pre-renaissance Europe to the utterly dominant powers they became in the 19th and 20th centuries. Not only does he offer no novel explanation or nuanced interpretation, but his very answer is incoherent, disorganized, and downright simpli ...more
James Murphy
Jul 02, 2012 James Murphy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a story that can be told in many ways. It's history, a history of the European dominance in world affairs and the reasons for it. It's geopolitics told through Ferguson's prism which receives the vast record of European history during the last several hundred years and projects it into a patten. The West has dominated, he explains, because they differed from the Rest, or excelled while the Rest didn't, in 6 key areas: the spirit of competition, the scientific revolution in the West, stro ...more
Karl Rove
I read everything this man writes that I can lay my hands on. He’s an opinionated, deeply informed, pungent, pugnacious, provocative and often surprising writer. On these scores, his latest book doesn’t disappoint.

A companion volume to British television series of the same name, this trans-Atlantic historian (he teaches at Harvard and Oxford and this year at the London School of Economics) argues the West grew to world dominance because it embraced competition, the scientific revolution, the rul
Jun 01, 2014 Emily rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2012, history, foreigners
It's not a good sign when you spend an entire book wondering "What exactly are you getting at?" I admired Ferguson's book on the history of finance and Jared Diamond's much more famous book on why the West dominated the world, so I expected to enjoy this. While it does have some novel discussions (for example, comparing how England, France, and Germany comported themselves in the treatment of their colonies), I was generally unimpressed by Ferguson's failure to tie his observations into a larger ...more
Ian Robertson
Jan 05, 2012 Ian Robertson rated it it was amazing
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, ...more
H Wesselius
Jan 03, 2012 H Wesselius rated it liked it
Ferguson is a conservative economic historian and an ardent Anglophile. Although there's nothing wrong with either, the bias comes out throughout the book. Ferguson is only the latest in a series of books trying to assign a cause to the rise of the west over other civilizations. Jared Diamons' Guns, Germs and Steel comes to mind and is more original and better than Ferguson's efforts.

Ferguson neglects to discus natural resource starting points and begins instead with cultural advantages. He pos
Feb 24, 2013 David rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-history
Audio book cage match! Niall Ferguson vs. Jared Diamond! Two explanations of western domination of the world go in, only one comes out!

(view spoiler)

Ferguson and Diamond are public intellectuals, conservative and liberal, respectively, in the modern-day US political sense of the c- and l-words. Both of them have, with great effort, constructed historical folk narratives of how the world got the way it is, whether that way is a good thing, and what will cause that way t
Dec 28, 2011 Tony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
CIVILIZATION: The West and the Rest. (2011). Niall Ferguson. ****.
Although this study reads at times like a book for the genral reader, it often slips into becoming a scholarly study, hence becoming neither fish nor fowl. The rating of four-stars could easily have feen five-stars except for this flaw. The author is a noted British historian who, up until now has focused on the world of economics and its effect on the growth of civilization. This study expands the range of influences beyond thos
Bas Kreuger
Feb 10, 2012 Bas Kreuger rated it it was amazing
Is Niall Ferguson an historian? Some people doubt it. I can see what they mean when reading "Civilization, the west and the rest". He is certainly no historian who just relates what happend and how it happend. He is not afraid to give his view on the way the West gained supremacy over the rest the last 500 years or so. I see him more as a pamphleteer, an opinionater, a publicist with a historical streak. His thesis why the west became dominant rests on the 'six killer applications' (to use a mod ...more
Yves Gounin
Apr 03, 2015 Yves Gounin rated it it was ok
Niall Ferguson est une star sans équivalent de ce côté-ci de la Manche. Un mélange détonnant entre Thomas Piketty et Jacques Attali. Comme le premier, c’est au départ un universitaire, spécialiste de l’histoire de la finance, qui consacra ses premiers travaux aux conséquences économiques de la Première guerre mondiale et à l’histoire de la banque Rothschild. Comme le second, il produit à marche forcée des synthèses ébouriffantes sur l’histoire du monde, animé d’un louable effort de vulgarisation ...more
Scott Gates
Western civilization, the West. Decades ago, Edward Said noted Western Europe’s tendency to claim Greek, Roman, and even aspects of Egyptian civilization as its own. The Roman Empire has long been seen (perhaps anachronistically) by the West as a “Western” phenomenon, but it could instead be seen as a Mediterranean phenomenon. Certainly at the time Rome had less to do with the druids and barbarians in present-day northern Europe than it did tradesmen and soldiers from northern Africa and the Nea ...more
Patrick F
Jul 07, 2012 Patrick F rated it really liked it
I give this book a four not because I agree with this, obviously, biased account of how "the West" dominated the world for the last 500 years, but because it was an enthralling read, and it's super enjoyable for me to challenge my own opinions and knowledge.

It's also, at times, relatively nuanced, and it does, in horrendous detail, explain the pseudo-science, hubris, and psychology that precipitated colonization, empire and imperialism, for example. The sections on Nazism, and how it grew from A
Tanja Berg
The author argues that the West has dominated the Rest because of the following six "killer applications" that the Rest lacked:

1. Competition, in that Europe itself was politically fragmented and that within each monarch or republic there were multiple competing entities
2. The Scientific Revolution, in that all the major seventeenth century breakthroughs in mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry and biology happened in Western Europe
3. The rule of law and representative government, in t
Nallasivan V
This book - going by all the reviews - is supposedly well written. But it has a dead certainty about itself that turned me off. Its premise is ambitious: to illustrate that western civilization fared better than oriental civilization because of six unique things like competition, property laws, work ethic, etc. The book starts with a short introduction which briefly explains all these six apps (as it is referred to in the book) and goes onto elaborate on them in the following six sections. But t ...more
Alan Jacobs
Disappointing. The overall theme of the book is enlightening. The division into the West's "killer apps" is thought-provoking. (The six killer apps of the West, which led the West to preeminence while the Rest stagnated, are: Competition (small competing states in Europe vs. huge empires in the East); Science (kabosh put on science in Arabia, China, while Europe forged ahead); Property (private property in North America, widely distributed and alienable, a key to prosperity); Medicine (longer an ...more
Daniel (Attack of the Books!) Burton
May 23, 2012 Daniel (Attack of the Books!) Burton rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Daniel (Attack of the Books!) by: Benjamin Lusty

The elevator pitch for Niall Ferguson's "Civilization: The West and the Rest" is simple: Western civilization has risen to dominate world affairs over the last five hundred years, a record unmatched in world history and at odds with its population and geography relative to other countries and civilizations, due to six "killer apps" that have provided an advantage on the international stage. Further, it may be the West's loss of those same "apps" that is leading to decline now.

Ferguson pegs the r
Jul 10, 2011 Guru rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
Niall Ferguson, the clever British historian-author, indeed has the gift of explaining things. In "Civilization", he looks at the "West" as we know it (both as a culture as well as the socio-economic state that it is) and the "Rest" - the erstwhile colonies, 3rd world countries, South American countries, etc. and tries to see what sets the "West" apart.
The book starts with a peek at the world in the beginning of the 16th century - when Asian cities were not just the largest but also the much mo
Jessica Lu
Jan 20, 2015 Jessica Lu rated it really liked it
A very heavy read that caused my pain in the neck (literally)…

In my opinion, the author is too ambitious to cover this huge and pluralism subject, while in many pages I still find him off-tract from his narrative or point-making. I also found him quite arrogant (pro-British) and even slightly racist (pro-slavery) despite his effort of making them subtle.

However, apart from the above, it is a fantastic read with tapping lots historical knowledge to wow and rational debates to enjoy. It is bold a
Sep 29, 2015 Laura rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Nu-i înțeleg pe oamenii care zic că n-au fost de acord cu ideile din carte, dar i-au dat patru stele fiindcă era bine scrisă. E bine scrisă în sensul că toate cuvintele există în dicționar, sau cum?

Autorul zice că i-a venit ideea cărții, printre altele, fiindcă a observat la copiii lui că nu se mai face școală ca pe vremuri, maică. Copiii nu mai învață care-s conexiunile logice dintre evenimetele istorice. Așa c-a scris el cartea asta ca să ne dumirească, probabil.

Problema e că nu ne dumirește.
Петър Стойков
Добре де, защо някои държави са приятни за живеене, богати и устроени, а други са отвратителни бедни дупки?

Много хора се опитват да обясняват това с географско местоположение, природни ресурси, империализъм, даже масоните. Но за мен тия теории не обясняват достатъчно - защото от държавите с много ресурси има и бедни и богати, от държавите които са били империи има в момента и бедни и богати, от тия, които са били колонии има и бедни и богати... Едни са били силни, огромни империи в миналото, а в
Steve Keefe
Jun 10, 2014 Steve Keefe rated it really liked it
I went back and forth between disliking this book and appreciating the author's deep insight into history. The concluding section, though, ties everything together nicely and makes the book worth studying.

The author is pretty right wing, overall, and at times his political bent very much annoyed me. At some points he seemed to politicize history in an anachronistic way and almost bordered on sounding like a reactionary on issues like climate change. Sadly, all his politicized commentary only ser
Claude Forthomme
Dec 18, 2011 Claude Forthomme rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone interested in the future of our world
An excellent book, well-written and easy (even fun!) to read. A must read if you're wondering where our world is heading, as we are under siege from Islam on one side and China on the other...

Niall Ferguson does not need to be presented: he's probably the top Historian of our Times, together with Paul Kennedy. When he writes something, you should take notice. You many not agree with him on everything (I certainly don't) but his book is never going to be a waste of your time!

In this case he's don
Jul 19, 2013 Nilesh rated it really liked it
There is so much to disagree and dislike in this highly opinionated, almost biased book but it is a great informative read. And it does make a handful of relevant points too although one is forced to nonchalantly (difficult!) ignore a lot others along the way.

Starting from the highly convenient definition of the West (I wonder why the author did not use a modified "Wasp" civilisation rather than the West) and a highly awkward point for the success measurement (right now), the academic author mak
Jan 11, 2016 Ann rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
What distinguished Western civilization after 1500 from the rest of the world? How did its culture come to dominate the rest of the world after that time?

Ferguson suggests several broad reasons which form the outline of his book:
Competition, sience, property rights, medicine, the consumer society, and the work ethic.

Competition fueled much of the dynamism of Western nations. Scientific discoveries enabled, among other things, better armies and guns. Property rights came from belief in the rule
Greg Talbot
Apr 25, 2012 Greg Talbot rated it liked it
Professor Ferguson always has me on the edge of my seat. His dramatic flair in interviews, brilliant oration and sound conclusions from difficult materials always impress me. Civilization does as well. Similar to "Ascent of Money", but this time with historical development instead of economic development Ferguson walks us through history with the question of how did the West ascend since 1500 a.d. to where it is today.

This is a fascinating topic in itself. Ferguson gives plentiful examples and n
Dec 19, 2011 Dave rated it liked it
I did not read this cover-to-cover, so take everything with a handful of salt.

I liked what I read, but this book feels uneven and rushed in parts. Perhaps that is because his subject is so big. While it feels incomplete, the book does raise some pertinent questions and issues for us, given the rise of China and India (to a lesser extent).

Ferguson asserts that the great shift in power from East to West that started ca. 1500 can be traced to what he calls six "Killer Applications" (sometimes he us
Carl R.
May 16, 2012 Carl R. rated it really liked it
Naill Ferguson’s work deserves a great deal more study than I’m willing to give it to properly assess his account and assessment of where we in America and Western Europe came from and where we might be going. Ferguson not only covers an enormous span of history in Civilization: The West and the Rest, but does it in bewildering detail for a book of this relatively short (325 pp.) length and subject matter.

An interesting companion piece to this book is Dr. Joseph Tainter’s The Collapse of Compl
Mar 11, 2012 Doug rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history
Another book on how Western civilization came to be the dominant civilization, he outlines the West's advantage in six critical fields. I think he really should also talk about energy: a civilization's access to it, and also the ability to mobilize it. Not just the Industrial Revolution, but the East's access to vast amounts of human labor and the lack of need to find alternative energy sources, while in the West, the Black Plague which decimated the populations and wars put more of a premium on ...more
Dec 19, 2012 David rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
If you had toured the world in the late 1400s you would have been certain the future powers of the world lay in the east, specifically China. Yet over the next 500 years the west ascended into the most prosperous culture on the planet. Ferguson's book seeks to illustrate how and why this happened. He identifies six "killer apps" that the West adopted: competition, science, property, medicine, consumption and work. It was these which put the west on track to dominating the world.

Ferguson also arg
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Niall Ferguson is a British (Scottish) historian who specialises in financial and economic history as well as the history of empire. He is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University and the William Ziegler Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. He was educated at the private Glasgow Academy in Scotland, and at Magdalen College, Oxford.

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“No civilization, no matter how mighty it may appear to itself, is indestructible.” 5 likes
“It was an idea that made the crucial difference between British and Iberian America – an idea about the way people should govern themselves. Some people make the mistake of calling that idea ‘democracy’ and imagining that any country can adopt it merely by holding elections. In reality, democracy was the capstone of an edifice that had as its foundation the rule of law – to be precise, the sanctity of individual freedom and the security of private property rights, ensured by representative, constitutional government.” 5 likes
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