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Civilization: The West and the Rest

3.78  ·  Rating Details ·  4,965 Ratings  ·  566 Reviews
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 a ...more
ebook, 432 pages
Published 2011 by Allen Lane
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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 09, 2012 Harpal rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 09, 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
Usman Hickmath
May 06, 2017 Usman Hickmath rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“In 1412, Europe was a miserable backwater, while the East was home to dazzling civilizations. So how did the West come to dominate the rest?”

Ferguson has picked up competition, science, property rights, medicine, consumerism and work ethics as the reasons for the domination of West during last five centuries and supported his argument with ample historical evidences. This book is a proof for Ferguson’s ability to tell history in an interesting way: even with so much of historical information an
Aug 10, 2012 Emily rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
11811 (Eleven)
Nov 12, 2016 11811 (Eleven) rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This dude is a genius. I never hesitate to read every article I come across in Foreign Affairs, The Wall Street Journal, or wherever his name pops up but this is only my second book length material after reading Colossus over ten years ago.

This was a combo of Colossus and Guns, Germs and Steel - why some civilizations make it and others do not. If macro-history was a real word, I would use it to describe this book but it isn't so I won't.
Dec 11, 2011 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
Ian Robertson
Jan 05, 2012 Ian Robertson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
H Wesselius
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
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
Bas Kreuger
Feb 10, 2012 Bas Kreuger rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jason Fernandes
Oct 26, 2013 Jason Fernandes rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Civilisation is historian Niall Furguson’s attempt to answer what he sees as perhaps the most important historical question; how did the West go from being the world’s backwater, in the early 15th century, to come to dominate the rest?

Furguson was inspired to write this book in the wake of China’s impressive rise, exemplified by the speed of their economic ascent, their superlative Olympic Games and their impressive cities. Furguson notes that there is an air of concern in the West that we are w
Yves Gounin
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
Patrick F
Jul 07, 2012 Patrick F rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
een verdomd interrestant en prettig boek om te lezen, waarom is het Westen zo verdomd dominant t.o.v. de rest van de wereld?
Alan Jacobs
Dec 22, 2011 Alan Jacobs rated it liked it
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
Jun 13, 2011 Guru rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Mar 23, 2017 Logan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't agree with everything Ferguson says, but he brings up some good points. I enjoyed reading the book but the biggest disappointment I found was a lack of arguments, being mostly a barrage of random facts and declarations without much support. Lots of statements were made without evidence and he jumped from event to event with startling rapidity. It was a whirlwind overview of Western Civilization but I found myself wanting a deeper analysis. Perhaps I'm just not clever enough to connect al ...more
Claude Forthomme
Dec 18, 2011 Claude Forthomme rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jessica Lu
Jan 20, 2015 Jessica Lu rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Ahmed Zakaria
- أظن ان هذا هو التعليق الاول بالعربية على هذا الكتاب ، لذلك دعنا نكتب كل ما نريد لقراء العربية الذين ينون قراءة هذا الكتاب

- بداية ، عنوان الكتاب : الحضارة: كيف هيمنت حضارة الغرب على الشرق والغرب؟ ، وخلال الكتاب تتضح الاجابة ، يقدم لك الكاتب العوامل التى ادت الى ذلك بداية من المنافسة بين الدول الاوروبية مما جعل كل دولة تبرز الافضل عندها لتتقدم ثم ظهور العلوم والاهتمام بالعلماء التى غير حياة الغرب ثم تحدث الملكية وكذلك الطب الذ انقذ الكثير من حياة الاوروبيين الذين كانوا يقلون عاما بعد عاما بسبب
Carl R.
May 16, 2012 Carl R. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Anton De
Apr 03, 2017 Anton De rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I like the idea of using modern day analogy of "killer apps" that are ascribed to the ascendancy of Western Economies. The book is filled with interesting facts and statistics, yet I found that it still reads like a story, so you don't get left all muddled in data. There is understandably, still a very raw nerve in South Africa around the after effects of colonization. I finished reading this on the day that S&P has downgraded South Africa to junk status. If only one could just "download" th ...more
Dec 19, 2011 Dave rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Chad Pillai
Feb 23, 2017 Chad Pillai rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Highly recommend it to understand how we got to where we are and what may loom ahead as others catch up. Recommend reading it in parallel with George Friedman's "Flashpoints" I just finished as well.
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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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“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.” 6 likes
“No civilization, no matter how mighty it may appear to itself, is indestructible.” 5 likes
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