Civilization: The West and the Rest
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Civilization: The West and the Rest

3.74 of 5 stars 3.74  ·  rating details  ·  2,658 ratings  ·  374 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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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,...more
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
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...more
Ian Robertson
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
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...more
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...more
Bas Kreuger
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
Patrick F
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...more
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...more
Daniel (Attack of the Books!) Burton
May 23, 2012 Daniel (Attack of the Books!) Burton rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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...more
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...more
Steve Keefe
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...more
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
Claude Nougat
Dec 18, 2011 Claude Nougat rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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...more
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...more
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
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...more
Greg Talbot
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...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
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...more
Well that took a forever to finish. This time it wasn't entirely the book's fault, it was mostly mine for not having time to read. That preface is needed because to be honest, I have already forgotten most of the things I read in the first chapters. The structure is nice, with the six killer apps and how the author manages to fit a lot of things under each of them. I liked the property part most because it actually taught me a lot of new - mostly about South American countries and their history...more
Carl Brush
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...more
Erez Davidi
Having read "The Cash Nexus: Money and Power in the Modern World, 1700-2000," "The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World", and "The War of the World", which is by far Ferguson's best book, I had great exceptions and I wasn't disappointed.

In Civilization, Ferguson tries to answer the question of what caused the West (mostly North America and West Europe), from approximately the year 1500, to dominate the world militarily, scientifically and economically. Ferguson attributes the Wester...more
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
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...more
The author has a reactionary view of civilization, worships the past and fears the future. His six 'killer apps' are an exaltation of imperialism, globalization and religious orthodoxy. Much as I disagree with so much of his analysis and his reading of history, I recognize him to be a principled conservative. He offers a reasonable defense of private property, but his essays on science, medicine and consumerism are filled with non sequiturs and question begging. I also find his view of religion...more
L.A. Starks
Here's another "if this is the only book you read" kind of review.

Ferguson succinctly, honestly captures the changes of civilizations through his six "killer apps, including why the West has predominated for the last five hundred years but may lose its spot to China. In particular, his analysis that changes are not gradual, but sudden---the proverbial tipping point--is a good one.

There is nuance. For example, he mentions Max Weber. While Ferguson cites the work ethic as one of the six killer a...more
Far too much has been said about the works of Niall Ferguson for me to add anything profound. This book is full of brilliant insights and horseshit, and it is up to you, dear reader to tell one from the other. As always, Ferguson writes with verve and panache. You will certainly finish the book smarter than when you began it. Enjoy.
Andy Melvin

Excellent, and excellently written, overview of the last 500 years of world history. How did the West come to dominate the Rest during that time? For
Ferguson, it comes down to Competition, the Scientific Revolution (and the Ottoman's staunch refusal to participate in it), the rule of law and representative democracy, medicine, consumerism and the work ethic. Each of these 6 sections are full of colorful characters and wonderful insights. I learned a lot about
Ming China, Frederick the Great, Ge...more
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Niall Ferguson (born April 18, 1964, in Glasgow) 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 Magdal...more
More about Niall Ferguson...
The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World Empire: How Britain Made The Modern World The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West The Pity of War: Explaining World War I Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire

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