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The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success

3.92  ·  Rating Details ·  449 Ratings  ·  84 Reviews
Many books have been written about the success of the West, analyzing why Europe was able to pull ahead of the rest of the world by the end of the Middle Ages. The most common explanations cite the West’s superior geography, commerce, and technology. Completely overlooked is the fact that faith in reason, rooted in Christianity’s commitment to rational theology, made all t ...more
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Published December 18th 2007 by Random House (first published December 6th 2005)
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Douglas Wilson
Aug 23, 2009 Douglas Wilson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This is one of the most satisfying books I have read in a long time. It is one thing to reject, as I have for many years, the idea of the "Dark Ages," but Stark demonstrates just how "undark" they were. Leave it to secular thinkers to tag the most advanced human society to date as a period of blind superstition. And this book is potent evidence against those who want to represent free markets as an Enlightenment concept, one that Christians should leave behind. What we now call capitalism was al ...more
Jun 19, 2010 Patrick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
Given the title of this book, I expected an expert but narrowly-focused argument. Rodney Stark delivers far more than that. He may be the best researcher writing nonfiction today, and his prose is never dry or needlessly academic. The result is a gripping one-volume history of Christendom from an economic point of view. Stark addresses (and demolishes) the myths of the "Dark Ages," while also regaling the reader with tales about the Italian city-states, not to mention France, Spain, England, the ...more
Apr 12, 2008 Jason rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Professor Stark, a Baylor University social sciences professor, has written a book that should complement recent works by men like Jared Diamond or Victor Davis Hanson, in explaining why the West, and especially why particular forms of Christianity have led to unique successes for its adherents around the present world. Stark has written to especially critique ideas in the famous book, the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Instead he argues that Christianity in general has led to fo ...more
About 15% of the way in, it became clear that this book would be controversial in a public way.

Without being an apologist for Stark, and certainly not so only this far in, he is making me consider some things that I had not considered before.

In specific, in the Christian model the individual makes free-will choices and is responsible for those choices. This assertion is then coupled with the duty of that individual to understand and use the formal process of ~reason~ to come to conclusions abo
Jun 11, 2010 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rodney Stark argues here, as he has in other places, that it was Christian faith that motivated the West to pursue capitalism. From this pursuit came western success. Stark argues that those who dissociate Christian faith from western achievements such as science and capitalism are rewriting history.

Stark argues in chapter one that Christian faith was unique in believing that progress was God-given. This allowed later theologians to reinterpret scripture when necessary. Therefore, while the Bibl
When Stark can make broad-sweeping, but not very accurate statements such as "Capitalism was developed by the great monastic estates," you know to buckle your seat belts, you're in for a historically bumpy ride.

Here, as in "For the Glory of God," Stark claims to be rehabilitating Christian religious history from people labeled as militant atheists and others who are always implied to be inaccurate rewriters of history.

Well, if you read my more in-depth review of that book, you'll see that, while
Mar 13, 2011 Ron rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is commonplace to think of Christianity and rationalism as opposite historical and philosophical forces. In this study, Stark demonstrates that elements within Christianity actually gave rise not only to visions of reason and progress but also to the evolution of capitalism."Rodney Stark may be the most influential religious researcher of the past hundred years. He has revolutionized contemporary thought about religion and economics, and in this book - his most provocative yet - he makes a co ...more
Dec 21, 2011 Robert rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I learned more about world history and the rise of the West by reading this book than in all of my history classes through high-school and college. The Victory of Reason opened my eyes to the development of capitalism in the West as an out-springing of monotheism and the belief that God wants man to use his reason. Stark dispels many myths about the "dark ages" and sheds some very practical light on the disparity between North and South America. He is able to present and support his ideas withou ...more
Jeffrey Backlin
Aug 31, 2015 Jeffrey Backlin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
The clarity an honesty of this book are refreshing. The author cuts through the platitudes of politically correct verbage and notes that Christianity is a powerful conceptual force that brought about modern society. Stark notes that Christianity is a rational theological enterprise that lends towards progress in thinking and that the dark ages are a misnomer: considerable frameworks where created for the emergence of Capitalism. Well written, will read more of Stark for sure.
Zach Hedges
I must say that I was quite disappointed when I finished this book, whose title and summary seemed so intriguing to me. Unfortunately, Stark's main thesis--that the principle of "reason", as unique to Christianity, was the primary factor in the rise of capitalism and indeed all of Western civilization--is largely confined to his introduction and conclusion. The chapters in between are dedicated to unnecessarily detailed descriptions (through the use of "case studies") of capitalism's evolution t ...more
Aug 28, 2012 Dennis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love well-researched books that correct the false impressions left to us from historians who write with an anti-Christian agenda. Authors such as Edward Gibbons (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,) Jared Diamond (Guns, Gems and Steel), Carl Sagan (The Demon Haunted World) and Daniel Boorstin (The Discoverers) either through innuendo, ambivalence, or outright animosity, leave their readers with the impression that Christianity was either irrelevant, or else a great impediment to progress ...more
Michael Gerald
Dec 03, 2015 Michael Gerald rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Faith and science are not – and should not – be locked in conflict. As the search and production of knowledge in the Medieval Period shows, the Christian faith did not hamper the development of science; it actually inspired it. To deny modern science’s Christian roots can be considered a most vile form of intellectual dishonesty. With the strong adherence to reason as a gift that ought to be used to understand God’s nature, ways, and the universe He created, Catholic medieval scholars embarked o ...more
I was willing to read this book because Stark is not a theologian, nor is he Christian; he's a sociologist and therefore his perpsective is a little different. I am not religious but I do love history, the social sciences and I have a slight fascination with the origins of ritual behaviors.

The development of western civilization is so intertwined with religion it seems this book helps fills in some of the gaps where other history books end or fail to give a clear picture.

I have two complaints;
Allen Knight
Jul 02, 2016 Allen Knight rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Often, we forget the heritage of Christianity, and, yes, the most important element is that of eternal life and forgiveness through Christ, the son of God, but there were, are, and will be continuing benefits to the whole world in the understanding of freedom, free markets, principles, and virtue. Stark helps us to remember, to learn, and to ponder.
May 02, 2008 Laurie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: christians, sociologists, people who like interesting books
Recommended to Laurie by: Relevant magazine
When I took this book off the shelf in the Sociology section of the New York Public Library, I immediately wondered if this book would read like a college textbook. I will say that you should not attempt this book if you are feeling at all tired because it will only make your eyelids droop. However, when I was full of life, this book by Rodney Stark was very interesting. Stark basically defends the idea that Christianity lead to technological innovations and new ways of running society (capitali ...more
Sep 24, 2010 Andy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who enjoys history, wants their mind stretched, Christian libertarians
A fascinating thesis, well reasoned and documented. Great history, covering eras and items that are frequently neglected. Could barely put it down. And yes, he documents not just HOW but WHY and what about Christianity it is that leads to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western success. He shows that the Rationality and Reason that informs Christianity, as well as the belief in an ordered universe that makes sense and can be understood, the belief in equality before God, and many more fundamental tenet ...more
Jan 22, 2016 E rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One might think from the subtitle that this book is a discussion of various principles of the Christian faith, and how they led to, well, "freedom, capitalism, and western success." But Stark basically covers that topic in the first chapter. He writes of how Christianity, as opposed to, say, Islam or Buddhism, encouraged innovation, risk, and the value of every human being. In other words, the bedrock principles of capitalism. The rest of the book then traces out how those ideals led to greater ...more
Mar 06, 2014 Christopher rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reading Stark is always an adventure. A great deal of unique, stellar material, and just enough bad to keep you on your toes. Easily the best thing about the book is how he completely rejects the notion of the Dark Ages as a myth perpetuated by sour people, and then subverts it completely.

His first section on Christianity promotes economic and political freedom was good overall, though his grasp of good Christian theology left something to be desired. On a related note, his material on pre-enlig
Jun 08, 2011 Andrew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic. On the whole, very, very good. This book is for anyone who has ever been told that Christianity has been bad for civilization/progress. My main beef with the book is how much regard Stark hold democracy in as far as establishing free societies. Biblical law establishes free society, not allowing people to choose their despots, I mean, rulers, but I digress. A book for anyone who wants to have an insight into the implications of Post-Millenial Christianity.
Levi Crawford
Apr 19, 2015 Levi Crawford rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mr. Stark has done a bang-up job rescuing the reputation of medieval Christianity from the accusations of Enlightenment radicals and their intellectual descendants. In the current climate of Christophobic academia, this work shines as a beacon of truth, blinding Christianity's enemies with the light of reason and history. It is the Victory of Reason - over the revisions of Voltaire and his ilk.

Stark conclusively proves that Christianity alone allows its societies to be based on reason and progre
Apr 07, 2012 Phil rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics, history
Genuinely outstanding historical analysis of European history from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment. Emphasizes the economic and intellectual activity of the Middle Ages. If you have any notion that the Middle Ages were dark, backward, or stagnant, read this book right now.
Greg Coates
Mar 06, 2014 Greg Coates rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Infuriatingly ideological, poorly researched, and filled to the brim with triumphalistic racism, this book is the epitome of religious right hagiographical hubris. Just a few notes for Rodney Stark:

- for the love of all things good in this world, cease equivocating your modernist, Lockean, post-Enlightenment language of "rights," "freedom," and "liberty" with the biblical concepts (which are ENTIRELY different). As a historian, you should know better. You commit the foul of anachronism to the nt
Rick Davis
This is a book that ought to be widely read. Stark overreaches a few times in my opinion, but even then he's a good conversation partner.
Justin Tapp
Stark sets out to challenge anthropologists like Jared Diamond who contend that Europeans rose to prominence mainly out of geographic factors in their favor. Stark's hypothesis is that Christian thinking-- forward looking thought towards progress and in favor of basic equality and property rights-- led to European development. That while the decline of the Roman Empire is something historians have lamented in centuries past, it was precisely the catalyst that freed up individuals to become entre ...more
Stark makes the case that medieval monks, during those slandered dark ages, birthed capitalism that would develop Western culture. He defines capitalism as "an economic system wherein privately owned, relatively well organized, and stable firms pursue complex commercial activities within a relatively free (unregulated) market, taking a systematic, long-term approach to investing an reinvesting wealth (directly or indirectly) in productive activities involving a hired workforce, and guided by ant ...more
Jan 21, 2010 Rogers rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Stark attempts to explain that capitalism has roots far deeper than the Reformation, and attempts to debunk long held notions about Greek logic, the Roman Empire, and how capitalism took hold in areas where rights of property and freedom were respected.

He is at his best when he cites empirical data. His explanations why England took off, why Latin and South America lagged behind North America, and why prosperous city-states like Venice declined are well argued.

I have only two complaints. One, th
Timothy Bertolet
The thesis of the book is simple: Christianity encouraged the use of reason which lead the rise of freedom and capitalism. In this book Stark takes on the sort of post-enlightenment lore that Christianity led to the dark ages and reason did not spring forth until post-Renaissance and even later until the dawning of "enlightenment".

In fact, Stark shows the the "dark ages" were hardly dark. This is not a new thesis to historians of the middle ages, as a number of recent studies have shown--yet thi
W. Littlejohn
If I had come across this book in a vacuum, no doubt I would’ve thought it mediocre and occasionally annoying, but nothing to get worked up about. But, knowing as I did (from word of mouth and from the enthusiastic blurbs on the cover) that many in conservative evangelical circles loved this book, I spent the entire time I was reading vexed by the question “Why?” And unable to satisfactorily answer that question, I found myself in a very ill temper throughout. Now, because this book received suc ...more
The reigning perception of Christianity in the academy is of a faith that is the enemy of reason from which enlightenment humanism liberated us. Rodney Stark would contend that this is a characterization without basis in fact. In The Victory of Reason he argues that the distinctive progress of the west in science, technology, commerce, human rights, and democratic institutions can be traced back to the distinctive character of Christian belief.

What is more intriguing is that he argues that this
Max Evans
Aug 24, 2013 Max Evans rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Rodney Stark is becoming my hero. I first heard of him when he wrote the article about how Mormons were going to become a new world religion. That got me to start looking for things that he wrote. I was surprised when I found out that he'd written a number of books as well. One was a trilogy about monotheism and this is the end of that series. The things that he writes are fascinating to me.

One of his books opened my eyes to the third great monotheism, Islam. He wrote about Islam in a way that I
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Rodney Stark grew up in Jamestown, North Dakota, and began his career as a newspaper reporter. Following a tour of duty in the U.S. Army, he received his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, where he held appointments as a research sociologist at the Survey Research Center and at the Center for the Study of Law and Society. He left Berkeley to become Professor of Sociology and of Compa ...more
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