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Why the West Rules—for Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future

4.08  ·  Rating Details ·  2,924 Ratings  ·  260 Reviews
A New York Times Notable Book for 2011 Sometime around 1750, English entrepreneurs unleashed the astounding energies of steam and coal, and the world was forever changed. The emergence of factories, railroads, and gunboats propelled the West’s rise to power in the nineteenth century, and the development of computers and nuclear weapons in the twentieth century secured its ...more
ebook, 768 pages
Published October 12th 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2010)
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Mal Warwick
Jun 25, 2011 Mal Warwick rated it it was amazing
Something strange was afoot. A mere geographer, Jared Diamond, had had the temerity to publish a history book, upending centuries of historians’ speculations about the reasons why civilization first developed in the Middle East. It was 2005, and the book was Guns, Germs, and Steel.

Five years later an archaeologist, Ian Morris, wrote another history book (for the general reader!) called Why the West Rules — for Now. Building on Diamond’s thesis, Morris laid out his own, more comprehensive view of
Emma Sea
Wow, all those four- and five-star reviews. I disagree.

First up, it should be called Why China Hasn't Ruled the World Up Till Now, But Will After 2103.

The book opens with an AU, in which the Chinese navy forces Queen Victoria to swear fealty, and takes Albert hostage to ensure her co-operation. Morris asks, "Why did British boats shoot their way up the Yangzi in 1842, rather than Chinese ones up the Thames?" (p. 11) This is an exciting and interesting question. Morris finally answers it 546 rat
Mar 11, 2012 Mark rated it liked it
First off, this is a very readable, interesting and often insightful book. It works as a good history of development in East Asia and Europe.

I have mixed feelings about the scale of Morris' ambition, though. Or maybe just his framing.

He seems like he very much wants to the scholar who has *the* theory that explains why Europe came from behind to zoom past China in the last couple centuries, but to some extent the explanation is "civilizations face crises, if they are lucky they aren't that deep
Josh Brett
Dec 04, 2012 Josh Brett rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
While the title "Why the West Rules ... For Now" suggests a right wing polemic mourning the decline of Western Civilization, something written by Niall Ferguson at best, and Mark Levin at worst, Ian Morris' weighty volume is far from it (in fact, he has been criticized as being too culturally relativist). Instead, Ferguson gives a survey of the long view of human history, bringing into focus patterns that are obscured when one views history in terms of decades and centuries. Morris' book is in t ...more
Aug 01, 2011 David rated it it was amazing
Astounding! I was fascinated by the premise of the book (why DOES the West rule, anyway?) but I was blown away by the scope! To make his case, Morris starts us at the dawn of humankind and takes us on a guided tour through all periods of human history until a little less than a year ago.

His writing is wonderful. I felt as though I had a firm grasp on the big picture throughout the entire book. His tone is conversational and he interjects very mild humor where appropriate. As someone who has not
We open with the Chinese navy sailing up the Thames, forcing Queen Victoria to sign a humiliating treaty and taking Prince Albert back to China as a hostage. Why did this story in fact happen the other way around? After all, five hundred years ago the outcome was not obvious.

Ian Morris explores this question by presenting the entire history of a world reduced to two regions, which he chooses to call East and West. The East essentially means China, while the West is defined as the descendants of
Silash Ruparell
Sep 05, 2013 Silash Ruparell rated it it was amazing
Shelves: silash-reviews
This review also appears on my blog at

My one-liner: Quite simply the best popular history book you will ever read. Astounding survey of historical forces that have shaped today’s world.

At the top of the front cover of this book, there is the following quote from Niall Ferguson: “The nearest thing to a unified field theory of history we are ever likely to see”. That is not far off the mark, and it would be impossible to do justice to the breathtaking breadth covered by this
Mehmet Akif  Koc
Aug 13, 2014 Mehmet Akif Koc rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Britanyalı Tarihçi ve Arkeolog Ian Morris'in bu hacimli kitabı (yaklaşık 830 sayfa), insanlık tarihinin son 14.000 yılı üzerine odaklanarak Doğu-Batı mukayesesi, medeniyet tarihi ve gelecek projeksiyonları ortaya koyan ufuk açıcı bir çalışma...

Kitapta "Doğu denildiğinde başta Çin olmak üzere Uzakdoğu; "Batı" denildiğinde ise Mezopotamya ve Akdeniz Havzası (ve bilahare Kuzeybatı Avrupa) ele alınıyor. Bu çerçevede Türk-İslam tarihi Batı çekirdeğinin içerisinde değerlendiriliyor.

Kitabın temel tezi;
The New York Times review (see The Final Conflict , by Orville Schell) of this epic work includes this paragraph in describing the book’s conclusion:
The competition that East and West have been pursuing for so long, Morris warns, is about to be disrupted by some powerful forces. Nuclear proliferation, population growth, global epidemics and climate change are in the process of radically altering old historical patterns. “We are approaching the greatest discontinuity in history,” he says.
After h
This book was Fantastic! A+

Morris' main focus is "energy capture". He examines how organisms capture energy from the sun and from their surrounding environments and use that energy to remain active and build things. His particular interest is in how various groups of humans have captured and used energy over time to build the civilizations we have built throughout history. In addition to energy capture, he looks at the social, cultural, and economical forces that shaped various empires and polit
Mark Gray
Aug 06, 2014 Mark Gray rated it it was amazing
Another truly remarkable book from Ian Morris, I was concerned that there would be too much cross over from the last one I read however they are easily read without that feeling of repetition. This reminds me of The Rise and Fall if Great Powers but with a much broader scope. I need a break to think before I leap into the next Ian Morris book. Highly recommended
John Doyle
Jan 14, 2017 John Doyle rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-read
World historians generally divide into "short-termers" who believe that great individuals and bungling idiots drive history and "long termers" who attribute relative strengths of societies to genetic differences in populations. Ian Morris argues for a third hypothesis -- that biology and sociology determine the path of social development and that all variation between societies is a function of geography. In other words, for example, "an" industrial revolution was inevitable but "the" industrial ...more
Feb 03, 2014 Cuneyt rated it really liked it
Excellent analysis of historical facts from very early ages until twenty first century (even some predictions of the future) that eventually sums up the background for West dominance in the last two chapters. Some of the details in the book makes it even more attractive for Historians and Anthropologists however Political Scientists will find institutional and state level analyses more interesting. If you have time and interest this is a MUST read book!
Apr 10, 2012 Doaa rated it liked it
I'm not done with the book yet, I reached the part where he's comparing as he claims our ancestors, the ones that came from the west and the ones from the east. Despite the fact that I don't believe that our ancestors were monkeys, but the differences he mentioned were realistic. I'm still enjoying the book let's see what happens after i'm done. I hope it doesn't shift to bordem.
Jun 15, 2012 Anthony rated it really liked it
In ‘Why the West Rules – For Now’ Ian Morris has crafted a phenomenal historical reference that provides an enlightened but cautionary perspective of the patterns of human history. As noted by the title, this book explores the distinctions that separate Eastern and Western global power in the present age and how the world came to be the way that it is today. Morris does this remarkably through a comprehensive and multidisciplinary exploration of long-term historical trends that utilizes many ana ...more
João Almeida
Jan 18, 2017 João Almeida rated it it was amazing
A nice complement to Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind.
A comprehensive - somewhat dry - and theoretical explanation of why the West played such an important part in the World's history, and why that will change. If you have a master degree in history, you might find this book suits you, but if you like history as a general interest, this is not a book I'd recommend

I've read Ian Morris's War! What Is It Good For?: Conflict and the Progress of Civilization from Primates to Robots and could have known where I was in for. When Ian Morris writes a book,
May 23, 2013 Russ added it
The author covered a potentially dry topic in a fashion that kept me reading. Not that I found the question embedded in the title boring, it is just that there were many chances to lose the reader since the author went far back in ancient history, traced the East versus West balance to the present, and then projected into the future--a lot of ground was covered. Many relevant statistics were presented to make the author's case, it was generally done with some drama mixed in, which prevented the ...more
Не скажу, що ця книга мені не сподобалася. Вона непогано написана, вона заповнила деякі прогалини в моїх знаннях про розвиток людства. Часом вона розважає, переказуючи історичні анекдоти. Якщо не підходити до неї з серйозними очікуваннями, то вона навіть зможе стати непоганим компаньйоном на довгі місяці (з огляду на свою пухкість). Але якщо читач має хоч якусь історичну, політологічну чи соціологічну підготовку (а інші таких книжок просто не читають), то він неминуче буде розчарований. Продерши ...more
Feb 19, 2012 Rachael rated it really liked it
This includes an enjoyable journey through tens of thousands of human history, following the earliest human migration out of Africa, through the East and west and the chronicling the first civilizations. I am not sure how confident I am of Morris' Social Development metric as an objective measure of, well, advancement of some sort, but surely the general picture is accurate. He provides insight into why the west developed first, why the East overtook the west about 500 CE only for the East to lo ...more
Oct 20, 2012 Mrinal rated it really liked it
The author provides a very fascinating insight into the travails and journeys of modern man to reach the current stage of development. The book is very engaging overall as he takes us through towering heroes, bungling idiots and maps. It is very readable even to a layman in history as he connects the dots to build up a big picture of major historical events like fall of the roman empire, renaissance, genghis khans exploits, industrialization of the west etc, In the process, a lot of perceptions ...more
Ralph Orr
Feb 22, 2012 Ralph Orr rated it liked it
One of the best historic surveys I have read. It covers the scope of human history from before Neanderthal to the present in a way that fascinates and informs. Its focus on the key factors that measure a society's growth over time and its position in relation to others will likely to transform the writing of history for decades. It shows us that historic people and events we thought to be big are often small, and trends we tend to ignore cam be inevitably transformational, and highlights obstacl ...more
Bob Reed
Jul 16, 2011 Bob Reed rated it really liked it
This is a breathtaking ride through history. All of it. Starting in 20,000 B.C. and working forwards. The author attempts to fit all of human history into a single, unifying field theory of the growth and decline of civilizations. Of course he doesn't succeed. But it's still a heck of a ride. Morris' depth of knowledge is breathtaking. It is very well written, and despite being some 700 pages long, I was sorry to see it come to an end. Interestingly, the main theme of the book touches on the age ...more
Mar 08, 2011 Beeb3 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Beeb3 by: Betsy
Shelves: not-chosen
Only the supremely self-confident put forth all-encompassing theories of world history, and Morris is one such daredevil. An archaeologist by academic specialty, he advances a quasi-deterministic construct that is suitable for nonacademics. From a repeatedly enunciated premise that humans by nature are indolent, avaricious, and fearful, Morris holds that such traits, when combined with sociology and geography, explain history right from the beginning, when humanity trudged out of Africa, through ...more
Aug 18, 2013 Terence rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-read
I read this book through Audible and the amount of information provided, especially at the beginning when it was all new to me, made it a bit overwhelming. I imagine that I would have had a different experience if I was reading it. Probably would have read slower. :)

Ian Morris, uses the question in the title to walk you through the history of civilization. He goes back further than any history book I've ever read, and his goals for this book were truly large and impressive.

Honestly the question
Rick Presley
Jul 21, 2014 Rick Presley rated it really liked it
A fascinating look with due consideration on what "might have been." While this may not be definitive, it certainy does get the conversation going.

I think this is a necessary corrective to determinists like Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs, and Steel" which places all the emphasis on geography. If you couple Morris with 1491 and 1493, a picture of the world emerges that is a lot less Eurocentric than Diamond's. For one thing, China did rule and had a huge influence that we don't seem to appreciate.
Radix Hidayat
Aug 31, 2016 Radix Hidayat rated it it was amazing
What made the British Navy that destroyed Qing Chinese's power in the 19th century, rather than Qing navy that do the opposite to the Britain? This book explores the progress of social development in the West and the East from the end of Ice Age to the 20th century.

What caused the West to rule (for now)? Spoiler: it's not genetics nor culture. It's geography. Both East and West experienced similar pattern in its social development progress. Geography gave the West head start to agricultural soc
Sigmund Brouwer
Aug 28, 2011 Sigmund Brouwer rated it it was amazing
My preference is to write reviews of books that I can recommend as 5-star choices. This, of course, is one of them. I can't imagine how many years it took to research and write this fast-reading and lively overview of world history; for those of us who read this book, we have literally borrowed all this time from someone else, because we can absorb his efforts in a matter of hours, and those hours are supremely worth it. From the opening that had my jaw dropping until I realized what was happeni ...more
May 11, 2011 Daniel rated it it was amazing
I was born in Hong Kong and had always wondered why the British & not China ruled her since I was young (until 1997 of course). I read both Western and Chinese history but I didn't find the answer until now. Morris did a great job and I am convinced by his arguments. Geography affects development, but development changes the meaning of geography. Geography spurred the West's development until its cannons blasted all Eastern resistance away from 1800-1900s. That was why Britain could take HK ...more
Sep 16, 2011 Kevan rated it really liked it
A very interesting book in the tradition of, say, Jared Diamond's Guns Germs and Steel. It's broader in scope that GGS which has pros and cons. Morris asks and answers interesting questions that Diamond doesn't touch on. However, he simply doesn't have time, even 700 pages to go into any detail about specifics.

Niall Ferguson's cover quote might be a bit over the top - "The nearest thing to a unified field theory of history we are ever likely to get" but definitely worth a read if you're into ide
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“History, n. An account, mostly false, of events, mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers, mostly knaves, and soldiers, mostly fools.” 3 likes
“around 11,000 BCE an elderly woman was buried at ‘Ain Mallaha with one hand resting on a puppy, both of them curled up as if asleep.” 1 likes
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