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Civilization: The West and the Rest

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  8,186 ratings  ·  802 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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Average rating 3.85  · 
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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 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
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
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
James Murphy
Jun 09, 2012 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
Aug 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: global-dynamics
A must-read for history buffs. Surprisingly, the most interesting stats are on China. Ferguson loses credibility only when opining that tall height is a western introduction. (Colonial New England diarists habitually recount 6 foot native men, and Maasai male warriors average just under 7 ft.)

Wow moments :

“In 1500… the biggest city was Beijing, with a population of 600,000 to 700,000.”

“As late as 1776, Adam Smith could still refer to China as ‘one of the richest, that is, one of the
Dec 11, 2011 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
Usman Hickmath
May 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
“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 rated it it was ok
Shelves: foreigners, history, 2012
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
Maru Kun
Oct 16, 2018 marked it as not-to-read
"...all that we admire on this earth - science, art, technical skill and invention - is the creative product of only a small number of nations...All this culture depends on them for its very existence...If we divide the human race into three categories - founders, maintainers, and destroyers of culture - the Aryan stock alone can be considered as representing the first category...".
Hitler doesn't have a goodreads account, so we have to look in Mein Kampf to see what he would have to say about th
Ian Robertson
Jan 05, 2012 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
Jason Fernandes
Oct 26, 2013 rated it did not like it
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
11811 (Eleven)
Nov 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
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 06, 2012 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
Bas Kreuger
Feb 10, 2012 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
Adam Marischuk
Apr 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, economics
What caused the ascendancy of Western Europe over and against much larger, more established, homogenous and resource rich clans, kingdoms, empires? Professor Ferguson lays out six "killer apps" that the West possessed or developed that the Rest lacked to varying degree (p. 305-6):
1. Competition, in that Europe itself was politically fragmented and that within each monarchy or republic there were multiple competing corporate entities.
2. The Scientific Revolution, in that all the major seventeent
H Wesselius
Dec 31, 2011 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
Patrick F
Jul 07, 2012 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
Daniel Burton
May 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Daniel 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
Sep 12, 2020 rated it liked it
Same arguments as Empire, but tries to cover way too much territory
In a similar vein to his earlier Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World (2002), Niall Ferguson stretches his thesis onto a much broader canvas, using the annoyingly-modern catch phrase "killer apps" (clearly the marketing dept had the upper hand here) to describe the six key differentiating factors that have allowed Western nations to dominate the rest of the world for the past five centuries thanks to 1) competition, 2) scien
Jun 13, 2011 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
I enjoyed this book. It had two main arguments. First, Ferguson argues that the difference between the West and the Rest is a matter of institutions:

In this book, I want to show that what distinguished the West from the Rest, the mainsprings of global power, were six identifiably novel complexes of institution and associated with ideas and behaviors. For the sake of simplicity, I summarize them under six headings:
1. Competition
2. Science
3. Property Rights
4. Medicine
5. The Consumer Society
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
Mark Hartzer
Jan 12, 2012 rated it liked it
This book had promise and a good premise; namely, how and why Western Civilization was able to run the table on world economics for better than 500 years. Unfortunately, Ferguson really messes up on drawing logical conclusions. I don't have the book at my fingertips, so I may have to go back and edit this, but I don't think he can clearly elucidate his 'killer applications' that allowed the West to dominate the world for these past 500 years. Superficial religious claptrap like 'The Protestant W ...more
Feb 09, 2013 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
Mary Alice
Jan 05, 2013 rated it it was ok
Ferguson's thesis: there are six killer apps and a civilization needs these in order to be dominant. The killer apps are competition, science, technology, medicine, consumption and work. Ferguson devotes a chapter to each. His chapters on competition, science and technology are well-organized and support his thesis quite well. But his chapters on medicine, consumption and work are full of digressions as Ferguson tries to cover much of western history that does not fall under any of his killer ap ...more
Stuart Macalpine
Jul 26, 2018 rated it it was ok
It is probably good for you to read books by people you know you disagree with in many ways - keeps you open minded and a bit flexible. There are many passages in the book that make you want to vomit at the author's smug, cliche ridden, easy platitudes presented as insights - never was the self-deluding echo-chamber of arrogance so resounding broadcast. As I started reading the text I mentioned to my wife I remember going to one of his lectures at a student 25 years ago and being entertained by ...more
Petra Sršić
beware of the killer applications
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
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Niall Ferguson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, former Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University and current senior fellow at the Center for European Studies at Harvard University, a visiting professor at Tsinghua University, Beijing, and founder and managing director of advisory firm Greenmantle LLC.

The author of 15 books, Ferguson is writin

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