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The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  3,009 ratings  ·  400 reviews
Most history is hierarchical: it's about emperors, presidents, prime ministers and field marshals. It's about states, armies and corporations. It's about orders from on high. Even history "from below" is often about trade unions and workers' parties. But what if that's simply because hierarchical institutions create the archives that historians rely on? What if we are miss ...more
Hardcover, 592 pages
Published January 16th 2018 by Penguin Press (first published October 2017)
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Roman Clodia
3.5 stars for fuelling debate

More polemic than history, Ferguson has certainly digested a huge amount of material and tries to re-cast the entire history of mankind as a constant struggle between the power of hierarchies and networks. This kind of systematic binary categorisation, however, tends to simplify his vision - as his own narrative makes clear, the boundaries between a hierarchy and a network may shift, dissolve and reform: Russian communism, and Hitler's fascism might both have started
☘Misericordia☘ ⚡ϟ⚡⛈⚡☁ ❇️❤❣
Staggering political naivete...
... a time when intellectual diversity is the form of diversity that seems to be least valued in universities... (c)
Some among my contemporaries pursued wealth; few achieved it without at least a period of indentured servitude, usually working for a bank. (c)
Imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, even when it is unconscious. (c)
To call Weishaupt’s thinking eclectic would be an understatement: his designs for the Order also included elements fr
Charles Haywood
Jan 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book, by the always fascinating Niall Ferguson (though his main product for sale is always himself), analyzes capsule summaries of episodes from history, in order to negatively contrast spontaneous, networked action (the “square”) with hierarchical control (the “tower”). Two theses flow from this, one stated early on, the other only explicitly presented at the end. The first is that our networked age is not unique; in fact, it is the second such age, and lessons are to be gained from this, ...more
May 15, 2018 rated it liked it
I am a big fan of Niall Ferguson's writing. He has the gift of being able to explain a complex subject in a lively, entertaining but intellectually responsible way - perhaps nowhere more so than in his wonderful 2008 book, "Money: a financial history of the world".

I therefore looked forward to reading "The Square and the Tower". In fact, I was biased toward it before I even opened it. The fact that I can only give it three stars is an indication of my disappointment. This book has a feeling of b
Michael Cayley
Oct 14, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: history
Niall Ferguson is the author of, among other works, a superb history of the British Empire. I came to this book with high expectations and found it a huge disappointment.

Its central thesis is meant to be that networks of people who may be in themselves regarded as unimportant have played key roles in history. But much of the book is actually narrative history that focuses largely on people who have long been regarded as prominent individuals - rather belying the thesis. A much too long introduct
Bryan Alkire
Apr 21, 2020 rated it it was ok
Not very good. I usually enjoy this author’s work, but not this reread. About the only good thing about this book is the idea of a history of social networks. The organization is not good…the chapters are too short and not in-depth enough and are inconsistent throughout at tying things together. The writing is dry and it was a struggle to finish. The content wasn’t really new research, seemed to be bits and pieces of the research he did for previous works. In sum, this seemed to be a lazy effort ...more
Feb 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a big book in many ways. Niall Ferguson is a British historian who takes on complex issues. In this book he attempts, mostly successfully, to describe the characteristics of networks and hierarchies. He begins with a discussion of the Illuminati - there is a lot of confusion about who the Illuminati were - a small group of German intellectuals in Bavaria who thought that with the right amount of thinking almost any problem could be solved. Like most of their like they were a) secretive a ...more
I was approved for a copy for review via NetGalley!

Sadly, this was a DNF for me at 20%. I am personally not the biggest fan of non-fiction works and found some of the terminology difficult to understand. I did like the use of diagrams though, as this made the chapters look visual. Sadly, I lost interest and will not be finishing.
The Square and the Tower by Niall Ferguson, Networks (The Square) Tower (Hierarchies) interestingly Ferguson points out that networks historically thought of as the powerless unwashed masses did in fact disrupt Hierarchies throughout history on a regular basis for instance "The French American and Russian revolutions" to name a couple, even Henry Kissinger the consummate professional powerless as an individual but then hired by the US Presidential office and suddenly master in the tower of power ...more
May 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, 2018
Drawing on the best modern scholarship, this book seeks to rescue the history of networks from the clutches of the conspiracy theorists, and to show that historical change often can and should be understood in terms of precisely such network-based challenges to hierarchical orders.

In both the Introduction to and the Afterword following the meat of The Square and the Tower, author Niall Ferguson invokes the image of the Piazza del Campo in Siena, Tuscany – a medieval square that hosts informa
Oct 10, 2019 rated it it was ok

2.5 Stars!

“Successful networks evade public attention; unsuccessful ones attract it, and it is their notoriety, rather than their achievement, that leads to their over-representation.”

The preface of this is a fairly nauseating mix of humble bragging and profound lack of self-awareness, which is typical of someone who moves in the circles Ferguson does. He talks of meeting the son of a distinguishing banker at a tea party at the British consulate “By sheer good luck” and this really sets the tone
11811 (Eleven)
Apr 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Every time I read this guy I walk away with a new perspective on history. He does mostly economic history but has a true gift for seeing the big picture in the evolution of human progress as a whole. ‘From the Freemasons to Facebook’ is an apt subtitle. It presents a healthy comparison of current social networking trends to the traditional networking of the past and gives a good idea of what to expect in the future, including possible future wars in Cyberia (I love that word.) Fascinating stuff. ...more
Feb 22, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
I enjoy reading Ferguson's books, and this one was no different. However, it was not my favorite from this author. The science and history behind networks was fascinating, and it was interesting to see how the interaction between networks and hierarchies shaped history. However, I would have liked more depth and a wider variety of historical examples of the hierarchy vs. network struggle. I do not think that a couple of pages dedicated to each historical event was enough to persuasively make the ...more
Oct 10, 2017 rated it liked it
Incredibly rich account. The first quarter of the book is truly captivating. Great summary of the network analysis theory and insightful applications to different pivotal moments across the historical timeline. But then it gets a bit repetitive and overwhelming with misc details (?).

Having said that Niall Ferguson is a powerful non-fiction writer and a man of incredible erudition. So providing you can keep up with Niall as he leapfrogs from one century to the next, from one luminary to another
Dec 25, 2019 rated it it was ok
I greatly enjoyed Ferguson's previous books, Civilization and The Ascent of Money, so I was looking forward to this one but it's a thumbs down I'm afraid. The idea of contrasting hierarchies with networks and putting this into an historical context must have seemed like a awfully good one for a book but actually there just isn’t' enough flesh on the bone. It hasn't stopped him from doing a staggering amount of research - a third of the book is given to notes, bibliography and references - but it ...more
I received Niall Ferguson’s The Square and the Tower as a gift from my best friend and I have to confess that when I first read the title, I thought it was a checkers metaphor - but no, actually it is inspired by two architectural designs, one medieval and the other contemporary.
The medieval one is a landscape from fourteenth century Siena with its Torre del Mangia of the Palazzo Pubblico shadowing a popular market and meeting place named Piazza del Campo. The tower’s height, matching the heigh
Sarah Clement
Apr 24, 2018 rated it liked it
This is a classic Niall Ferguson book, meaning that he takes a really wide, sweeping view of history over a very long period and tries to synthesise it under a particular theme. It is this skill in synthesis and accessible narrative that is his strength, as his books are built on the work of others, rather than his own original research. In this case, the synthesis is directed by academic understanding of networks. The book is ambitious and makes some interesting points, but it suffers from a ve ...more
Oct 25, 2018 rated it it was ok
Let's say I write a book. I claim that entire history is all about "tools" (or "beliefs" or "egos" etc). Suppose I take this enormously broad term and at most break into two or some more categories - the tower equivalent could be "tools used to dominate" (other human beings or elements) and the square equivalent could be "tools used to cooperate". I pick a few dozens of random events from thousands of years of human history - let's say from the time of Hamurabi through to the rise of three monot ...more
Tim Pendry

The central purpose of this book is quite simple and worthwhile - a re-exposition of international history in terms of the ongoing dialectic between networks and hierarchies and, as such, it is enlightening and useful.

Being a popular account from a very prolific historian who doubles up on occasions as public intellectual, you can detect a lot of magpie activity - cherry picking from work already done and then making it useful to the thesis - so do not expect over much original research.

The book
Erik Graff
Aug 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: social science students
Recommended to Erik by: Kelly Kingdon
Ferguson presents here a brief introduction to network theory accompanied by illustrations of its application ranging over the last 500 years but focused on recent events such as the internet explosion, 9/11, the 2007/8 crash and the 2016 presidential election. His viewpoint is globalist Establishment (from a very Anglo-American perspective), Henry Kissinger apparently being at the forefront of his role models, and deeply pessimistic as he contemplates the interaction of old hierarchical network ...more
Matt Esterman
Jan 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Niall Ferguson manages to deeply explore the intricacies of social networks and their political and economic contexts whilst also creating a highly readable historical account. His voice is clear & unapologetic about his conclusions and his methods - the use of social network analysis - to demonstrate the power of relationships & communication by various people in different contexts builds a powerful argument that our obsession with social networks today is built on a familiar story played out i ...more
Eero Ringmäe
Jan 03, 2021 rated it liked it
_Technologies come and go. The world remains a world of squares and towers._

The author considers a "square" to be a loose network of individuals who share a common goal versus the "tower" as an authocratic / hierarchical organisation.

The main argument of the book is that the power struggle among people - both in a global sense (countries, empires) as well as local sense (organisations, companies) - has been between rigid hierarchical organisations and loosely connected networks of people. Neith
Jul 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Lovely book. I like the approach in which the events in human history (from revolutions to financial crisis to presidential elections) are being explained in terms of the same scientific theories/laws. I have never heard of the network theory before and I am still enjoying that my first touch with it was through this work.

Indeed, interesting (and, most importantly, many unknown to me) facts are being inserted in the content and everything is scientifically backed up in a completely straightforw
David Brown
Aug 11, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An incredibly interesting and informative book, I can get the negative reviews about this work as it's certainly a harder read than his other works. However I feel this could be because the concepts Niall explores in this book network science is relatively absent from most history books perhaps making this a more difficult book for the casual history reader. ...more
Mar 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Is it possible to give 6 stars? What a great book. It made me realize how little i know about Western history.
Gabrielle Taylor
Feb 29, 2020 rated it liked it
Good stories about different associations/networks in the past but it was not sewn together in the clearest manner. Long book even though the content was good.
John Plowright
Oct 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” state Marx and Engels in ‘The Communist Manifesto’. According to Niall Ferguson’s latest book - ‘The Square and the Tower. Networks, Hierarchies and the Struggle for Global Power’ – the history of all hitherto existing society is rather the history of the tension between networks and hierarchies; a fact hitherto largely ignored by historians because networks characteristically “do not leave an orderly paper trail”, ...more
Sajith Kumar
May 21, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
The social structures that we see around us today are the result of incessant interactions between human beings. When people interact with each other, some etiquette is required to be maintained. The inter-personal relationships in an organization can be hard or soft as demanded by the purpose for which the people have joined it. These associations between people can be broadly classified into two – networks and hierarchies. Being a member of a network gives influence to an affiliate while a hie ...more
Subtitled ‘Networks, Hierarchies and the Struggle for Global Power‘, this is described as ‘a whole new way of imagining the world’ as it’s possible that we’re missing information about networks because it’s not recorded in historical archives. But what I found in this book is rather different, being a run through history in what seemed to me a disjointed way, albeit very detailed, with network diagrams and many footnotes. I found parts of it quite tedious, especially the early section detailing ...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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