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

3.63  ·  Rating details ·  2,005 ratings  ·  272 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 ...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
Charles J
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
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 ...more
Alice-Elizabeth (marriedtobooks)
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.
May 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018, nonfiction
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 informal
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 ...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
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 ...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.
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 ...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
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 ...more
Nov 19, 2017 rated it it was ok
If I’ve understood Ferguson’s argument correctly, then there are networks and hierarchies and often networks play a larger role in governing, changing and influencing our societies, from the earliest days to now, than hierarchies do. Is that a new insight? If networks aren’t new, which they obviously aren’t, then haven't they always been influential? This book is wide-ranging and all-encompassing and explores all sorts of networks but I still felt at the end that I hadn't actually learnt much ...more
Morgan Blackledge
May 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Amazing. Creative. Fresh. Slightly messy. Great book about Hierarchy and Networks and how they function in regards to political and economic power.

NOTE: The author is a Kissinger bigropher and actually says nice things about him. That came as a surprise to me as I have never even heard of that. At least not from a reputable intellectual. Admittedly, I don't read many conservative intellectuals (not any in fact). But jeez, out of all the guys to defend, Kissinger?

That's interesting if nothing
May 05, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Interesting concept of networks vs hierarchies. Specifically enjoyed the historical aspect (how certain movements flourished vs others that stalled). What was perhaps most interesting is the sheer power of networks and how once a network is utilized, no authoritarian power can really manage it. Makes it seem that some historical movements were simply inevitable, regardless of hierarchical actions taken to prevent them from spreading.

Also liked the science behind the network effect.

Book went on
Aug 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
A rich and intriguing concept drives this book, yet another global history (albeit quite a loose one). By drawing on various insights from game theory and network analysis Ferguson is surely onto something here in his division of world power structures into hierarchies and networks. He provokes many fascinating thoughts that demand follow up. Couldn’t put it down. Certainly a necessary read in this chaotic world of cyber warfare and terrorist insurgencies.
Warning: The Square and the Tower is doubly dense. Printed on fine, heavy paper, it weighs about as much as a cinderblock. Extremely well-researched, heavily footnoted, and with a separate extensive bibliography for each of the book's 9 sections, it's highly informative. Ferguson's somewhat pessimistic conclusion paints a scary-as-hell portrait of our probable future, but knowing what I know about human nature, I don't disagree with him.
Oct 25, 2017 rated it liked it
I was initially impressed but the book lost its way. I can think of so many fascinating examples of networking that were not even referenced. Disappointed.
Elf Asura
Jul 29, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
One is constantly caught under the grindstones of hierarchies and yet hearing a lot about the contrary power of networks. My experience has been that hierarchies are always around and that most networks, however radical or decentralised, ultimately have to do with maintaining and sustaining power, control and wealth like any hierarchy.

The notion that networks destabilise hierarchical patterns is true but it is usually re-cognised in hindsight. One is also unsure about the extent to which
Matthew Royal
Apr 30, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: audio-books
Niall Ferguson’s thesis that many conflicts in history can be understood as the conflict between power hierarchies and social networks is descriptive, but underdeveloped. His title is a knockoff of Eric S. Raymond's seminal, "The Cathedral and the Bazaar," and unfortunately its conceptual development is equally shallow. Most striking of this books faults is the change in tone. At the beginning of the book, he sounded like a name-dropping academic who relishes curating his collection of weak ...more
Chase Parsley
Jul 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Another fantastic book by Niall Ferguson! As always, Ferguson explains complex ideas with razor sharp analysis and wit.

In his latest, we learn about networks (i.e. the town “square”) and hierarchies (i.e. the “tower”). Historians rarely focus on the networks and connections that play vital roles in history; and Ferguson focuses on this in the first part of the book. The last sections are devoted to the state of networks today. There is a LOT explored here (60 short chapters)!

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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
“we shall quickly find ourselves about as important to the algorithms as animals currently are to us.” 2 likes
“In a time of chaos, it is the micro-manager who ascends” 2 likes
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