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

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  5,186 ratings  ·  459 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
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Jeff Munn This book is a fantastic read if you want an overview of human history and where the author believes it’s heading. The Industrial Revolution was only …moreThis book is a fantastic read if you want an overview of human history and where the author believes it’s heading. The Industrial Revolution was only covered in section two and covered the wave tops. If you have to write a paper on the Time period, I’d look at a more focused book; however, the author provided excellent views on what the Industrial Revolution did to advance Western dominance after 1800.(less)

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Mal Warwick
Jun 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
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 o
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 2103.¹

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 ra
Apr 20, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: world-history
This is another real doorstopper (750 pages, without notes and bibliography) about "the Great Divergence", the debate about why the West has gained such a head start in human history that it has come to dominate the world. Archaeologist Ian Morris is not just anyone, he’s a professor at Stanford University (California), and has a good reputation in Western ancient history. It is a bold undertaking that he has dared to tackle this tricky issue that so many others have gotten their teeth in. Judgi ...more
Sense of History
An original contribution to the Great Divergence Debate, but with some essential weaknesses
I’ll start with the strengths of this book, and also the presentation of his Morris' central theses and method. The charm of Ian Morris' work is that he combines modesty and boldness. His entire book, for example, is based on the view that human history is driven by 3 petty human impulses: that people are lazy, greedy and fearful and always seek solutions to their problems based on those three characterist
Mar 11, 2012 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 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 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
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
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 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: silash-reviews
This review also appears on my blog at www.silashruparell.com

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
Fulya Koylu
Jun 09, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First of all, I very much liked the writing style of this book. Even though it was long, it was easy to read and follow. Secondly, I loved the fact that such a long history is included in one single book. I enjoyed learning the history starting from Homo Habilis more than the aim of the book, finding out why the West rules for now. As a person who studied in Turkey in school our history classes never taught us much about the eastern history. So, even though it was much harder to follow than the ...more
Richard Thompson
Jul 24, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
This book is 550 pages of not great and not always completely accurate world history followed by 75 pages of a not so great grand theory of history. There were a few places along the way where Morris made me wince, like where he cited Karl Popper's concept of the scientific method in support of a similar approach to history (I guess Morris never read Popper's "Poverty of Historicism.") and where he refers to Bill Gates and Paul Allen as Harvard dropouts (Gates yes, Allen no). But the point of th ...more
Dec 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
A good look at the social development of civilization. It has some similarities to Sapiens or The Silk Roads, but I felt this author laid out a very clear thesis at the beginning as to why the west rules for now and then used this for framing the history he gives us (unlike the other books which were more straight-forward histories without something to prove). I also loved how he referenced various books, films, and art to provide modern context to the histories he was telling.

Because this book
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.
Jul 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is the appropriate sequel to Guns, Germs and Steel by Diamond; but greatness sometimes comes in threes. I'm looking forward to a trilogy formed by a brilliant scientist (or not) giving us a new way to look at the world as Ian Morris and Jared Diamond have done. ...more
Oct 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Why the West Rules for Now by Ian Morris
Fascinating!! 10 out of 10

- Why the West rules - for now?
- There are quite a few answers to this question, but it might be geography that played the most important role

Nevertheless, The Economist has on the cover of the issue of October 12th-19th the photo of the Chinese president with the tittle:

- The Most Powerful Man in the World

In other words, the Rule of the West has already ended and it must be said that for many centuries, the West lagged behind t
Alan D'Souza
Dec 07, 2020 rated it it was ok
The book meanders for a bit too long into the revolving door history of the Chinese empires and belabors on considerable unrelated but separately interesting background before putting forth a relatively nuanced take on how time-specific geographical and cultural circumstances collaborated to cause the great technological divide post the 18th century. Ian Morris brings in an interesting perspective as an archaeologist, and the book is at its best when it discusses prehistory, the history of agric ...more
Jan 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
No serious history book can be called breezey, but Ian Morris keeps things moving while tackling a very big (and potentially critical topic). I enjoyed his examples and his speculation as well as his observations. For example: "If you get two paleoanthropologists into a room they are likely to come out with three theories of human evolution, and by the time the door shuts behind them, all will be out of date."

His point of view is made clear, early. His ability to back it up is challenging and su
Oct 26, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Picks up where Jared Diamond's Guns, Steel and Germs left off: Diamond argued that geography gave Eurasia an advantage over all other centres of civilisation and, in the very last chapter speculated briefly as to why the centres in the west of Eurasia advanced faster and further than their counterparts in the east. Morris, who speaks in a similarly lively, interdisciplinary, but also slightly more everyman-directed voice traces the very topical question of east vs west over 15 millennia, guided ...more
Feb 03, 2014 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!
Mark Gray
Aug 06, 2014 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
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
Noor Ali
Jul 28, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The title gives away the main thesis of this book. The author discusses in length what makes the east and what makes the west and how to distinguish between both. The book explores in exhaustive details the histories of both the east and the west and compares their advancements at different points in time. This is not the first book I’ve read that discusses this topic. Guns, Germs, and Steel is an obvious classic which readers usually rave about but I personally preferred this book to Guns, Germ ...more
Apr 21, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
The book gives a very detailed and comprehensive overview of the development of mankind from the last ice age to the present day. Special focus is placed on the great leaps in development in the eastern as well as the western world.

The wealth of detailed information has fascinated me and the significance for numerous, important developments of mankind is now more present to me again. With over 600 pages and a very academic writing style, the book was partly lengthy.
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 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
Mar 08, 2011 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
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
Oct 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Better than Guns Germs and steel and that's saying something; a seminal book about the sweep of human history and one that puts a lot of things in perspective; tons of sfnal references from Nightfall to Hari Seldon and many more add extra pleasure for the sff reader

#1 non-fiction book of 2010 for me
Apr 10, 2012 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. ...more
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