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Civilization [Audio]

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The rise to global predominance of Western civilization is the single most important historical phenomenon of the past five hundred years. All over the world, an astonishing proportion of people now work for Western-style companies, study at Western-style universities, vote for Western-style governments, take Western medicines, wear Western clothes, and even work Western hours. Yet six hundred years ago the petty kingdoms of Western Europe seemed unlikely to achieve much more than perpetual internecine warfare. It was Ming China or Ottoman Turkey that had the look of world civilizations. How did the West overtake its Eastern rivals? And has the zenith of Western power now passed? In Civilization: The West and the Rest, bestselling author Niall Ferguson argues that, beginning in the fifteenth century, the West developed six powerful new concepts that the Rest lacked: competition, science, the rule of law, consumerism, modern medicine, and the work ethic. These were the "killer applications" that allowed the West to leap ahead of the Rest, opening global trade routes, exploiting newly discovered scientific laws, evolving a system of representative government, more than doubling life expectancy, unleashing the Industrial Revolution, and embracing a dynamic work ethic. Civilization shows just how fewer than a dozen Western empires came to control more than half of humanity and four fifths of the world economy. Yet now, Ferguson argues, the days of Western predominance are numbered-not because of clashes with rival civilizations, but simply because the Rest have now downloaded the six killer apps we once monopolized-while the West has literally lost faith in itself. Civilization does more than tell the gripping story of the West's slow rise and sudden demise; it also explains world history with verve, clarity, and wit. Controversial but cogent and compelling, Civilization is Ferguson at his very best.
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About the Author

Niall Ferguson is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University and the bestselling author of Paper and Iron and The House of Rothschild.


In the 15th century, Asia and the Middle East seemed to possess tremendous advantages in power and intellect, while the disorganized cluster of nations that made up the West lagged behind. How then did Western civilization come to dominate? According to Ferguson (The Ascent of Money), who holds professorships at Harvard, Harvard Business School, and the London School of Economics, it was six "killer applications"-competition, science, property rights, modern medicine, consumerism, and the work ethic-that enabled the West to charge ahead. Furthermore, he asserts, as many of these "apps" have now been globally assimilated, the time of the West's ascendancy may be over. It's an interesting thesis, sure to generate debate, but Ferguson's arguments lack thorough, consistent development, and at times the six-application structure seems a stretch, with a reliance on vivid but tangential subjects to cover the gaps; e.g., the chapter on medicine ostensibly focuses on how colonization of Africa led to improved treatment of disease but gives far more space to discussions of the French Revolution and the horrors resulting from eugenic theory. VERDICT Fans of Ferguson will find him as engaging as ever, but numerous digressions and simplistic treatments mar the book's potentially intriguing points. [See Prepub Alert, 5/2/11.]-Kathleen McCallister, Univ. of South Carolina Lib., Columbia (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Ferguson (Colossus), Harvard historian, polymath, and bestselling author, joins others who've tried to explain the rise and dominance of the West, "the pre-eminent historical phenomenon of the second half of the second millennium after Christ." He also has his eye on an increasingly pressing concern: the threats, from inside and outside, to Western hegemony. Ferguson attributes the West's supremacy and the spread of Western ways to six factors: competition, science, property rights (the rule of law), medicine, the consumer society, and the work ethic. It's a grab bag of plausible conditions that differ from reasons cited by other students of the subject, but all hard to prove. Ominously, from Ferguson's perspective, "the fortuitous weakness of the West's rivals" is turning to strengths, threatening Western supremacy. Turning from historian to seer, Ferguson thus foresees the West's decline and fall (of which he seems convinced) arising from both self-inflicted wounds (such as self-indulgence and weakening educational systems) and the strengthening of nations, such as China, that are modernizing and improving the education of their young people. Perhaps. The book would have gained by greater focus and less of a jumble of details. The reason for Ferguson's fear of "the rest" isn't clear, but those who share his concern will find that he has penned a sobering caution. Illus. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

"Thought-provoking and possibly controversial." ---Library Journal

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