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Civilization: The Six Ways the West Beat the Rest [Hardcover]

Niall Ferguson
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)

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Book Description

3 Mar 2011


If in the year 1411 you had been able to circumnavigate the globe, you would have been most impressed by the dazzling civilizations of the Orient. The Forbidden City was under construction in Ming Beijing; in the Near East, the Ottomans were closing in on Constantinople.

By contrast, England would have struck you as a miserable backwater ravaged by plague, bad sanitation and incessant war. The other quarrelsome kingdoms of Western Europe - Aragon, Castile, France, Portugal and Scotland - would have seemed little better. As for fifteenth-century North America, it was an anarchic wilderness compared with the realms of the Aztecs and Incas. The idea that the West would come to dominate the Rest for most of the next half millennium would have struck you as wildly fanciful. And yet it happened.

What was it about the civilization of Western Europe that allowed it to trump the outwardly superior empires of the Orient? The answer, Niall Ferguson argues, was that the West developed six "killer applications" that the Rest lacked: competition, science, democracy, medicine, consumerism and the work ethic. The key question today is whether or not the West has lost its monopoly on these six things. If so, Ferguson warns, we may be living through the end of Western ascendancy.

Civilization takes readers on their own extraordinary journey around the world - from the Grand Canal at Nanjing to the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul; from Machu Picchu in the Andes to Shark Island, Namibia; from the proud towers of Prague to the secret churches of Wenzhou. It is the story of sailboats, missiles, land deeds, vaccines, blue jeans and Chinese Bibles. It is the defining narrative of modern world history.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (3 Mar 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846142733
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846142734
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.5 x 4.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 191,888 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Niall Ferguson is one of Britain's most renowned historians. He is Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University, a Senior Research Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford and a Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He is the bestselling author of Paper and Iron, The House of Rothschild, The Pity of War, The Cash Nexus, Empire, Colossus, The War of the World and The Ascent of Money. He also writes regularly for newspapers and magazines all over the world.

Product Description


Ferguson is the most brilliant British historian of his generation ... he writes with splendid panache (The Times )

One of the world's leading historians (Hamish McRae Independent )

Civilization is another masterpiece ... a pulsing energy suffuses his account [and] fascinating facts burst like fireworks on every page (Dominic Lawson Sunday Times )

This is sharp. It feels urgent. Ferguson, with a properly financially literate mind, twists his knife with great literary brio (Andrew Marr Financial Times )

A dazzling history of Western ideas (Economist )

About the Author

Niall Ferguson is one of Britain's most renowned historians. He is the author of Paper and Iron, The House of Rothschild, The Pity of War, The Cash Nexus, Empire, Colossus, The War of the World and The Ascent of Money. He writes regularly for newspapers and magazines all over the world. He has written and presented five highly successful television document series for Channel Four: Empire, American Colossus, The War of the World, The Ascent of Money and, most recently, Civilization.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
115 of 125 people found the following review helpful
While I suspect that David Starkey would violently object the two current giants of television history in terms of providing a worldview are the left leaning Simon Schama and the combative neo conservative Niall Ferguson. Their dust up at last years Hay festival was a colourful sparring session between two big intellects firing verbal potshots at each other and a joy to behold. Schama concentrated on providing a robust defense of Barack Obama while Ferguson spent much of his allotted time dissing the President's now famous speech delivered in Cairo in 2009. Indeed he has described it as "touchy feely nonsense" and has in recent weeks sent out lurid warnings about Obama's failure to anticipate the demise of Mubarak and to come to terms with what Ferguson sees as the potential rise of the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt and the possible "restoration of the caliphate and the strict application of Sharia". Strong stuff, but Ferguson does like a good row. (see his feud with the nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman)

These themes above are the heart of this new book "Civilization: The West and the Rest" since Ferguson comes from the controversial standpoint that Western dominance has on the whole been a progressive force and that on the basis of a cost benefit analysis the good outweighs the bad (it is a constant theme in all his books). He recently argued that "the rulers of western Africa prior to the European empires were not running some kind of scout camp. They were engaged in the slave trade. They showed zero sign of developing the country's economic resources....and the counterfactual idea that somehow the indigenous rulers would have been more successful in economic development doesn't have any credibility at all.
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50 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A vast topic dealt with with aplomb 27 Feb 2011
I picked up a copy of this book on Friday and finished this afternoon(Sunday) which shows just how readable this book is, not too wordy, not assuming too much fore knowledge yet never talking down to the reader. In common with his previous books, Mr Ferguson is not shy about making definitive claims and he backs them up with many facts, of course perhaps with his own take on them. I am not sufficiently well read to dispute a lot of what he says, I will leave that to other reviewers, but all I can promise anyone who chooses to read this book is that you will enjoy the experience whether or not you agree with the author's conclusions.
There are a plethora of books out there detailing the differences between the "West" and the "East" and this one doesn't go in so much for cultural influences per se as stating the fact that the western style of "civilization" in the author's eyes at least, is due in most part to mercantile, industrial, military and perhaps most surprisingly religious developments, in particular the "protestant work ethic". This is a recurring theme throughout the book and doesn't entirely convince to be fair but is certainly a case well made.
I suspect there will be many critics of the content of the book but surely few of the style in which the arguments are made. I am not in total agreement myself with a lot of them, but the over-riding enthusiasm with which he puts his ideas across, made this for me, in the hoary old phrase, a right riveting read.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Recipe for Success 15 April 2012
By D. Lye
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is both very erudite, and very readable. Niall Ferguson wears his immense learning lightly as he maps out the characteristics that allowed the tiny nations of Western Europe to dominate the entire planet, and goes on to speculate as to how these characteristics might be adopted by the emerging powers, particularly China. Informative, lucid and thought-provoking.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ferguson dials it in 6 April 2011
Who else wishes that good historians could stay away from television? This is a spin off book and little more, on a subject that Ferguson - my favourite historian of the moment - could have tackled in a far more serious and rigorous way.

The bottom line is that this book fits in with a TV series, and you can see the skeleton of the TV series throughout - the 'killer aps', the scant development of arguments, the highly visual backdrop to each section (you can imagine him striding through markets or staring broodily into the middle distance surrounded by ancient ruins).

As a result, the arguments are undercooked and it doesn't feel as though Ferguson engages with them with his full intellect.

Yes, there are insights and splashes of detail and argument, but they are few. The essay that makes up the conclusion is the first time that it feels like Ferguson is really tackling the subject head on, although it feels bolted on to the rest of the book. The logic behind the medicine chapter is tortured and the consumerism chapter feels whimsical - that is not to challenge the intellectual underpinnings of these chapters: it's rather to say that they've got lost in making the TV series.

I think I'd learn more from sitting opposite Ferguson with a pint, listening to him explain these things properly. That's what I mean by him dialling it in, as supporting material for the main project - serving the great god of TV.

If he'd tackled the subject with his full force, we'd have ended up with a book as good as those that he mentions - the ones by David Landes, Jared Diamond (although deeply flawed) and Paul Kennedy.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars A Curates Egg
The key theme here is what made the West the predominant power from 1500 - 2000: There are six killer apps. Read more
Published 10 days ago by Clive Rimmer
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
I really enjoyed this book, easy to read and thought provoking, particularly with regard to the influence of religion and language.
Published 1 month ago by simon watkins
3.0 out of 5 stars Data overload
I think it was E H Carr who once said that history (that is, what is written about the past) is a series of accepted judgments. You get none of that with Niall Ferguson. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Mike Young
3.0 out of 5 stars Seven Things about the 21st Century You Should Discount.
Ferguson has borrowed the self-help formula to write a book about the modern world. I don't think it works. Read more
Published 6 months ago by S. McHugh
5.0 out of 5 stars They read like the best novels
I bought this book as I have read Empire, The Pity of War, The War of the World. The ascent of Money, and loved them all. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Valerie Paulding Hoey
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellently written and a logical chronological development of...
I enjoy Niall Ferguson's writing style and his detailed supporting evidence provides a high level of credibility to the discussions. Read more
Published 10 months ago by A M WATSON
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Read
Good buy and first rate reading and was very much as advertised and would reccomend it to any one else
Published 12 months ago by davies3206
5.0 out of 5 stars Reads like a thriller
Un-put-downable is really the only 'word' that springs to mind with this wonderful book, that puts so much of the world into perspective.
Published 15 months ago by anon
4.0 out of 5 stars Can the West be saved?
In `Civilization', Ferguson seeks to explain how a backward set of territories on the western-most tip of the Eurasian continent in around 1500 was able to produce the most... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Malcolm Shearmur
1.0 out of 5 stars Shambolic
I found this agonizing to read. Ferguson makes bold statement after bold statement about how he is going to argue this or prove that, but the hares then run off in all directions,... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Timothy De Ferrars
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