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How the West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity [Kindle Edition]

Rodney Stark
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Finally the Truth about the Rise of the West


Modernity developed only in the West—in Europe and North America. Nowhere else did science and democracy arise; nowhere else was slavery outlawed. Only Westerners invented chimneys, musical scores, telescopes, eyeglasses, pianos, electric lights, aspirin, and soap.
 
The question is, Why?
 
Unfortunately, that question has become so politically incorrect that most scholars avoid it. But acclaimed author Rodney Stark provides the answers in this sweeping new look at Western civilization.
 
How the West Won demonstrates the primacy of uniquely Western ideas—among them the belief in free will, the commitment to the pursuit of knowledge, the notion that the universe functions according to rational rules that can be discovered, and the emphasis on human freedom and secure property rights.
 
Taking readers on a thrilling journey from ancient Greece to the present, Stark challenges much of the received wisdom about Western history. How the West Won shows, for example:
·      Why the fall of Rome was the single most beneficial event in the rise of Western civilization
·      Why the “Dark Ages” never happened
·      Why the Crusades had nothing to do with grabbing loot or attacking the Muslim world unprovoked
·      Why there was no “Scientific Revolution”
·      Why scholars’ recent efforts to dismiss the importance of battles are ridiculous: had the Greeks lost at the Battle of Marathon, we probably would never have heard of Plato or Aristotle
 
Stark also debunks absurd fabrications that have flourished in the past few decades: that the Greeks stole their culture from Africa; that the West’s “discoveries” were copied from the Chinese and Muslims; that Europe became rich by plundering the non-Western world. At the same time, he reveals the woeful inadequacy of recent attempts to attribute the rise of the West to purely material causes—favorable climates, abundant natural resources, guns and steel.
 
How the West Won displays Rodney Stark’s gifts for lively narrative history and making the latest scholarship accessible to all readers. This bold, insightful book will force you to rethink your understanding of the West and the birth of modernity—and to recognize that Western civilization really has set itself apart from other cultures.
 



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Review

Stark has a vigorous prose style and a gift for clear explanation. The pace is swift, and the narrative thrilling. --New York Times

Fun to read, full of anecdote and incident . . . Mr. Stark is especially adept at challenging received ideas. --Wall Street Journal

Fresh, blunt, and highly persuasive. --Newsweek

About the Author

Rodney Stark is the award-winning author of The Victory of Reason, The Rise of Christianity, God’s Battalions, and many other books. He serves as Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor University, USA. Before earning his PhD at the University of California, Berkeley, USA, Stark was a staff writer for several major publications.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1089 KB
  • Print Length: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Intercollegiate Studies Institute; 1 edition (17 Mar. 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00JK4OS0K
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #292,333 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A story well worth telling, and it was very well told, indeed! This is a highly relevant book that casts some much needed clarity and truth on how modernity originated in the West, and only in the West, and on what has been and continues to be unique about Western civilisation, in general.

In these times of self-hating, guilt-ridden Western apologists, especially on the political Left, we need to remind ourselves that we have nothing to be ashamed of about our own civilisation. Instead, we should be proud of and grateful for the great civilisation that we are a part of and that continues to lead the world forwards towards a better future.
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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  117 reviews
167 of 179 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Groundbreaking. Persuasive. Passionate. Yes, you need to buy this book! Now! 20 Feb. 2014
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Anyone who has taken a history course at a university lately can attest to the rigid, doctrinaire multiculturalism taught. Textbook after textbook downplays the achievements of the west. "How the West Won" is a brisk slap in the face to the current animus against western civilization.

Take the Dark Ages, which are always portrayed as an age of utter barbarism in our textbooks, a time when society declined and all that was worthy in the ancient world vanished. Stark points out that "serious historians have known for decades that these claims are a complete fraud. Even the respectable encyclopedias...now define the Dark Ages as a myth" (p 71).

He pulls out fact after fact to prove his position. Close to Stockholm, "an elaborate industrial community known as Helgo flourished from about 250 through 700." (p 82), and archaeologists have found a "'bronze Buddha figure made in India'" (p 81) in the ruins of Helgo, revealing how wide the trade was at the time.

Not only did trade flourish, but "Within several centuries of the fall of Rome, Europeans have developed military technology that far surpassed not the the Romans' but that of every other society on earth" (p 84).

Military might was important in the era. Islam was on the rise. In 1095 "The Byzantine emperor Alexius...appealed for Western forces to defend Constantinople from the threat of Turkish invaders" (p 102). Already, the entire of North Africa, which had once been solidly Christian, had fallen to Muslim armies.

Stark asks us to "Compare Shakespeare's tragedies with those of the ancient Greeks" (p 119) For example, Oedipus is at the mercy of a blind, unfeeling fate. The ancient gods were without virtue; they were petty, vengeful, and vain.

But Christianity imbued western culture with a belief in conscience. "It created a tendency for people not to be resigned to things as they are but rather to attempt to make the situation better" (119). It also meant an absolute truth existed, and could be rationally sought.

Christianity pushed society to abolish slavery, that economic pillar of the ancient world. Even though the west had inherited a civilization from ancient Rome that was based on slavery, by the end of the eighth century Charlemagne opposed slavery, as did the pope. Within a century it was generally agreed upon Christian principle that slavery was against divine law.

Although Max Weber claimed Protestantism invented capitalism, Stark points out that, rather, "The rise of capitalism in Europe proceeded the Reformation by centuries" (p 129).

The key to western civilization was the belief in the rationality of God. During the Middle Ages, the church created universities, and paid for priests to take classes. "The first university was founded in... 1088" (p 163). "By 1200...the University of Paris...had 2,550 to 5,000 students" (p 166).

One result was science - long before the Enlightenment. "Just as...eighteenth-century philosophers invented...the 'Dark Ages' to discredit Christianity, they labeled their own era the 'Enlightenment' on grounds that religious darkness had finally been dispelled by secular humanism" (p 309).

I loved how Stark acidly noted how not even one of these 'Enlightened' men, such as Voltaire, had anything to do with science. No, the people who were "scientific stars were members of the clergy, nine of them Roman Catholics" (p 309).

You really need this book! Stark is a marvelous writer, brisk and fun to read. But it is his ideas which are important. He argues brilliantly, and persuasively, that western civilization, so maligned in our current culture, is worthy of regard.
70 of 79 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Lonely Sociologist and Myth-Buster asks the intriguing question, "If the West is so obviously bad, why is it so successful?" 7 April 2014
By Peter S. Bradley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
Having recently listened to an atheist Sociologist lecture on the superiority of Godless societies - basically by comparing Jamaica to Denmark and ignoring glaring problems in his narrative, issues such as Denmark's aging population and declining birth-rate - while reading this book, I had the epiphany that Rodney Stark must be a very lonely man. It seems that by eschewing the politically correct filters and presuppositions that dominate his profession, he has come to the realization that most of his fellow scholars are not even bothering to look at facts any more. Repeatedly throughout Stark's book, we hear conventional historical "pseudo-knowledge" condemned in the strongest terms. Thus, the attempt to "impose modern notions about proper military conduct on medieval armies" is "absurd." (p. 110.) The modern narrative of the conquest of the America's as "genocide" is described as "This story is sad enough without the immense amount of misrepresentation, exaggeration and plain foolishness that has been added to it during the past century." (p. 220.) And Stark responds to the claim of "even some Catholic writers" that the Catholic church did not repudiate slavery until modern times as "Nonsense!"

And he proves his point, time and time again, with historical information and raw data.

This book largely goes over the grounds well-trod by many of Stark's prior books, but that is not a flaw. Stark has thought long and hard about these issues, and there is always something new, an insight, observation, study, fact, that simply could not have been fitted into his prior books from his encyclopedic knowledge, if those prior books were ever going to end. For example, in describing the Christian contribution to the rise of science, in this book Stark spent some time in demonstrating how Copernicus did not simply emerge from a miraculous virgin-birth of insight with the Heliocentric theory. To the contrary, Copernicus had been trained by Scholastics, and Scholastics had been debating and creating the concept of inertia and the indistinguishability of a Sun-centered versus Earth-centered system for hundreds of years. Now, I've been reading on this subject for decades, and I had always been suckered into the presumption that Copernicus had come up with something new - because that is how the "Copernican Revolution" had always been taught to me. Like a Copernican Revolution - like a paradigm shift - Stark's insight has made me hit my forehead and cry "Of course....that makes sense" when I hadn't seen it before.

And I have to say, that is the kind of experience that makes me share, I think, what I believe to be Stark's exasperation with modern scholarship. I'm at a point where I feel swindled and hoodwinked for ideological reasons. As If my education, and much of public discourse, is designed to make me come up with politically correct conclusions rather than to know the truth.

To review some of the chapters in Stark's book -

Part I deals with "Classical Beginnings (500 BC to AD 500)." Stark's thesis is that the glories of the past were a largely a facade. The great empires permitted a few people to enjoy great wealth, while most people barely survived. More significantly, for the rise of the modern world, empire meant stagnation. Even the Roman Empire was an era of technological stagnation. Apart from some innovations like cement, Romans did not see progress in technology, health, life expectancy or other markers of sociological improvement.

Two cultures stood out in the ancient world, Judaism, because it conceived of reality as law-like and orderly, which gave the sociological basis for science, and the Greeks, because they were divided and competitive, which competition did promote technological and intellectual development.

Part II is "The Not-So Dark Ages (500 - 1200)." Since empire is a bane to progress, the fall of the Western Roman Empire was a blessing because it introduced disunity and therefore competition and diversity into Western culture. Western culture remained largely fortunate to avoid the re-establishment of a new empire for the balance of its history.

The Dark Ages were a period of radical technological progress, largely because the stultifying hand of the Roman empire was gone. According to Stark, "the wealthy leisure class" was parasitical. Roman trade routes were not designed for commerce so much as to ensure that tribute flowed and armies could march. The fall of Rome meant that new routes and trade towns developed that were devoted to commerce.

The evidence of technological development during the "Dark Ages" is conclusive. The heavy plow was developed in the 5th century, whereas Rome never moved beyond the "scratch plow." The harrow, which broke up clods, was developed in the same period. Europeans learned how to harness horse and the developed the three plot technique. (p. 77.) They also developed watermills and windmills and employed them extensively. (p. 78.) Where Roman transportation was inefficient and primitive, Europeans developed wagons with brakes and front axles that could swivel and to which horses could be harnessed. (p. 79) Europeans developed new kinds of ships and innovated in military techniques - crossbow, gunpowder and armor. (p. 84). (Stark makes the point that most armored knights fought dismounted. (p. 86.) ) This military innovation led to the fact that Europeans were able to maintain a military presence for hundreds of years in the midst of Islamic territory, even though they were vastly outnumbered. (p. 109 ("The few Muslim victories int eh field were due to overwhelming numbers; their other victories involved sieges.").)

Stark also points out that some purported aspects of European "exceptionalism" were not exceptional. Thus, he points out that Baybars, Sultan of Egypt, killed every Christian when Antioch fell to Islam in 1268. (p. 109.) This despite the promise to spare their lives. (p. 111.) It was the greatest massacre of the entire crusading era. (p. 111.) Saladin's magnanimity after the capture of Jerusalem was exceptional; after the Battle of Hattin (1187), Sladin had every knight beheaded. (p. 110.)

Stark separates the Catholic Church of the Dark Ages into the "Church of Power" and the "Church of Piety" (p. 113.) to explain the periods of reform and periods of stagnation. Stark documents that, even under the Church of Power, the Church was able to impose sanctions on miscreant rulers like Fulk II, Count of Anjou (972 - 1040) who seems to have spent half his rule traveling to Jerusalem for penance. (p. 117.)

In Chapter 6 - "Freedom and Capitalism" - Stark points to the connection of the Christian idea of free will to freedom to capitalism (and ultimately to Western progress.) "Belief in free will led directly to valuing the right of the individual to freely choose, with the result that medieval Europe rejected slavery - the only culture ever to have done so without external compulsion." (p. 119.) Stark connects this ideology to both Augustine and Aquinas, and points out that slavery can be exist for consumption - bodyguards, entertainers, sex slave - as well as for productivity, which means that there is no economic reason for slavery to be outlawed. (p. 121) In fact, slavery continues to exist today throughout the world. Slavery pays (p. 123.) (By the way, serfdom is not slavery - serfs had right to marry and control property. (p. 122.)

Economics did not cause the end of slavery. Rather:

"Slavery ended in medieval Europe only because the church extended its sacraments to all slaves and then banned the enslavement of Christians (and of Jews). Within the context of medieval Europe, that prohibition was effectively a rule of universal abolition." (p. 123.)

Stark also takes aim at the "Weber Thesis" and demonstrates that early capitalism began on "the great Catholic monastic estates back in the ninth century." (p. 130.) Monasteries had the advantage of continuing, far-sighted leadership which led to specialization of labor. (p. 131.) Further, Christianity adopted an attitude that work did not degrade a person. (p. 134.)

Part III deals with "Medieval Transformations (1200 - 1500). Among the subjects covered by Stark is the contribution of Scholasticism to science. The great European universities were the first institutions designed for the "pursuit of knowledge" as if knowledge - and new knowledge - was a good thing.(p. 150.) Chapter 8 includes a list of the Scholastics who were natural philosopher and who laid the foundation for empiricism. (p. 164 ("Of crucial importance, the great medieval universities were dominated by empiricism from the start. If it was possible to put an intellectual claim to observational tests, then that was what should be done.") Dissection was forbidden in classical times and in Islam, but in Christian Europe textbooks on dissection were being published in 1315.

Stark also describes the great technological advances that put Europe far ahead of the rest of the world during this period. Fulling with waterwheels, blast furnaces, carracks and galleons were all developed at this time. (p. 194.)

This was the period that saw the beginning of European discovery, and with it the rise of empires and a new form of slavery. Stark takes on the politically correct scholarship by pointing out that the ancient American empires are not deserving of much sympathy; they engaged in cannibalism, mass sacrifice, slavery and other atrocities that modern liberals would condemn if engaged in by Europeans. As for the slave trade, Europeans plugged into the pre-existing African slave trade that had long been established by Muslims and African chieftains. (p. 228 - 229.) The Catholic Church attempted to oppose the new slavery, but was ignored. (p. 229.) What the Catholic Church was able to do was create a more legalistic, and ultimately more humane system, where families could not be broken up, slaves had Sunday off, slaves had to be given access to the sacraments, slaves could own property and buy their freedom. (p. 230.) Empirical data for the effect of this approach can be seen in the fact that by 1830, in Louisiana 13.2% of blacks were free, as compared to 1.3 percent in Alabama and .8 percent in Mississippi and 41.7% of the African-Americans in New Orleans were free. (p. 232.)

Three last areas I want to cover are the Reformation, Galileo and Islam.

With respect to the Reformation, Stark confirms some things I had long suspected from my other reading. The Protestant Reformation did not follow the printing press. Studies show that there was no correlation between a town having a printing press and it becoming Protestant.(p. 270.) There are a lot of reasons for this, and one might be that no more than 5% of Germans could read. (p. 270.) What was dispositive was whether a local ruler would benefit from appropriating Catholic property and rights, i.e. was it in the "self-interest" of the ruler, be it a prince, king or town council, to turn Protestant, take church lands, and exercise control over the appointment of pastors and bishops. (p. 274.)

With respect to Galileo, Stark points out the sui generis nature of the Galileo Affair and how Galileo's overwhelming ego brought on the trial that the Church wanted to avoid. Stark also points out a fact that I've argued but have never seen in print, namely, that it was a very bad time for someone to claiming that the Bible was not inerrant. After all, at that time Catholics were fighting the Thirty Years War based, in part, on the claim that Catholics were not faithful to the Bible. (p. 318 ("Partly in response to Protestant charges that the Catholic Church was not faithful to the Bible, the limits of acceptable theology were being narrowed, and this led to increasing church interference in scholarly and scientific discussions. Urban and leading officials were not however ready to clamp down on scientists; instead they proposed ways to avoid conflicts between science and theology by separating their domains.")

On Islam, Stark punctures many of the politically correct balloons about Islamic tolerance and progress by citing facts. Thus, Islamic Ottoman forces barely captured Rhodes despite and 80,000 to 3,000 advantage, and couldn't capture Malta with a similar advantage, and decisively lost Lepanto, and lost at the siege of Vienna, because of being outmatched by European technology. Islamic science and technology was never Islamic, but was always something provided to Islam almost exclusively by the non-Islamic dhimmis that Islam had in its borders. When those populations were ruthlessly repressed, Islamic science and progress disappeared.

Obviously, this is another long review for me, but I have only scratched the surface. I recommend this book without reservation. Stark is an engaging writer, and his ideas and insights fly off the page.
29 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Balance for the Catholic Church's contribution 13 April 2014
By Charles R. Owen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I'm not Catholic but I always felt they did more positive than they get credit for. Weaved in this history of the West is a defence of the contributions of the Church. Mostly I agree with the book but do feel its a little over zealous in some of its assumptions. Saying the Church created capitalism is like saying Plato invented Christianity. Prepared the ground maybe, but not invent.
Can you find greedy Crusaiders? Of course you can! But saying they were greed driven is wrong. The book got this right. Say, who owned that land before the Muslims?
Have you noticed how willing we in the West are to apologize for preceved sins of others? Amazing what people do to feel popular ( grow a spine). Maybe we should focus on our sinless selves.
The book doesn't say the West was sinless it just brings overdue balance, with facts, to the West past and contributions.
23 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mr. Stark : "You Got My Attention!" 23 April 2014
By Alesia - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
How the West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity accomplishes for me what Western Civilization in Freshman College in 1981 tried to take away from me. Mr. Stark clears the air beautifully with a well written account of his views on how we as a modern culture evolved from its ancient times. Perhaps one could argue, Mr. Stark was not scholarly enough in his approach, but I found his writing style eloquent, easy, and efficient.
I was not looking for some drawn out hard book to read. After all I have all ready graduated from college! What I was looking for was an author willing to push the envelope and expound on religion and perhaps its impact on the West. So many university professors tend to market the Greek/Roman influences in nausea fashion. I am not discounting its impact, but it is interesting to see an author point out neglected topics that may have had as much influence. For example, Mr. Stark's inclusion of the missionary effects which was statistically proven that Christian missionaries from a century ago or more are still advancing the advancement of democracy. This was but a small portion of his book, but it certainly was a great point. Enjoy this read. It will greatly open your mind to what narrow focus college courses of old may have taught you.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Provocative but Brilliant 16 April 2014
By David S. Wellhauser - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Prof. Stark has brought together, over a lifetime of study, a very powerful argument which is, in many ways, refreshing to read. The restoration of the West to its proper place within world history is an important enterprise and one that is beginning to be given voice to as the grip the Counter Culture has held Western Universities in for the past forty plus years begins to fade.

However, Prof. Stark often ‘overcompensates’ for the Counter Culture’s self-loathing by engaging in what might be viewed as over-stated positions [the idea that the West invented Science is not entirely with merit, but it is true if we speak of Science in its modern form] and upon more than one occasion his vitriolic language when dealing with the Counter Culture [what Prof. Stark refers to as PC/Politically Correct] is difficult to abide.

Where he is on firmer ground is demonstrating how Scholasticism was responsible for laying the foundation which made the Scientific Revolution possible. The author is even on firmer ground when he argues there was no revolution, but a natural evolution which took place over many centuries.

They go on to argue an increasingly popular position: that there was no Dark Ages. Prof. Stark contends, rightly, this was the invention of the 18th Century Enlightenment and put forward by those hostile to religion. Along with this, he argues that Empires are bad for economic and political development, especially the Roman Empire which killed innovation. Perhaps this is, also, an overstatement, but an interesting one.

One of the author’s import points was that disunity and competition among individuals and states was essential to the West’s triumph.

However, Prof. Stark does not argue that everything was good. The author does deal with slavery, but they brush the negative effects of this and the responsibility of the West for it away too quickly. Still and all, he recognizes the West entered a world where slavery was endemic and that it was the British who ended this across their Empire [This makes me wonder how he deals with it in the face of his argument that Empires are bad?].

Some of his points are revolutionary and some disturbing, but this was a very good book. The only reason the book receives 4 instead of 5 stars is that Prof. Stark diminishes non-Western accomplishments on occasion, overstates some positions [that it was only in the West that true Science emerged], and his use of non-collegial language hampers good arguments.

Recommended for those interested in the restitution of the West in world history, and the place of religion in this
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