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Why The West Rules For Now: The Patterns of History and what they reveal about the Future [Hardcover]

Ian Morris
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)

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Book Description

4 Nov 2010

Why did British boats shoot their way up the Yangzi in 1842, rather than Chinese ones up the Thames? Why do Easterners use English more than Europeans speak in Mandarin or Japanese? To put it bluntly, why does the West rule? There are two schools of thought: the 'Long-Term Lock In' theory, suggesting some sort of inevitability, and the 'Short-Term Accident' theory. But both approaches have misunderstood the shape of history.

Ian Morris presents a startling new theory. He explains with flair and authority why the paths of development differed in the East and West and - analysing a vicious twist in trajectories just ahead of us - predicts when the West's lead will come to an end.

'Here you have three books wrapped into one: an exciting novel that happens to be true; an entertaining but thorough historical account of everything important that happened to any important people in the last 10 millennia; and an educated guess about what will happen in the future. Read, learn, and enjoy!' Jared Diamond

'A great work of synthesis and argument, drawing together an awesome range of materials and authorities to bring us a fresh, sharp reading of East-West relationships.' Andrew Marr

Product details

  • Hardcover: 768 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books; 1st Edition edition (4 Nov 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846681472
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846681479
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 24.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 103,071 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ian Morris teaches classics, history, and archaeology at Stanford University. Born in Stoke-on-Trent in 1960, he now lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains in California. He has won awards for his writing and teaching, and has directed archaeological digs in Greece and Italy. He has also published 13 books, which have been translated into 13 languages. His newest book, "War! What is It Good For?" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Profile 2014), looks at war from prehuman times to our own, making two controversial claims--first, that war has helped humanity as well as harming it; and second, that war is now changing out of all recognition.

Product Description


This is a great work of synthesis and argument, drawing together an awesome range of materials and authorities to bring us a fresh, sharp reading of East-West relationships. As China rises and the world's population spikes, Morris weaves lessons from thousands of years of world history towards a startling and scary conclusion. (Andrew Marr)

Deeply thought-provoking and engagingly lively, broad in sweep and precise in detail. (Jonathan Fenby, author of The Penguin History of Modern China, former Editor of The Observer and former Editor of the South China Morning Post)

The nearest thing to a unified field theory of history we are ever likely to get. With wit and wisdom, Ian Morris deploys the techniques and insights of the new ancient history to address the biggest of all historical questions: Why on earth did the West beat the Rest? I loved it. (Niall Ferguson)

Ian Morris is a classical archaeologist, an ancient historian and a writer of such breathtaking vision and scope as to make him fit to be ranked alongside the likes of Jared Diamond and David Landes. His magnum opus is a tour not just d'horizon but de force, taking us as it does on a spectacular journey to and from and many points between the two nodal cores of a euramerican West and a far east Asian East, alighting and reflecting as suggestively upon 10,800 BC as upon AD 2010. The shape of globalizing history may well never be quite the same again. 'So what', he asks himself and us? The answer can only be - a very great deal indeed. (Paul Cartledge, A.G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture, University of Cambridge)

At last - a brilliant historian with a light touch. We should all rejoice. (John Julius Norwich)

Here you have three books wrapped into one: an exciting novel that happens to be true; an entertaining but thorough historical account of everything important that happened to any important people in the last 10 millennia; and an educated guess about what will happen in the future. Read, learn, and enjoy! (Jared Diamond, Professor of Geography, UCLA, and Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel, Collapse, and Natural Experiments of History)

Ian Morris has returned history to the position it once held. No longer a series of dusty debates, nor simple stories - although he has many stories to tell and tells them brilliantly - but the true 'magister vitae' - the 'teacher of life'. He explains how the shadowy East-West divide came about, why it really does matter, and how one day it might end up. His vision is dazzling, and his prose irresistible. Everyone from Sheffield to Shanghai who wants to know, not only how they came to be who and where

they are, but where their children and their children's children might one day end up, must read this book.'

(Anthony Pagden, distinguished professor of political science and history at the University of California, Los Angeles, author of ‘Worlds and War: The 2,500 Year Struggle Between East and West’)

This is an astonishing work by Ian Morris: hundreds of pages of the latest information dealing with every aspect of change. Then, the questions of the future: What will a new distribution bring about? Will Europe undergo a major change? Will the millions of immigrants impose a new set of rules on the rest? There was a time when Europe could absorb any and all newcomers. Now the newcomers may dictate the terms. The West may continue to rule, but the rule may be very different. (David S. Landes, author of The Wealth and Poverty of Nations)

A formidable, richly engrossing effort to determine why Western institutions dominate the world . . . Readers will enjoy [Morris's] lively prose and impressive combination of scholarship . . . with economics and science. A superior contribution to the grand-theory-of-human-history genre (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))

Morris' history of world dominance sparkles as much with exotic ideas as with extraordinary tales. 'Why The West Rules - For Now' is both a riveting drama and a major step towards an integrated theory of history. (Richard Wrangham)

A remarkable book that may come to be as widely read as Paul Kennedy's 1987 work, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers ... this is an important book-one that challenges, stimulates and entertains. Anyone who does not believe there are lessons to be learned from history should start here. (The Economist)

Morris' new book illustrates perfectly why one really scholarly book about the past is worth a hundred fanciful works of futurology. Morris is the world's most talented ancient historian, a man as much at home with state of- the-art archaeology as with the classics as they used to be studied. Here, he has brilliantly pulled off what few modern academics would dare to attempt: a single-volume history of the world that offers a bold and original answer to the question, Why did the societies that make up "the West" pull ahead of "the Rest" not once but twice, and most spectacularly in the modern era after around 1500? Wearing his impressive erudition lightly - indeed, writing with a wit and clarity that will delight the lay reader - Morris uses his own ingenious index of social development as the basis for his answer.


Precisely because he has such a profound understanding of the ways that culture, technology, and geography interact over the very long run, Morris is better qualified than almost anyone else to answer the final question he asks: Is the world heading for "the Singularity" - a technological quantum leap beyond our traditional limitations as a species - or for a disastrous nightfall brought on by climate change, famine, state failure, mass migration, pandemic disease, and nuclear war? Readers will find nothing better on the subject than his final, mind-blowing chapter.

(Niall Ferguson Foreign Affairs)

A provocative and extraordinary contribution to wide-screen comparative history ... a true banquet of ideas (Boyd Tonkin Independent)

Perhaps the smartest and sanest guide to the 21st Century so far (South China Morning Post 2010-10-31)

Morris handles huge ideas and transglobal theories with a breathtaking ease and humour (Artemis Cooper Evening Standard)

Why the West Rules for Now marshalls enormous historical evidence for how geography influences imbalanced between West and East (The Australian 2010-12-01)

A path-breaking work that lays out what modern history should look like. (Financial Times)

Book Description

Why does the West rule? Eminent Stanford polymath Ian Morris answers this provocative question, drawing uniquely on 20,000 years of history and archaeology, and the methods of social science.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
79 of 85 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clever and thought provoking 10 Nov 2010
Like most of us living in the West I have have pondered this question from time to time. Why did the west come out in front, and will it last? Should we all start learning Chinese? And was it inevitable - were Westerners more open-minded, or harder working, or were we just super-lucky to have had the industrial revolution? Or was it simply the work of exceptional people such as Julius Caesar, James Watt or Columbus?

Morris looks at this from a different angle. He uses an index of social development to analyse how societies have risen and fallen (including energy capture, organisation/urbanisation, war-making and information technology). But most importantly he tells a brilliant story of global history. It's a big book, but it has to be, to cover its full scope.

Part history, part archaeology, part geography, part biology and part sociology it is the work of a real polymath. It's incredibly readable too, beginning with a terrific fantasy of how things might have been. I didn't agree with all of it but it's still the best history book I've read this year. You may guess that I felt stongly about this book.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
By Alan
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Morris manages his book like a composer orchestrating complex themes. Like music, the blend of ideas makes logical and aesthetic sense. Yet the book is not full of its own worthiness; it is often humorous, often vernacular, always well-read and always accessible. The short chapter sections (with witty headings) lead you to read this episodically, so it could be an ideal bed-side book. Above all, it is a cogent analysis of history from a true polymath who sees the horizon as much as the ground under his feet; even if you do not buy the analysis, it is a stimulus to thinking about global development in ways you had not previously contemplated.
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38 of 42 people found the following review helpful
Was just given this by a friend last week and have already finished it. I have to say this is the best non-fiction book I've read this year. I found it completely riveting, right from the introduction which is written as though the Chinese had triumphed over England in Victorian times rather than the reverse. That's just the start of Morris' investigation into why it didn't happen like that, and in fact why it is so hard to imagine this ever having been on the cards.
His theory involves going back 15,000 years and tracing the progress of East and West since then. He then uses this analysis to look ahead to the future - which is pretty scary.Obviously it's a very ambitious theory and I'm sure it could be quite controversial, but Niall Ferguson says he's the world's most talented historian and I can't disagree. If you want to understand the story behind the global socio-economic landscape we live in today, read this book!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting theory, good general history 22 Aug 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book tries to be a lot of things, and doesn't quite get there on a lot of them. What it does do though, is give an entertaining read.

The author has a theory made up of a couple of essential strands.

Firstly, that if you look at the historical record then you can detect patterns. Essentially that when societies reach a certain level of development and size that the pressures upon them cause them to collapse, and that the only way that a society can can get round this problem is to innovate. The classic example being the industrial revolution.

Secondly, that civilisation areas, East and West have core areas. These core areas change with time, and what might be one era's core can be another era's backward periphery. The author argues persuasively that backward areas regularly take over as core areas because there is a benefit to being backwards in that it helps you catch up. Examples of this in the West might be Persia, or Egypt or Rome, or Renaissance Europe.

The devil to all this, is of course in the detail, and the bulk of the book is a summary of history in the Eastern and Western civilisation areas, going back to the last ice age, which builds on the authors arguments. Even if you don't buy into the authors arguments, it is worth reading this book just for this summary, which certainly gives you a new perception on how civilisations develop, and is a pithy introduction Chinese history set against the more familiar context of the West.

The book doesn't quite live up to it's promise in a number of ways.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thorough and convincing thesis 3 May 2011
By Steve Keen TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Pictured on the dust cover, Ian Morris looks like central casting's idea of the rather less than satisfactory new husband of the ex-wife of the hero in a US TV cop series, probably, like Morris himself, English. Fortunately, given this image, Morris proves himself a much more than satisfactory author and analyst of the past, placing him firmly close to David Landes's tour de force The Wealth And Poverty Of Nations in its scope and ambition, marginally superior to Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs And Steel in its audacity and conclusions, and almost on a par with Douglass North's Understanding The Process Of Economic Change in providing a coherent framework for doing exactly that. I will also claim a sort of affinity with a working class boy from the industrial Midlands, who got Betta Bilda for Xmas when he was young and developed an interest in everything and how it all joins together.

Some of Morris's tale is, of course, fairly familiar to anyone who has read from the embarrassment of riches in the published economic, social, political and science histories of the last decade or so. Most will know of the extraordinary scale of the eunuch admiral Zheng-he's imperial Chinese fleet of the early 15th Century, and of how insularity and complacency curtailed its adventures; of how Muslims invented or protected an awful lot of what was worth having and knowing for a millennium, before conservative zealots decided that such things threatened their power; and of how the largely man-made miseries of the 20th Century gave way to a less zero-sum world in which second place was still first loser, but at least you didn't need fifty million body bags to start to clear up the mess (which isn't to say we're completely through with large-scale blood-letting, unfortunately).
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent
With an easy to follow format and historically accurate this book is a really interesting take on the subject. Read more
Published 2 months ago by ciriii57
2.0 out of 5 stars An interesting history of the world but it explains nothing that it...
I started off thinking this book would be a 4/5* book, then as I continued on through it my rating decreased until I considered giving it a 1*, it scrapped a 2* because some of the... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Steve
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent history of the world under one cover
This is the best single volume history of the world I have ever read. What makes it even better is that it is also numerate history, with many numbers, graphs and tables to back... Read more
Published 4 months ago by S JONES
2.0 out of 5 stars naive approach
The author claims that he does not give another "long term lock-in" theory but this what he does albeit his theory is disguised with probabilistic alternatives; states that the... Read more
Published 6 months ago by marmallad
5.0 out of 5 stars Nice book.
Good idea and a lot of valuable information in a good way of organization. I will recommend this book to my friends who are also interested in this topic.
Published 8 months ago by Xuwen Liu
5.0 out of 5 stars Best overview book I have read in ages
Anyone wanting an overview of western and eastern civilization from the last Ice Age until the present - written in the most entertaining and likeable style - and the reasons for... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Evelynaswell
4.0 out of 5 stars A new History of the World
This is a new history of the world starting with the hunter-gatherers and finishing now. While is has an irritatingly cute title and reads as if the publisher has told the author... Read more
Published 11 months ago by David in Kent
5.0 out of 5 stars magnificent
An exceedingly well researched, thought-provoking, and well written account of history and what it might mean for the future. I highly recommend it.
Published 13 months ago by Richard Hill
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, the concise but thorough history of mankind worldwide, I...
A most enlightening book, It has changed my view on mankind's development through the ages and filled in many gaps. I now need to read more!
Published 13 months ago by si
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding
This book should be required reading for all world leaders as we approach the most critical period in human history.
Published 15 months ago by Marc Kenton
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