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World History: A New Perspective [Hardcover]

Clive Ponting

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Book Description

26 Oct 2000
A chronological history of the world, which begins with hunting and gathering, and continues with the most fundamental transition in the whole of human history - the adoption of farming and the settled communities it produced. It then examines the beginning of "civilisation" in the Americas and the Pacific, before their first contact with Europeans. Eurasia dominates the central part of the book, with the empires of China and the Mongols and the rise of Islam. This is followed by a section on world balance after Europeans had made contact with the long-established societies of the Americas and Asians, while the last part deals with the massive economic changes of the modern world. Themes include contact between different cultures and how history interlocks; the passing on of ideas, technology and religions; how 'civilisation' spread; the relationship between settled societies and nomadic groups; the importance of trade; how Europe moved from the periphery to the centre in the last 1,000 years; and the coming of industrialisation.

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Book Description

One volume history of the world - from 10,000 BCE to our century - which departs from the Eurocentric viewpoint of "western civilisation" to give due credit to other traditions, societies and ways of thought

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One volume history of the world - from 10,000 BCE to our century - which departs from the Eurocentric viewpoint of "western civilisation" to give due credit to other traditions, societies and ways of thought

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Customer Reviews

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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A much needed counterbalance 16 Sep 2002
By Sarakani - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This review applies as much to the paperback.
So what would most people say was World History? Well after the dinosaurs were the hunter gatherers, then Sumerians, Egypt, Indus Valley, China, Greeks, Romans, the dark ages, the Rennaisance, global naval exploration and conquest, the industrial revolution, the British Empire and the modern status quo. Even a Chinese student I spoke to knows more about the Greeks than his own history.
History has too often been dominated by a Eurocentric world view. The victors write history in their own image, and it is this history that becomes a global commodity.
Clive Ponting has teased out a different perspective which is somewhat Sinocentric, concentrating on China, India, the Ottomans and much relegated societies and civilisations mostly wiped out or exterpated by European expansion, notably in the Americas. Only after 1750, Ponting argues was the stage set for European expansion on the back of New World gold, silver and a plantation industry based on slavery, buying into well established Eurasian trading networks which were eventually taken over.
We can be critical. Europe as a continent, Ponting argues is Geographic bonhomie. He calls it the Western Eurasian periphery. There are no major individuals he highlights and he rather describes a flow of events which are highly critical of so called European advances and their religious systems, subsequently imposed on much of the world. Perhaps the new perspective is a little jaundiced and opinionated. Indeed, one critic has argued (a scholar I spoke to on this) that this work would have been better written by an Asian than a European being critical of his "own kind".
But there is much of value on Chinese history in particular that other world histories have not taken into account, mainly as the Chinese are very good at holding back from imposing their culture on others unlike the Occident. This book is also an environmental perspective to a certain extend, indicating how much of civilisation is based on pleasant environmental circumstances which can change bringing disaster, such as past mini ice ages and changes caused by deforestation (Coming from the author of a green global history, a first).
I think there is much to provoke the mind in this which relates a different history to conventional accounts. It must be said that modern authoritative accounts have picked up on the new perspective. Especially good for Chinese readers and other Asians who want to see things from a non Occidental vantage.
Gripping stuff once started.
11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One with Nineveh and Tyre 27 Mar 2004
By Edward G. Nilges - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is a unique "world history", comparable to Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, and Norman Davies' The Isles (a non anglo-saxon-centric history of Britain). It abandons Eurocentrism and Orientalism while risking but ultimately avoiding Sinocentrism.
Ponting's earth is most assuredly round and it is centered on Eurasia and China, and his focus on China is merely mathematical. Beijing was until the 18th century the largest city in the world and for centuries Western freebooters wanted what China produced, but when Western traders presented themselves and their wares to the Chinese in the 16th century the Chinese probably said what the fairy, Puck, says in the old play, "what hempen homespuns have we here?".
The Chinese rejected Western production as inferior until the 19th century and even in the 1840s the only "production" they "accepted" was opium.
Indeed, Shakespeare's Orient was, as Ponting ceaselessly reminds us, a place where Western freebooters and adventurers were trying to get to precisely because it was more developed and had more Cool Stuff.
Ponting also shows how the Islamic and Chinese worlds were essentially deindustrialized at gunpoint during the 18th and 19th centuries because in an historical aberration the "east" was at a temporary disadvantage.
China's very success during the Manchu dynasty produced pressure on arable land in the 1790s and India's religious disunity (a consequence of the Mughal empire which imposed Moslem ways on the Hindu basis) gave the Europeans a temporary advantage as younger sons of younger brothers led town scrapings into various ports in a variety of desparate actions.
Ponting's Europe is indeed an anomaly, a pimple, a burp from the World Spirit as it dreams in its mother's arms of the unquiet struggles of men, for he dates Europe's ascendancy in Eurasian terms from 1750 to 1940. And while the book was completed before September 11, September 11 clearly demonstrates the limits of American power, not least in revelations concerning how the attack by al-Qaeda was used to justify an attack on Saddam Hussein, in part because an incompetent American administration had literally no idea how to retaliate against a non-state actor.
For Ponting, China has been able over time to support a larger population with and fairer treatment of the peasants. He contrasts the Western systems of serfdom, primogeniture and slavery with the system in China in which the peasant was neither serf nor slave, and for the most part it did not occur to the father to so prize real estate over humanity, that the holdings were transferred to the eldest son, leaving younger sons (and, of course, daughters) to emigrate, force Eastern ports in desparate actions, marry "well", or starve.
Ponting's history is comparable to Zinn's in that he has a healthy focus on the meaning of history for the ordinary person (pretty much Stephen Daedalus' "nightmare from which I am trying to awake") and how long-term, inequality doesn't produce "growth".
There is nothing of what we would understand to be high culture in this book: Ponting doesn't think it important.
The danger is that of vulgar Marxism which so reduces "high" culture to "material basis" that it lets us imagine that we could get along without "high" culture, and, vulgar and stupid Marxists, notably Joe Stalin and Tse-Tung Mao, have used this reductionism to bullyrag and torment that which makes us most human while quiet men like Chou En-Lai do their best to protect it. Reductionist wars against "high" culture do the same dirty work as was done by the British Army in Beijing in the 1860s when it looted the Summer Palace: smash and grab.
Indeed, and world-wide, the era of the Cultural Revolution in China and the "Sixties" in the West were an era in which reductionist thinking appeared among the "masses" and they revolted in the way predicted by Ortega y Gasset against epiphenomena only to find that so questioning the "material basis", say, of a midlevel college professor's existence leads to an infinite logical regress in which (in Hannah Arendt's analysis of Fascism) "everything is possible but nothing is true". Indeed, modern American politics bears at the epistemological level a striking resemblance to the politics of China during the late Cultural Revolution in which a family's private interest becomes "knowledge", leading of course to cynicism and despair.
Ponting however fails to apply a Fascist analysis to the events of the Cultural Revolution despite the fact that its devolution into battles between the PLA and student cadres over propositions undecidable because of reductionism (the failure, in other words, of that "piety" which in China derives from Kong Fuzu but which has other expressions) is strikingly like the epistemological anarchy which underlies the authoritarian gloss of European fascism.
But this is a minor objection. This World History should be read by all, especially Americans uneasy, to say the least, about the way they are being emotionally manipulated by vulgar and stupid ethnocentrism in a society in which the poverty rate is 12% and higher than contemporary China.
It may be said, in the whining tones of the reactionary commentator on hate radio, those tones that appeal to the worst in us, that Clive Ponting has some sort of pre-existing beef against the West.
But what the West looks like to the East ain't usually pretty. The facts seem to be that the West is mostly Aguirre, Wrath of God, proclaiming his dominance to the Amazon after slaughtering his own crew, the complete destruction of the Summer Palace in 1860 by ignorant slobs of the British Army, and the uncaring addiction of millions to opium in the 19th century and tobacco in the 20th century by Western firms.
Even Rudyard Kipling (of all people) knew that one day we in the West be "one with Nineveh and Tyre".
Availability note: resident in Shenzen, a suburb of Hong Kong over the border, I found this book at Page One in Kowloon Tong district of Hong Kong in print and published by Pimlico.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Complementary readings 1 Jan 2010
By César González Rouco - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
There are already two very good reviews so I will only suggest reading the following books (whose scope is amazingly global) in addition to Ponting's interesting work: 1) Economy: 1.1 "Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium" by Ronald Findlay and Kevin H. O'Rourke; 1.2 and 1.3: "The world economy. A millennial perspective" (2001) plus "The world economy: Historical Statistics" (2003) by Angus Maddison (a combined edition of these two volumes appeared on December 2007); 2) Agrarian cultures: "Pre-industrial societies" by Patricia Crone; 3) Government: "The History of Government" by S.E. Finer; 4) Ideas: "Ideas, a History from Fire to Freud", by Peter Watson; 5) Political Thought: 5.1. and 5.2: "The West and Islam. Religion and Political Thought in World History" plus "A World History of Ancient Political Thought" by Antony Black; 6) Religion: "The Phenomenon of Religion: A Thematic Approach" by Moojan Momen; and 7) War: "War in Human Civilization" by Azar Gat.
5.0 out of 5 stars A true world history 12 Jan 2011
By James - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
A true world history that looks at the interconnectedness of the world and how diffusion of ideas and culture have influenced most of the world. A focus not on the traditional subjects, rather equal treatment of all events and peoples throughout time.
0 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars please try to keep to the facts ! 3 Feb 2011
By Hubertus Fremerey - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
While the reviews of Rouco and "James" are no reviews at all, the other two prove to me without doubt that the book must be a complete nonsense and a waste of time. Western superiority is derived not from guns and cannons, but from science and math and technology and a modernized government that made superior ships and weapons possible. To claim that the rise of the western world was made possible by gold and silver from what was to become Latin America is nonsense. Europe would have become superiour even without the Americas by its modern science and technology and government. For a proof of this read what I wrote on the book of Blaut on "Eight Eurocentric Historians" (http://www.amazon.com/Eight-Eurocentric-Historians-J-M-Blaut/dp/1572305916/ref=cm_cr-mr-title). That there are only praising votes here is explained from the fact that no serious scientist would bother to comment such a silly book.
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