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Civilization: The Six Ways the West Beat the Rest Hardcover – 3 Mar 2011

3.8 out of 5 stars 68 customer reviews

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Hardcover, 3 Mar 2011
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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: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 160,601 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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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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Format: Hardcover
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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