5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
The right question?,
This review is from: Why The West Rules – For Now: The Patterns of History and what they reveal about the Future (Hardcover)
An enjoyable book, which I read over the holiday ..... immediately after Paul Kennedy's classic 'The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers' which explores the empires dominating the past 500 years of European history.
Prof. Morris's thesis makes three main points - that pre-history is important in understanding social development (Morris in an archaeologist, so he would say that, wouldn't he?), that geography worked with the prime cause of 'change', which is lazy, greedy and frightened people (who rarely know what they are doing) looking for an easier, more profitable and safer way of doing things and, finally, that within 35 years, human-kind will either meet a 'singularity' (completing a merger with artificial intelligence) or destroy itself and much of the planet.
As part of the ultimate justification for never investing in a pension, Morris provides a compelling view of the massive progress made in social and economic development during the 19th and 20th centuries. Reliant on a startling graphical presentation of this, he concludes that such growth is unsustainable and a new 'glass ceiling' will forever make human history disappear within two generations.
Yes, these changes over 250 years have been astonishing, but the real problem can be pinned in one thought - that the growing prosperity of this era has resulted in unsustainable population growth worldwide. When this happened in past empires, the effect was localised and therefore recoverable by migration. Indeed, the five 'horsemen of the apocalypse' - famine, climate change, disease, migration and state failure - are all still with us, assisted by air travel and holidaymakers, the media and our old friend greed. In the past, localised 'empires' (whether in the East or West) rose and fell by war, famine and disease, with migration being a consequence of these. Climate change affected everyone, so rode a donkey rather than a horse.....
Morris conjectures nuclear war (USA v. China) as the final destroyer, although it may rather be a whole series of smaller, inter-connected regional conflicts brought about by the rapidly declining power of the USA in the West and the contested rise of China in the East. He does not seem to recognise the rump of the Caliphate as the more likely source of turmoil and that the USA and China may both end up as the peripheral losers (rather than winners) in the conflict.
But the main failure in the book, which is otherwise excellent, is the absence of emphasis on the key issue - that, even with the technological advances of the past 250 years, the optimum sustainable world population is about 3 billion IF a 'western-standard lifestyle' is to become commonplace for all humans.
The question surely is not whether or when the East will overtake the West to resume its domination of the past two millennia, but how the current world population can be halved to make life sustainable for everyone. An archaeologist, above all, should have posed this question.