Western civilization’s rise to global dominance is the single most important historical phenomenon of the past five centuries. All over the world, more and more people study at Western-style universities, work for Western-style companies, vote for Western-style governments, take Western medicines, wear Western clothes, and play Western sports. Yet six hundred years ago the petty kingdoms of Western Europe seemed like miserable backwaters, ravaged by incessant war and pestilence. It was Ming China or Ottoman Turkey that had the look of world civilizations. How did the West overtake its Eastern rivals? And has the zenith of Western power now passed?
In Civilization: The West and the Rest, acclaimed historian Niall Ferguson argues that, beginning in the fifteenth century, the West developed six powerful new concepts that the Rest lacked: competition, science, the rule of law, modern medicine, consumerism, and the work ethic. These were the ‘killer applications’ that allowed the West to leap ahead of the Rest; opening global trade routes, exploiting new scientific knowledge, evolving representative government, more than doubling life expectancy, unleashing the industrial revolution, and hugely increasing human productivity. Civilization shows exactly how a dozen Western empires came to control three-fifths of mankind and four-fifths of the world economy.
Yet now, Ferguson argues, the days of Western predominance are numbered because the Rest have finally downloaded the six killer apps the West once monopolized – while the West has literally lost faith in itself.
Chronicling the rise and fall of empires alongside the clashes of civilizations, Civilization recasts world history with verve and wit. Boldly argued but also teeming with memorable characters, this is Ferguson at his very best.
“[Ferguson] uses his powerful narrative talents in these pages to give the reader a highly tactile sense of history. … The author [has a] knack for making long-ago events as vivid and visceral as the evening news, for weaving anecdotes and small telling details together with a wide-angled retrospective vision” – New York Times
“A dazzling history of Western ideas” –The Economist
“Mr. Ferguson tells his story with characteristic verve and an eye for the felicitous phrase.” – Wall Street Journal
“[W]ritten with vitality and verve… a tour de force.” –Boston Globe
“This is sharp. It feels urgent. Ferguson, with a properly financially literate mind, twists his knife with great literary brio…Ferguson ends by suggesting the biggest threat is not China but ourselves – our cowardice, drawn from ignorance, even stupidity, about our past. He is right. But as he shows himself, that can be fixed.” –The Financial Times