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A New York Times Notable Book for 2011 Sometime around 1750, English entrepreneurs unleashed the astounding energies of steam and coal, and the world was forever changed. The emergence of factories, railroads, and gunboats propelled the West’s rise to power in the nineteenth century, and the development of computers and nuclear weapons in the twentieth century secured its A New York Times Notable Book for 2011 Sometime around 1750, English entrepreneurs unleashed the astounding energies of steam and coal, and the world was forever changed. The emergence of factories, railroads, and gunboats propelled the West’s rise to power in the nineteenth century, and the development of computers and nuclear weapons in the twentieth century secured its global supremacy. Now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, many worry that the emerging economic power of China and India spells the end of the West as a superpower. In order to understand this possibility, we need to look back in time. Why has the West dominated the globe for the past two hundred years, and will its power last? Describing the patterns of human history, the archaeologist and historian Ian Morris offers surprising new answers to both questions. It is not, he reveals, differences of race or culture, or even the strivings of great individuals, that explain Western dominance. It is the effects of geography on the everyday efforts of ordinary people as they deal with crises of resources, disease, migration, and climate. As geography and human ingenuity continue to interact, the world will change in astonishing ways, transforming Western rule in the process. Deeply researched and brilliantly argued, Why the West Rules—for Now spans fifty thousand years of history and offers fresh insights on nearly every page. The book brings together the latest findings across disciplines—from ancient history to neuroscience—not only to explain why the West came to rule the world but also to predict what the future will bring in the next hundred years.


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A New York Times Notable Book for 2011 Sometime around 1750, English entrepreneurs unleashed the astounding energies of steam and coal, and the world was forever changed. The emergence of factories, railroads, and gunboats propelled the West’s rise to power in the nineteenth century, and the development of computers and nuclear weapons in the twentieth century secured its A New York Times Notable Book for 2011 Sometime around 1750, English entrepreneurs unleashed the astounding energies of steam and coal, and the world was forever changed. The emergence of factories, railroads, and gunboats propelled the West’s rise to power in the nineteenth century, and the development of computers and nuclear weapons in the twentieth century secured its global supremacy. Now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, many worry that the emerging economic power of China and India spells the end of the West as a superpower. In order to understand this possibility, we need to look back in time. Why has the West dominated the globe for the past two hundred years, and will its power last? Describing the patterns of human history, the archaeologist and historian Ian Morris offers surprising new answers to both questions. It is not, he reveals, differences of race or culture, or even the strivings of great individuals, that explain Western dominance. It is the effects of geography on the everyday efforts of ordinary people as they deal with crises of resources, disease, migration, and climate. As geography and human ingenuity continue to interact, the world will change in astonishing ways, transforming Western rule in the process. Deeply researched and brilliantly argued, Why the West Rules—for Now spans fifty thousand years of history and offers fresh insights on nearly every page. The book brings together the latest findings across disciplines—from ancient history to neuroscience—not only to explain why the West came to rule the world but also to predict what the future will bring in the next hundred years.

30 review for Why the West Rules—for Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future

  1. 4 out of 5

    Mal Warwick

    Something strange was afoot. A mere geographer, Jared Diamond, had had the temerity to publish a history book, upending centuries of historians’ speculations about the reasons why civilization first developed in the Middle East. It was 2005, and the book was Guns, Germs, and Steel. Five years later an archaeologist, Ian Morris, wrote another history book (for the general reader!) called Why the West Rules — for Now. Building on Diamond’s thesis, Morris laid out his own, more comprehensive view o Something strange was afoot. A mere geographer, Jared Diamond, had had the temerity to publish a history book, upending centuries of historians’ speculations about the reasons why civilization first developed in the Middle East. It was 2005, and the book was Guns, Germs, and Steel. Five years later an archaeologist, Ian Morris, wrote another history book (for the general reader!) called Why the West Rules — for Now. Building on Diamond’s thesis, Morris laid out his own, more comprehensive view of the course of human history, reaching back 15,000 years and venturing into the 22nd Century. While many historians still engaged in the stale debate about whether “Great Men” or social forces are dominant in history, Diamond and Morris convincingly laid out the case for the greater influence of the larger context in which human history takes place, delving not just into geography but also (in Morris’ case) into biology, sociology, and archaeology. In fact, Morris has little patience for the Great Man Theory of History: “the most that any of these great men/bungling idiots did was to speed up or slow down processes that were already under way. None really wrestled history down a whole new path. Even Mao, perhaps the most megalomaniac of all, only managed to postpone China’s industrial takeoff.” As you may surmise, this is not a dry college textbook. Just for example, the author advances what he calls, tongue in cheek, the “Morris Theorem” that “Change is caused by lazy, greedy, frightened people looking for easier, more profitable, and safer ways to do things. And they rarely know what they’re doing.” There are times when the pace drags, as when Morris follows the endless rise and fall of Chinese dynasties, but on the whole the book is lively and eminently readable. Like Diamond, Morris set out to understand why what today is called “the West” has dominated the planet for at least the past two centuries. The standard historical explanation is that sometime around 1800, the Industrial Revolution caused a sharp increase in development in Europe and North America. As Morris explains, however, “this upturn was itself only the latest example of a very long-term pattern of steadily accelerating social development.” In Why the West Rules, he explores the state of society and the quality of life in both West and East since long before the onset of written history in the first millennium BCE — in fact, since the passing of the last Ice Age 15,000 years ago. With a four-factor analytical tool of his own, Morris measures “social development” since then in each of the two broad regions a thousand years at a time, concluding that “the East has been the most developed region of the world for fourteen of the last fifteen millennia.” (His four benchmarks are “energy capture, urbanization, information technology, and war-making capacity.”) It is that exception — a period of about 1,200 years from the Sixth Century until the 18th, when the West finally wrested itself out of the legacy of the Dark Ages – that Morris seizes upon to refute those who assert that the West has always “ruled” and is destined to do so forever. As telegraphed in his subtitle (The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future), Morris’s ultimate goal is to discern the shape of times to come. His conclusion is noncommittal: “The great question for our times is not whether the West will continue to rule. It is whether humanity as a whole will break through to an entirely new kind of existence before disaster strikes us.” To be precise, Ian Morris has been a Professor of Classics and History at Stanford for more than 15 years. However, he describes himself as an archaeologist and his interests are clearly more expansive than those of the typical college history teacher. In Why the West Rules, he draws upon insights and examples from science fiction, popular film and television shows, and from his own personal experience on excavations in Sicily. (From www.malwarwickonbooks.com)

  2. 5 out of 5

    Emma Sea

    Wow, all those four- and five-star reviews. I disagree. First up, it should be called Why China Hasn't Ruled the World Up Till Now, But Will After 2103.¹ The book opens with an AU, in which the Chinese navy forces Queen Victoria to swear fealty, and takes Albert hostage to ensure her co-operation. Morris asks, "Why did British boats shoot their way up the Yangzi in 1842, rather than Chinese ones up the Thames?" (p. 11) This is an exciting and interesting question. Morris finally answers it 546 ra Wow, all those four- and five-star reviews. I disagree. First up, it should be called Why China Hasn't Ruled the World Up Till Now, But Will After 2103.¹ The book opens with an AU, in which the Chinese navy forces Queen Victoria to swear fealty, and takes Albert hostage to ensure her co-operation. Morris asks, "Why did British boats shoot their way up the Yangzi in 1842, rather than Chinese ones up the Thames?" (p. 11) This is an exciting and interesting question. Morris finally answers it 546 rather wearisome pages later: "The West rules because of geography." His next statement will be somewhat surprising to sociologists: "Sociology provide[s] universal laws, applying to all humans in all times and places; geography explains differences" (p. 557). Well, I think that's complete crap. Sadly a review space is not the place to go into why it's complete crap, nor is it a space in which I can convince anyone who agrees with Morris. The second key reason that Morris and I can't agree is that he thinks 900 years is a long time (p. 575). Morris and I actually agree that if you rewind history to 1100 it's anyone's ball game. To Morris, that's a vast swathe of history. But if we start where Morris starts, with Homo habilis, 2,500,000 years ago, (p. 43) 900 years is nothing. The third reason is that Morris doesn't think the "what-if game" changes that basic fact that "whether the West would rule by 2000 [is] a matter of probabilities, not of . . . accidents"; but it's all a what-if game. Geographically, nothing changed in those last 900 years (ok, the Little Ice Age, but that's a cyclical climate blip, you know?) So, with Morris acknowledging that if we start again in 1100 it could "plausibly lead to Eastern rule by 2000" (p. 575) it's not geographical, is it? It's all a "wild-card." Morris argues that without "guns and armies that could close the steppes" it was "never very likely . . . that the East would industrialize first, gain the ability to project its power globally, and turn its lead in social development into rule the way the West would subsequently do." Really? What if K'ung-fu-tzu dies in infancy and Confucianism never gets developed, gains prominence, and causes the Han dynasty to look down on merchants? One of the tasks of Zheng He's voyages is therefore to open trading routes, and his ships don't stop with the Indian Ocean. Han merchants and diplomats push on into Europe, while they also cross the Pacific, beat both France and England to Australia, and colonize South America before Portugal gets there. Fourthly, Morris presents "rule" as a binary choice: either the West rules or the East rules. What if Timur Lenk,² who was certainly in diplomatic contact with Charles VI of France, proposed an alliance, and with the support of European troops as well, took on the Ming dynasty in a late Spring campaign, avoiding both winter troop movements, and the plague, thereby winning, and creating a single unified alliance spanning the entire distance from the Pacific to the Atlantic. It's all luck, innit. And uncharacteristic tactical missteps. It's all a game of what-if, and Morris presents it as entirely the most probable and logical outcome. That's a lot like arguing that intelligent bipeds with binocular color vision are the most probable outcome for evolution. What I really hoped to find in this book was an understanding of the more complex reasons why China hasn't "ruled" before now (and I do agree with Morris that after 2103 it's China all the way, baby. I don't think that's shockingly new information.) And no, "geography" does not provide us with the answer. Example: a Western economic paradigm does not necessarily apply to China, and compared to other aspects of culture, economics at least gives you hard data to work with. In 1788 hail destroys French crops: in 1789 8,000 starving people storm the Bastille, 7,000 (mainly women) surround Versailles. Between 1958-1962, Mao's Great Leap Forward, 20 million people starved to death³ (p. 545): rather than revolt, "parents would allow their children to starve to death . . . they stopped giving the girl-children food."(4) Why the difference? Morris calls it "the West's corrosive, liberal acid" that "[eats] away the barriers within societies and those between them" and "geography" does not explain this. I'm going to have to find some good contextualizing histories written by Chinese authors. Aside from all this (and it's a big aside) I didn't find the book particularly readable. Morris wisely starts the journey by telling us that to answer the titular (implied) question, we must "confront the most basic issues: What is the West? . . . What do we mean by rule?" (p. 35). Well, I hope you packed provisions, folks. History should be a hike through fields and forests, stopping to admire both panoramic vistas and the tiny delicate indigo stripes on a pansy, sometimes meandering, other times running and leaping like fools. Morris leads us on a forced march across a vast plain. "Forward, fellows!" he cries. "I swear there's a point here somewhere, just a bit further." Onwards we slog, for 518 pages. I whined a lot. Morris kept me going with tales of bloodthirsty uppity women who had their son's eyes plucked out, or imprisoned (the whole son, not just the eyes) so they could rule. Sometimes I'd heard the story before: "Wait a minute," I'd say. "Are you sure that's how it goes?" It mattered not - Morris was off, gone, striding over the centuries like a colossus in his own mind. The text is occasionally broken by graphs. I'm going to let one speak for itself here *cough x-axis cough* If you like history this is not a book I'd recommend. While the scope is impressive, it achieves that by leaving charm in the bedside drawer at home: it's MREs all the way and there is no room for personal extras on this journey. If you don't like history, for the gods' sake, don't make this your first book. Not recommended. ¹ The whole premise of the book is to present a Europe-China binary, contrasting and comparing developments in both. The idea that anywhere else could have come to "rule" isn't even considered. That the Shona, for example, constructing Great Zimbabwe in the 11th century, could have spread their civilization through to North Africa, Spain, and then across the Med to pre-Renaissance Europe . . . well, Zimbabwe isn't even in the book. Film director Robert Zemekis is, but not Zimbabwe. Equally, forget India, or Russia, and let's reduce the 1258 sacking of Bagdhad to a single paragraph on page 391. Morris doesn't actually equate the "West" with Europe when it doesn't suit him, rather defining it sometimes as everything literally "west" of China e.g. "Cairo . . . remained the West's biggest and richest city" (p. 392). Nevertheless he refers to a "core," or "center of gravity," meaning European technology/economics/paradigms etc. ² Morris's tone pissed me off throughout the book. He calls Timur Lenk "Tamerlane," because military geniuses would much rather be called by the title of a romantic 1827 poem than, I don't know, their actual name. And he insists on using the term "ape-man" because it's "less of a mouthful." Gah! At one point Morris writes, "you would be hard-pressed to avoid concluding that the West was more developed than the East" (p.60), and my friend Camille said, "Oh. It's gonna be that book, is it? Employing that tone... " Yes. This. ³ 20 million is at the very lower end of estimates. Frank Dikotter puts the death toll at 45 million, including 2.5 million tortured to death. (4) Please note, this is a secondary source, these are not Morris's words - however he hasn't referenced it more than "another informant" so I can't cite the source. Also, I never knew till now you only get three footnotes to play with in GR's html. Huh.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Marc

    This is another real doorstopper (750 pages, without notes and bibliography) about "the Great Divergence", the debate about why the West has gained such a head start in human history that it has come to dominate the world. Archaeologist Ian Morris is not just anyone, he’s a professor at Stanford University (California), and has a good reputation in Western ancient history. It is a bold undertaking that he has dared to tackle this tricky issue that so many others have gotten their teeth in. Judgi This is another real doorstopper (750 pages, without notes and bibliography) about "the Great Divergence", the debate about why the West has gained such a head start in human history that it has come to dominate the world. Archaeologist Ian Morris is not just anyone, he’s a professor at Stanford University (California), and has a good reputation in Western ancient history. It is a bold undertaking that he has dared to tackle this tricky issue that so many others have gotten their teeth in. Judging from his bibliography and the notes, he did not do that a blink of the eye: this thick book is based on a cartload of reading material and every claim is, as it should be, substantiated with references. Morris' view on the Divergence issue is that geographic coincidence was decisive for the (temporary) dominance of the West: because as a peripheral area in the Middle Ages, Western Europe frantically tried to get up to the level of the much richer Islamic world (which according to him at that time was the core area of the West), and because the Atlantic gave it much easier access to a vast area (the New World) with huge resources. Put a bit briefly, according to Morris everything else really didn't matter that much. The East (for him only limited to China) could just as well have achieved dominance, but it was much less challenged by geography. The great strengths of this work are Morris' own systematic approach, with even an attempt to make a measurable comparison of human cultures, and the very legible, narrative character of this (almost) world-wide history. His major weaknesses, on the other hand, are a very negative view of what drives humanity, a questionable interpretation of what the terms "East" and "West" cover, and a geographical determinism that particularly undervalues the cultural factor in human history. For a detailed discussion of those strengths and weaknesses, see my review in my Senseofhistory account on Goodreads, https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

  4. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    First off, this is a very readable, interesting and often insightful book. It works as a good history of development in East Asia and Europe. I have mixed feelings about the scale of Morris' ambition, though. Or maybe just his framing. He seems like he very much wants to the scholar who has *the* theory that explains why Europe came from behind to zoom past China in the last couple centuries, but to some extent the explanation is "civilizations face crises, if they are lucky they aren't that deep First off, this is a very readable, interesting and often insightful book. It works as a good history of development in East Asia and Europe. I have mixed feelings about the scale of Morris' ambition, though. Or maybe just his framing. He seems like he very much wants to the scholar who has *the* theory that explains why Europe came from behind to zoom past China in the last couple centuries, but to some extent the explanation is "civilizations face crises, if they are lucky they aren't that deep and trigger innovations that make them better." So he spends a lot of time on the details of various stresses, and how China or Europe responded; which is fun history but not quite a theory. He does make a convincing case that Europe did have some nice advantages built in, but this is a tendency and certainly not a lock. So then he keeps stressing how "great men" and "bungling idiots" influence things but really didn't change much, and this or that event probably wouldn't have changed much on its own. To the point that I thought he was really protesting too much, trying to save a theory that promised too much. But in point of fact, when at the end he does make a stab at probabilities, I thought they were perfectly reasonable--so some element is rhetorically I won't summarize his approach in any detail, but some of the things that I didn't know, or hadn't thought about in this perspective include: (1) The west did start agriculture earlier and essentially built up an "early lead" in the development race that lasted millennia (until after Rome); (2) both civilizations hit somewhat hard limits imposed by energy requirements, alleviated only intermittently by opening up new sources like water, wind and eventually coal; (3) the great nomads who roamed between the Russian steppes and Mongolia impacted everywhere, but geography meant they'd always draw more of China's focus towards the vast, less controllable land areas (as opposed to the option to exploit the seas for Europeans.) Arbitrary and unnecessary numbers being assigned to things is a peeve of mine, and he overuses (but doesn't actually abuse) his "development index." Also, I do knock off points for quoting both Kurzweil Tom Friedman in the last chapter. Still, a very strong 3 stars.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Josh Brett

    While the title "Why the West Rules ... For Now" suggests a right wing polemic mourning the decline of Western Civilization, something written by Niall Ferguson at best, and Mark Levin at worst, Ian Morris' weighty volume is far from it (in fact, he has been criticized as being too culturally relativist). Instead, Ferguson gives a survey of the long view of human history, bringing into focus patterns that are obscured when one views history in terms of decades and centuries. Morris' book is in t While the title "Why the West Rules ... For Now" suggests a right wing polemic mourning the decline of Western Civilization, something written by Niall Ferguson at best, and Mark Levin at worst, Ian Morris' weighty volume is far from it (in fact, he has been criticized as being too culturally relativist). Instead, Ferguson gives a survey of the long view of human history, bringing into focus patterns that are obscured when one views history in terms of decades and centuries. Morris' book is in the tradition of Big History, and fills a similar niche to Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel. Morris is a materialist, and clearly defines East and West, not through subjective cultural values, but as the civilizations emerging from the respective original cores of the "Hilly Flanks" (one of the many terms Morris uses), and the North China Plain. However, Morris' history is not about the oppositional contest between East and West, but more generally about the patterns of human social development, to which his quantitative mind provides a numerical index. Similarly to his colleague Fukuyama's recent work, Morris both spends much time discussing China, sees us at "the end" history. However, unlike Fukuyama's End of History (once 1989, now 1689?, Morris sees history as a series of contingencies and reactions to geographical problems. His future is not that of the triumph of liberal democracy, rather he sees humanity on the precipice of either the Singularity, or global nuclear and climate catastrophe. Either way, we are in for "interesting times". I highly reccomend this book to anyone interested in the long view of history, how we got from stone tools to Ipads, and how unique and unstable our modern civilization is. (also, for those of you listening to the audiobook, the narrator's Chinese pronunciation is, as per Audible standards, atrocious)

  6. 5 out of 5

    David

    Astounding! I was fascinated by the premise of the book (why DOES the West rule, anyway?) but I was blown away by the scope! To make his case, Morris starts us at the dawn of humankind and takes us on a guided tour through all periods of human history until a little less than a year ago. His writing is wonderful. I felt as though I had a firm grasp on the big picture throughout the entire book. His tone is conversational and he interjects very mild humor where appropriate. As someone who has not Astounding! I was fascinated by the premise of the book (why DOES the West rule, anyway?) but I was blown away by the scope! To make his case, Morris starts us at the dawn of humankind and takes us on a guided tour through all periods of human history until a little less than a year ago. His writing is wonderful. I felt as though I had a firm grasp on the big picture throughout the entire book. His tone is conversational and he interjects very mild humor where appropriate. As someone who has not read a lot of history, I found the specific historical topics completely fascinating. There are too many delightful historical anecdotes peppered throughout this book to count. I loved the fact that Morris occasionally referenced science fiction (such as Isaac Asimov's Foundation series) and non-fictional works by authors like Erich von Daniken (Chariots of the Gods). He used these references to great effect in a "what if" sense to explore humankind's past, present, and future. As for his theorem that the West gained traction over the East in the last few hundred years because of its geography, I can't really comment in a critical way because I simply don't have the background. But I felt Morris did an excellent job of explaining it. Most importantly, it seemed to make more sense than the competing theories (many of which have racist underpinnings). According to Morris's theory, the people of the East and West were more or less interchangeable. Their geography was not. And history seems to bear this out. Do not be intimidated by the scope or subject of this book. It is an easy read and an absolute page-turner. I can't remember the last time I learned so much!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Blair

    We open with the Chinese navy sailing up the Thames, forcing Queen Victoria to sign a humiliating treaty and taking Prince Albert back to China as a hostage. Why did this story in fact happen the other way around? After all, five hundred years ago the outcome was not obvious. Ian Morris explores this question by presenting the entire history of a world reduced to two regions, which he chooses to call East and West. The East essentially means China, while the West is defined as the descendants of We open with the Chinese navy sailing up the Thames, forcing Queen Victoria to sign a humiliating treaty and taking Prince Albert back to China as a hostage. Why did this story in fact happen the other way around? After all, five hundred years ago the outcome was not obvious. Ian Morris explores this question by presenting the entire history of a world reduced to two regions, which he chooses to call East and West. The East essentially means China, while the West is defined as the descendants of the civilizations that arose in the Middle East. Thus Persia and the various Islamic Empires are considered to be a part of the West. People complain that this grouping is arbitrary, and their favourite region is left out. The main distinction is that East and West developed separately. While there was much diversity within the West, all its parts were in constant contact. This serves as a useful device to ask why the West eventually surpassed China, but it obscures the equally interesting question of why Europe also surpassed the Islamic countries. The history of China and the West are told together so we can compare the relative levels of development. Being ignorant of Chinese history, I found this approach very informative. I was more interested in how the development of these two very separate regions was so similar. It is as if periodic collapses are built into the very process of creating a civilization. Historical Materialism A detailed look at history is meant to let us to learn its “shape”, meaning the factors that determine what happens. Perhaps fitting for an archaeologist, one who reconstructs history from material objects, that shape is a material one. The importance of individual leaders, whether we think of them as great men or bumbling idiots, is downplayed. Culture is said to be merely a consequence of the level of social development. Measuring that social development, “a community’s ability to get things done”, is a major focus of the book. He develops an index based on four factors: energy use, social organization (based on the size of the largest city), information processing capacity, and ability to make war. This is admitted to be “chainsaw art”, but he argues that alternative methods tend to produce similar results. I think this is a useful exercise for measuring the material state of a society at a given time. It is less useful for predicting what will happen next, which also depends on a fact this book tries to deny: culture makes a difference. For example, European technology may have surpassed that of China by 1600, but that does not show up on a development index that measures things like city sizes. It took time for the material consequences to arrive. Imagine trying to estimate the potential of Germany and Japan by measuring their development index in 1945. The most important development was already in the minds of their people. The Limits of Geography Due to geographical advantages development in the West started before that in the East. But by the year 1400 China had been ahead of the West for 900 years, so all that history and geography before then becomes irrelevant. This was the moment when China had the opportunity to take a commanding lead. Thus, “When the eunuch admiral Zheng He sailed from Nanjing for Sri Lanka in 1405 he led nearly three hundred vessels. There were tankers carrying drinking water and huge ‘Treasure Ships’ with advanced rudders, watertight compartments, and elaborate signalling devices. Among his 27,000 sailors were 180 doctors and pharmacists. By contrast, when Christopher Columbus sailed from Cadiz in 1492, he led just ninety men in three ships.” So why did not China press this advantage? The answer, we are told, is geography. The discovery of North America made all the difference to the development of Europe, and it is too far away from China. Morris tells us that social development changes what geography means, but he obscures the fact that it also makes geography matter less. Zheng He could have taken his fleet anywhere in the world. On the map in this book one can see that western North America is no further from China than Europe is from the West Indies. Furthermore, the Chinese could get to America without losing sight of land, on a route that could be established in stages over a number of years. It was Columbus who had to cross thousands of miles of open ocean, with the help of a Chinese-invented compass. The Chinese government decided not to do any more exploring, and because it was a single empire it could enforce that decision. This fact, impossible to hide, leads to more geographical special pleading. China had a unified empire because it was round. However, the Roman Empire also worked for quite a while, and it was anything but round. Oh, that was because they had the advantage of an inland sea. China’s lack of an inland sea held up their development. Except after they built the Grand Canal to perform the same function. Well, whatever works, as long as we readers don’t think too hard about it. But there was a rational reason: the West had economic incentives to get to the richest market on Earth, while China could rely on everybody coming to them. Funny thing, when Europe became richer that was a reason for them to go out into the rest of the world. That is the difference between a culture that thinks it is the center of the universe with nothing to learn, and a culture of exploration. Culture matters. Geography is used here as an excuse to pretend that it does not. The Horsemen of the Apocalypse “When the four horsemen of the apocalypse— climate change, famine, state failure, and migration— ride together, and especially when a fifth horseman of disease joins them, disruptions can turn into collapses.” A few favourite catch phrases tend to be repeated, such as “paradox of development”, “hard ceiling”, “advantage of backwardness”, and those constantly shifting “horsemen of the apocalypse”. I am surprised that he rates state failure rates as a “horseman”, as surely that is only a consequence of the other material forces. Removing it from the list would also make the horsemen add up to the conventional four. States are put under pressure because of those external “horsemen”. But if the state or its ruling class has become lazy and decadent, or there is constant civil strife, it will be less able to resist outside pressure. That is a consequence of culture. The Migrating Horsemen One geographical feature that had a large and mostly negative impact on the emerging civilizations in both East and West was the “Steppe Highway” running from China across Asia to Eastern Europe. The nomadic tribes living there had a habit of looting and destroying the civilizations on each end of it. The later Roman Empire suffered from waves of migration from people pushed out of their lands by the Huns. The Mongols were a regular menace to China, and devastated the Eastern half of the Islamic empire. Morris tells us that civilization was only able make it to the next level by closing that migration highway. Migrations have played a role in the collapse of many civilizations. This is one case where geography does matter – you are in trouble if you are connected to a migration route. Europe is now on the receiving end of a new migration, and seems to be afflicted with a culture that has forgotten the lessons of history. The What and Why: Good Questions, Not So Good Answers The “what” part of the book, the history of civilization, is worthwhile, but the “why” part is rather slippery. Lets look at some of those questions: “Did the culture of the ancient Greeks forge a distinctive Western way of life?” His short answer is no, because “For long stretches of time the freedom, reason, and inventiveness that Greece supposedly bequeathed to the West were more honoured in the breach than the observance.” That is rather simplistic. While actual Greek learning was absent from Europe for a long time, it is possible that the European people preserved the attitude of individual freedom that made that learning possible. When Europe was ready for it, that classical heritage helped them get to the next stage in development. Arab society had access to Greek learning for centuries before they passed it on to Europe. An intellectual elite extended this knowledge when they were permitted to do so. That permission expired and the knowledge did not transform their society. My response here is simplistic because I don’t have the time or knowledge to give a proper answer. Neither does Morris in this book, in my opinion. He also asks what would have happened if Muhammad had made a different career choice. The answer: “The Western core would have stayed in the eastern Mediterranean whatever Muhammad did; the Turks would still have overrun it in the eleventh century and the Mongols in the thirteenth (and again around 1400); and the core would still have shifted westward toward Italy and then the Atlantic in and after the fifteenth century.” Interesting, but maybe the rule of Islam also had some material and cultural consequences that also affected what happened. Again, I don’t think Morris even knows how to properly consider this question. A Singular Discontinuity In order to dismiss long-term “lock in” theories that claim the East is inherently different from the West, Morris has chosen to dismiss the role of leadership and culture entirely. According to some critics he has also chosen to exaggerate the achievements of China compared to the West. I am not qualified to say. I do think the book’s geographical materialist thesis becomes less credible as the book progresses through time. As the point of all this effort was to discern the “shape” of history, the last chapter treats us to an analysis of the future. All the talk about a “Nightfall” collapse or The Singularity is quite the discontinuity from the sober realism of the rest of the book. This book can serve as a very readable introduction to world history, as long as you keep in mind that a society is more than the stuff you can dig out of the ground.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sense Of History

    An original contribution to the Great Divergence Debate, but with some essential weaknesses I’ll start with the strengths of this book, and also the presentation of his Morris' central theses and method. The charm of Ian Morris' work is that he combines modesty and boldness. His entire book, for example, is based on the view that human history is driven by 3 petty human impulses: that people are lazy, greedy and fearful and always seek solutions to their problems based on those three characterist An original contribution to the Great Divergence Debate, but with some essential weaknesses I’ll start with the strengths of this book, and also the presentation of his Morris' central theses and method. The charm of Ian Morris' work is that he combines modesty and boldness. His entire book, for example, is based on the view that human history is driven by 3 petty human impulses: that people are lazy, greedy and fearful and always seek solutions to their problems based on those three characteristics. Time and again he explains major changes in history through one or a combination of those characteristics. A bit blunt, he even calls this approach "the Morris theorem". There is a slight sarcasm involved in this, and that brings some lightness into this academic work. Another merit of Morris is that, unlike others in the Great Divergence debate, he does not limit himself to the last 200 to 300 years of human history, but he covers the whole of human history. Of course that is what you could expect from an archaeologist, but it seems to me that Morris is on this by Jared Diamond who has elaborated an equally broad approach in his 'Horses ...' and who has put forward some clever hypotheses about Western dominance, namely based on a combination of biological and geographical elements (the huge size of the Eurasian continent, with its West-East orientation that allows for easy exchange, and which also resulted in much more biological diversity on that continent). Morris fits in with this view in his own way, but he emphasizes more the geographical component and the interaction between core areas and periphery (though absolutely not in the way Immanuel Wallerstein used that model). Without a doubt the greatest merit of Morris is that he has tried to capture the whole of human development in a theoretical model that makes social development measurable and shows how humanity has realised ever higher levels of development (with ups and downs of course), in different geographical areas. He deliberately kept the criteria on which he based his quantification limited (energy consumption, organizational capacity, military capacity and information technology), and due to his focus on East and West the graphs that he worked out are very transparent and seem utterly relevant. Of course, you can endlessly criticize the choices he has made and the data on which he relies, and Morris himself admits that his model is open to discussion (even though he defends his choices with fervour). I personally think it's great that he did this exercise, and it certainly is a starting point for further discussion. On top of that, Morris is not afraid to make projections for the future based on his findings. Although as a historian I’m sceptic about this kind of bold approach (see my points of critic), but Morris at least shows that the study of history is not a voluntary activity and that absolutely relevant conclusions can be drawn on the way humanity thrives today and can evolve in the near future. Just one more positive addendum: the readability of this book. Packing the whole of human history in more than 600 pages (I am not including his projections for the future) is no small achievement, certainly because he succeeds in keeping our attention as a reader. Morris also introduces a lot of new material, especially in the first chapters, while for the more recent periods (roughly from 1600 onwards) he advances much faster, even somewhat more superficial. Also commendable is his relatively much greater attention to Eastern history, as an understandable correction for the eurocentrism of most World Histories. Very occasionally Morris loses himself a bit in the chaotic succession of Chinese dynasties, but all in all this book is very good edited. Weak points The first is a very important issue: Morris uses a very broad geographical concept of what the West is, and a very limited one for the East. For him, the West represents all cultures that originated from what was originally the first Western culture in the Fertile Sickle: stretching from the Ancient Middle East (Mesopotamia, Egypt, Persia), the ancient Mediterranean cultures (Greece and Rome) , Northwestern Europe in the Middle Ages and Modern Era and of course also the entire New World (the Americas, but also Australia). Remarkably he also includes all of Arabia and the Islamic culture; that is original and astonishing, and he has some strong arguments for this, but it also comes with some downsides, making his story of Western History rather less homogenic than he presents it to be. On top of that he limits the East to all cultures that have grown out of the first agricultural cultures in China; in this book it’s China all over, in much detail, and peripheric areas like Korea, Japan, Central and South-East Asia only occasionally pop up. Worse still, Africa and especially India remain almost completely out of the picture, and that is simply incomprehensible and a great distortion of human history. I think Morris's compulsion to simplify as much as possible is the cause of this omission, because if he had to push Africa and India into his story, his beautiful East-West schedule would have been greatly distorted. In line with that, the entire book also suffers from an East-West myopia that almost constantly leads Morris to highlight the similarities in the development of East and West, reducing his divergence story to a divergence only in pace, not in essence, and also that leads to a very debatable representation of world history. Some detail criticism is also possible on Morris's treatment of the earliest times. Like so many others he sketches an image of the earliest human history based on very limited finds and sources, although as an archaeologist he must be very well aware of the limitations of his metier. It is also striking that he almost constantly cites climate change as a probable explanation for major shifts in human development, and he attributes these almost exclusively to deviations in the Earth's axis and Earth's orbit; now, the study of these phenomena to me still seem so to be in a pioneering stage, and so it is strange Morris lends so much authority to the few works that have been published on this subject. In many reviews Morris is accused of determinism, and there is something to be said for that. In my enumeration of the positive aspects of the book, I already mentioned Diamond and his biological-geographic determinism. Morris further reduces this to a geographical determinism: the Western or the Eastern lead in different periods of human history all just come down to the geographical boundaries of those era’s. In his sketch of the constant dynamics between core areas and periphery and the Great Exchange between East and West, he certainly attributes some space to biological and sociological elements, but very strikingly cultural elements are almost completely absent. In his conclusion he’s even very derogatory towards the Western Renaissance and the entire Modernity discourse that emerged from it. Now, I’m aware this concept of "modernity" has its issues, but Morris keeps it practically unmentioned throughout the book. Also, the input of individual choices by leading figures is reduced to an absolute minimum. According to Morris, each culture simply and inevitably developed the obvious solutions to the problems with which that culture was confronted (due to shifts in the geographical horizon); individual creativity, the obstinate will of great rulers or the impact of cultural factors (such as religion) at most played a role in the pace at which the changes occurred, nothing more. Because of that very strict point of view Morris’ story occasionally gets into trouble, and ultimately it also undermines his explanation for the Western domination of the world. And that is an essential weakness. Finally, there’s that famous "Morris theorem", namely that any historical change can ultimately be attributed to the laziness, greed and fear of humans. These human impulses naturally play a major role in history, there is simply no discussion about that. But here too Morris goes way too far in his simplification. Because inevitably it gives his history a very negative focus: why should only the "low impulses" of man be decisive, and not just the more positive ones such as the urge for excellence, the drive to transcend oneself, to indulge in empathy and altruism? Or, to keep it less elevated: adventurousness, practical utilitarianism and so on? I fully understand that Morris wanted to keep his story manageable, and he really succeeds in that. But he does so at the expense of a number of elements that deny the complexity of human history and of reality itself. Futurism In the end, all these weaknesses become clear in the "futuristic" section at the end of his book. Again, it is worthwhile that he tries to learn lessons from history (I know that academic historians are very hesitant about this, but under certain conditions it is worth to try). But because of his geographical determinism and his narrow view of what drives humanity, his look into the future just ends up in open doors: yes, after a period of 200 years of western domination, the east is now coming up, and yes, humanity faces enormous challenges because the nuclear weapons arsenal and the threat of major climate change make the total destruction of our planet conceivable. Morris gets lost in a chaotic, almost endless sequence of "what if" arguments, where he only ends up in a plea for a "Great Singularity" (the merging of all differences between east and west, even in the form of a connected human brain) and a Kantian plea for a world government. The whole of this futuristic chapter, written in 2010, immediately brings at light how quickly such looking ahead can become obsolete. All these critical remarks do not alter the fact that I think this is a very worthwhile book. At least Morris’ great merit is that he dares to take a broad look, somewhat like the adepts of Big History, but with a closer eye for the historical contingency. And his quantification method may be open to discussion, it is at least a starting point for further adjustments and refinements. Morris rightly quotes Karl Popper: progress in (exact) science is a matter of speculation and refutation, it follows a zigzag course because one researcher suggests an idea and others rush to refute it, and in the process come up with better ideas. So, if there’s one lesson to remember: historians and others, take up the challenge of Ian Morris!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Silash Ruparell

    This review also appears on my blog at www.silashruparell.com My one-liner: Quite simply the best popular history book you will ever read. Astounding survey of historical forces that have shaped today’s world. At the top of the front cover of this book, there is the following quote from Niall Ferguson: “The nearest thing to a unified field theory of history we are ever likely to see”. That is not far off the mark, and it would be impossible to do justice to the breathtaking breadth covered by this This review also appears on my blog at www.silashruparell.com My one-liner: Quite simply the best popular history book you will ever read. Astounding survey of historical forces that have shaped today’s world. At the top of the front cover of this book, there is the following quote from Niall Ferguson: “The nearest thing to a unified field theory of history we are ever likely to see”. That is not far off the mark, and it would be impossible to do justice to the breathtaking breadth covered by this work in a short review. There is much current debate the so-called catch-up of developing / emerging countries after several centuries of Western economic dominance. The West’s relative decline, exacerbated by the financial crisis, is personified by the projected overtaking of the USA’s GDP by China some time in the next 10-40 years, depending on which research you read. And in the world of finance and investment, this translates into debates around upcoming fast economic growth in emerging markets being a driver for superior investment returns. After a reading of Ian Morris’ book, that analysis seems less applicable as an appropriate framing for relative rise and decline. Because it forces the reader to think in much longer time frames. And to ask himself some different questions. The book is an astounding synthesis of biology, geography, geology and socio-economic history, that surveys the ascent of humanity from pre-historic times until today. The style is both story and analysis. From Monty Python’s Life of Brian to Voltaire’s Pangloss (“All is for the best in all possible worlds”) to Alexander Pope (of Newton: “Nature, and Nature’s laws lay hid by night, God said Let Newton be ! And all was Light !) to Albert Einstein (“I do not know how the Third World War will be fought, but I can tell you what they will use in the Fourth – rocks”), there is enough literary, poetic, scientific and cultural commentary to keep any self-styled polymath reader happy. Some central themes of the thesis. The frame of reference is the evolution, over the last 16 millenia, of Morris’ Social Development Index. You can quibble, if you want, with the construction and the components (energy capture, organisation / urbanisation, war-making, and information technology), but what it serves to do is impose a consistent development measure across all time periods for the relative development of the West and East. Throughout pre-history and history the index has swung in favour of either East or West for many centuries at a time. Geography (“maps”) and human progress (“chaps”) variously define which region takes the lead. Progress, is in Morris’ self-confessedly pithy theorem, “made by lazy, greedy, frightened people looking for easier, more profitable, and safer ways to do things.” The analysis thus looks to dismiss the notion that there is somehow a hard-wired ethnic or geographical lock-in of development capability for any one region. The first sustained decline in social development in both West and East, began around 100CE and there was another one around 1000CE, as both regions hit what Morris refers to as a “hard ceiling”. Both periods were characterised, in Morris’ analysis by the prevalence, using the biblical analogy, of the “Five Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, namely climate change, famine, state failure, migration, and disease. The West spent most of the period from 1400 to 1800 CE catching up with the East, ending a 1200-year year reign of Eastern supremacy, and crucially, resulting in both regions breaking through the previous 1000CE hard ceiling. The last two hundred years ? We know the story. An unprecedented, acceleration in development for both regions, but a clear advantage to the West (the opening of the Atlantic trade route, the industrial revolution, European military power etc, etc), with its roots in an ex-ante highly probable chain of history stretching back to the twelfth century . The surprising end to the book is less about whether China will now regain its superiority, although the projection is that it will, around 2103 at the latest, and we all kind of know that. With a further massive acceleration (from an index score of 900 to 4000) for both regions as new technologies and globalisation unlock development. This “Singularity” is borrowed from futurist Ray Kurzweil. It is “a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep…that technology appears to be expanding at infinite speed.” The more ominous question is whether the world will instead enter a period of “Nightfall” (last flirted with in the Younger Dryas ice age period around 10,800BC), using the title of the novel by Isaac Asimov. Not only will the world hit another hard ceiling, but, like any crash after a big bubble, the next crash of humanity will be utterly destructive. Are the “Five Horsemen” amongst us again, as climate change threatens and the free transfer of technology increases the chance that devastating and dangerous technology can end up in the wrong hands ? Morris concludes that there will be no halfway house, no “silver medal”. Only one of Singularity or Nightfall will prevail.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Fulya Koylu

    First of all, I very much liked the writing style of this book. Even though it was long, it was easy to read and follow. Secondly, I loved the fact that such a long history is included in one single book. I enjoyed learning the history starting from Homo Habilis more than the aim of the book, finding out why the West rules for now. As a person who studied in Turkey in school our history classes never taught us much about the eastern history. So, even though it was much harder to follow than the First of all, I very much liked the writing style of this book. Even though it was long, it was easy to read and follow. Secondly, I loved the fact that such a long history is included in one single book. I enjoyed learning the history starting from Homo Habilis more than the aim of the book, finding out why the West rules for now. As a person who studied in Turkey in school our history classes never taught us much about the eastern history. So, even though it was much harder to follow than the familiar western history it gave me a pleasure to learn the general points of the history of the East of which I did not know much about. I agree with Ian Morris on why the West is ruling now is not because it was locked-in or because it was an accident but because it became probable throughout the history. I am sure there might be some errors in calculating the social development scores due to insufficient information and some information not being comparable but I think the four categories he chose were perfectly suitable.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Charlene

    This book was Fantastic! A+ Morris' main focus is "energy capture". He examines how organisms capture energy from the sun and from their surrounding environments and use that energy to remain active and build things. His particular interest is in how various groups of humans have captured and used energy over time to build the civilizations we have built throughout history. In addition to energy capture, he looks at the social, cultural, and economical forces that shaped various empires and polit This book was Fantastic! A+ Morris' main focus is "energy capture". He examines how organisms capture energy from the sun and from their surrounding environments and use that energy to remain active and build things. His particular interest is in how various groups of humans have captured and used energy over time to build the civilizations we have built throughout history. In addition to energy capture, he looks at the social, cultural, and economical forces that shaped various empires and political systems. What a novel approach to this subject! Far better than Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel. An example of his novel approach to the creation of human civilization is as follows: How are cities a product of the sun? We often think of plants and animals as products of the sun . The sun sends down energy, in the form of photons. The photons enter the leaves of plants. They excite the electrons, which set off a cascade that makes ATP (energy for the cells in the plant). Animals eat the plant and ingest the sun's energy. Still other animals come and eat the animal that ate the plant. though the sun's energy is less than it was when it arrived on the planet, the larger animals still is able to have a share of the sun's energy. It is easy to see how the sun's energy grew plants and the animals that ate those plants. This author takes that logic one step further and is spot on! When human's capture their share of energy from the sun, they are able to remain alive, grow stronger, and reproduce more humans to increase their number. When humans captured enough energy to make many more humans (to do the work of building civilizations), construct many huts and many villages, and do more than survive (remain healthy), these energized humans were in a state that allowed them to capture even more of the sun's energy by creating agriculture. At first it took its toll. However, once they got the hang of it, they captured a lot of the sun's energy in the foods they grew, which were readily available to them. They then used that readily available energy, originally from the sun, to build small cities, large cities, and even great empires. This author examines how the concept of kings likely emerged and what that had to do with building cities. Every part of this book was amazing. I read Bill Bryson's At Home and Witold Rybczynski's Home in the hopes of understanding how humans climbed down from the trees, inhabited caves, built tiny huts and eventually tiny villages and then built power structures, and built grand empires complete with palaces. However, neither of those books answered those questions. Morris answers them and more. I listened to this book on audio (free from Hoopla). It was 21 hours long. At 9 hours I already became depressed knowing it would be over all too soon. I wish this book were 30 hours or longer. I loved every second of it!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    The New York Times review (see The Final Conflict , by Orville Schell) of this epic work includes this paragraph in describing the book’s conclusion:The competition that East and West have been pursuing for so long, Morris warns, is about to be disrupted by some powerful forces. Nuclear proliferation, population growth, global epidemics and climate change are in the process of radically altering old historical patterns. “We are approaching the greatest discontinuity in history,” he says.After The New York Times review (see The Final Conflict , by Orville Schell) of this epic work includes this paragraph in describing the book’s conclusion:The competition that East and West have been pursuing for so long, Morris warns, is about to be disrupted by some powerful forces. Nuclear proliferation, population growth, global epidemics and climate change are in the process of radically altering old historical patterns. “We are approaching the greatest discontinuity in history,” he says.After hundreds of pages of description, the author apparently surprises the reader by ending with heartfelt prescription: our global civilization is caught between the dream of transformation away from all of the problems that have historically beset mankind, and the nightmare of collapse. The “Singularity” is apparently emblematic of the former, and “Nightfall” represents the later. Unfortunately,For the Singularity to win out, “everything has to go right,” Morris says. “For Nightfall to win only one thing needs to go wrong. The odds look bad.”Indeed, they do. ­

  13. 4 out of 5

    Richard Thompson

    This book is 550 pages of not great and not always completely accurate world history followed by 75 pages of a not so great grand theory of history. There were a few places along the way where Morris made me wince, like where he cited Karl Popper's concept of the scientific method in support of a similar approach to history (I guess Morris never read Popper's "Poverty of Historicism.") and where he refers to Bill Gates and Paul Allen as Harvard dropouts (Gates yes, Allen no). But the point of th This book is 550 pages of not great and not always completely accurate world history followed by 75 pages of a not so great grand theory of history. There were a few places along the way where Morris made me wince, like where he cited Karl Popper's concept of the scientific method in support of a similar approach to history (I guess Morris never read Popper's "Poverty of Historicism.") and where he refers to Bill Gates and Paul Allen as Harvard dropouts (Gates yes, Allen no). But the point of the book is that little things don't matter in the grand scheme, so I'll forgive Morris his small inaccuracies and consider the bigger picture. His main point is that the great trends of history are driven by geography (and climate which can in this regard be considered part of geography). OK. I agree that geography and climate are important fundamental drivers of historical trends, but the way that Morris uses them to explain history is closer to a Just So story than to a regression analysis. He has a point worth considering, but he picks the facts and trends that support his argument in a way that didn't persuade me. I don't know that he is wrong, but he isn't completely right and is almost certainly oversimplifying. His measure of "social development" as a way of comparing East and West is a decent tool, but he makes too much of his numbers, using them to argue that social development hits "hard ceilings" that are hard to break through, but I don't see anything behind the "hard ceiling" theory, other than some maximum points on curves in a somewhat arbitrary graph that don't occur with enough regularity to have statistical significance. My least favorite part of his theory was the idea that civilizations get the kind of intellectual thinking that is right for their needs (so Western Europe gets the Renaissance, Reformation, Age of Discovery, the Enlightenment and Liberal Capitalism and Ming China turns inward and stagnates); this is a tautological idea with almost no explanatory power. Morris is not as deterministic or dogmatic as some of his predecessors in the business of grand historical theories, but reading a book like this pushes me back in the direction of seeing history as one damn thing after another, predictable only in small increments and with no meaningful grand theories to explain the overall unfolding of great events.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Realini

    Why the West Rules for Now by Ian Morris Fascinating!! 10 out of 10 - Why the West rules - for now? - There are quite a few answers to this question, but it might be geography that played the most important role Nevertheless, The Economist has on the cover of the issue of October 12th-19th the photo of the Chinese president with the tittle: - The Most Powerful Man in the World In other words, the Rule of the West has already ended and it must be said that for many centuries, the West lagged behind t Why the West Rules for Now by Ian Morris Fascinating!! 10 out of 10 - Why the West rules - for now? - There are quite a few answers to this question, but it might be geography that played the most important role Nevertheless, The Economist has on the cover of the issue of October 12th-19th the photo of the Chinese president with the tittle: - The Most Powerful Man in the World In other words, the Rule of the West has already ended and it must be said that for many centuries, the West lagged behind the East. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, which explains the Eastern culture and its emphasis on work, required by the cultivation of rice, which was at the basis of that civilization for millennia, could serve as another argument for the end of the Western supremacy. Ian Morris explains with amazing talent history, evolutions and the fact that it could have well been the Chinese who conquered countries, populations in South and Central America, instead of the conquistadores. The magnificent author uses materials from various domains, including literature, with references to Tolstoy and others and cinema: -“Reg: All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us? - PFJ Member: Brought peace? - Reg: Oh, peace? SHUT UP!” This excerpt from what could very well be the best comedy ever, Monty Python’s Life of Brian, is used to underline the importance, influence of the Roman Empire, with the impressive and funny in the context of the film list, and especially the essential Roman peace. The end of the book deals with what will happen, the chances of a thermo-nuclear war- which is a poignant reminder when we consider the so-far peaceful conflict between Little rocket man and his just as crazy nemesis in the White House. Ian Morris writes about Climate Change and the effects he has seen, with seasonal fires increasing in intensity and the period during which they ravage parts of America increasing…and if we watch the news, we see the catastrophic effects of these changes in California and other states. Technology might play an important role in the equation of climate change, especially if Singularity takes place. The theory in that scenario would have all the intelligence of mankind transferred to computers, which will increase astronomically their ability to think and act like humans. There is also the possibility of the border between East and West to disappear, even if this is in doubt, and there is a possibility for the West, faced with a rising, dominant china, to have to adopt Chinese values, learn that language, instead of English and pay homage to Chinese artists, historical figures, instead of the now celebrated Leonardo da Vinci, painters of Italian renaissance, impressionists … There also jokes and funny situations detailed in this outstanding book, like the visit Nixon paid to Soviet Union and the presentation at a fair of achievements in household goods, like vacuum cleaners. The soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev replied that the place of the woman in their society is not that of housewife, but statistics showed that, even if the women of that cursed society worked more outside their homes, they still had to deal with household chores. Finally, I saw this joke as de4scribing very well the situation in communist regimes, like the ones the Russians brought in my country, alas: - Three Russian presidents, actually called General Secretaries, are taking the train and this stops in its tracks… - Take the train mechanic and flog him, says Stalin, only to discover that they are still stuck on the train - Rehabilitate and re instate the mechanic, decrees Nikita Khrushchev, but without any positive effect… - You know what, let’s just pretend the train is moving, concludes the third… I have finished reading this magnificent book today, for the second time and this is what I have written after the first encounter with the work: This is one of the best books that I have read lately. With about 700 pages, it looked like a long read, perhaps even a tedious perspective, cut short if it proved boring. But it was the contrary, a sensational book that I loved so much that I am now reading through another work of the author. Not only that, I took the advise upon another reference point- The Singularity book that I also read in this period. Not at the same time, although Singularity argues that we would soon be able to perform operations much faster. Why the West Rules is for the most part a book history that ends with a look towards the future and what it may look like. This is where Singularity comes into play, with its optimistic version which predicts that with the help of extraordinary IT, we will be able to solve most of the problems. There is a less positive outcome that can come true, if we neglect a few of the major issues that can easily derail mankind. One of them is the weird weather, as the author calls the widespread phenomena of spreading hurricanes, forest fires and extremely unusual weather. It can lead to the desertification of vast areas, which would then cause massive water shortages that can easily lead to wars. Considering the title of the book by Ian Morris that I read now- War! What is it good for- we can maybe think about some good in the outcome. A marvelous aspect of Why The West rules…is the fact that the author has a liberal, inventive way of looking at history. The start is dazzling- with a history in which queen Victoria pays allegiance and tribute to the Chinese emperor. Furthermore, Albert has to go and die in Peking in this alternative history tale, which could have happened. Instead, a Pekinese dog arrived at Balmorals and around the middle of the 19th century; the British became the dominant power of the world. The Chinese and the East in general had a long period of ascendance over the West, sometime between the fall of the Roman Empire and the start of the Industrial Revolution. Another theme of the book is the reason why progress took place- - It is because of fear, laziness or fear- I guess sometimes a combination is possible From Singularity, a possible future where robots will eliminate the differences between West and East is also enticing- as Ian Morris says: - East and West are irrelevant to robots I also loved the story of the great Chinese drive to sail the ocean, which was stopped too soon to make a difference. But if it wasn’t for the decision to abandon the seas, when the Spanish went to the New World they could have been met by…a Chinese governor. Very interesting is the point of view that leaders do not make much of a difference, since events would take their course anyway. This is disputed though, and in Modern Times by the wonderful Paul Johnson, it is very well explained how Hitler and Stalin made a tremendous, terrible difference to the course of World War II and further beyond. Geography explains a lot of the difference and the rule of the West, because of the Atlantic Ocean to take just this example.

  15. 4 out of 5

    HBalikov

    No serious history book can be called breezey, but Ian Morris keeps things moving while tackling a very big (and potentially critical topic). I enjoyed his examples and his speculation as well as his observations. For example: "If you get two paleoanthropologists into a room they are likely to come out with three theories of human evolution, and by the time the door shuts behind them, all will be out of date." His point of view is made clear, early. His ability to back it up is challenging and su No serious history book can be called breezey, but Ian Morris keeps things moving while tackling a very big (and potentially critical topic). I enjoyed his examples and his speculation as well as his observations. For example: "If you get two paleoanthropologists into a room they are likely to come out with three theories of human evolution, and by the time the door shuts behind them, all will be out of date." His point of view is made clear, early. His ability to back it up is challenging and successful enough to pass muster. I believe I will return to portions of it as time and circumstances warrant.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Frank

    Picks up where Jared Diamond's Guns, Steel and Germs left off: Diamond argued that geography gave Eurasia an advantage over all other centres of civilisation and, in the very last chapter speculated briefly as to why the centres in the west of Eurasia advanced faster and further than their counterparts in the east. Morris, who speaks in a similarly lively, interdisciplinary, but also slightly more everyman-directed voice traces the very topical question of east vs west over 15 millennia, guided Picks up where Jared Diamond's Guns, Steel and Germs left off: Diamond argued that geography gave Eurasia an advantage over all other centres of civilisation and, in the very last chapter speculated briefly as to why the centres in the west of Eurasia advanced faster and further than their counterparts in the east. Morris, who speaks in a similarly lively, interdisciplinary, but also slightly more everyman-directed voice traces the very topical question of east vs west over 15 millennia, guided by a few self constructed developmental metrics.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Juneight

    Excellent analysis of historical facts from very early ages until twenty first century (even some predictions of the future) that eventually sums up the background for West dominance in the last two chapters. Some of the details in the book makes it even more attractive for Historians and Anthropologists however Political Scientists will find institutional and state level analyses more interesting. If you have time and interest this is a MUST read book!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mark Gray

    Another truly remarkable book from Ian Morris, I was concerned that there would be too much cross over from the last one I read however they are easily read without that feeling of repetition. This reminds me of The Rise and Fall if Great Powers but with a much broader scope. I need a break to think before I leap into the next Ian Morris book. Highly recommended

  19. 5 out of 5

    Boudewijn

    A comprehensive - somewhat dry - and theoretical explanation of why the West played such an important part in the World's history, and why that will change. If you have a master degree in history, you might find this book suits you, but if you like history as a general interest, this is not a book I'd recommend I've read Ian Morris's War! What Is It Good For?: Conflict and the Progress of Civilization from Primates to Robots and could have known where I was in for. When Ian Morris writes a book, A comprehensive - somewhat dry - and theoretical explanation of why the West played such an important part in the World's history, and why that will change. If you have a master degree in history, you might find this book suits you, but if you like history as a general interest, this is not a book I'd recommend I've read Ian Morris's War! What Is It Good For?: Conflict and the Progress of Civilization from Primates to Robots and could have known where I was in for. When Ian Morris writes a book, he does this in a great scope and rather scientifically. This book was the same. Ian Morris creates a "social development index", that recounts the course of social development in the East and West starting from 1100 BC. But in typical Morris's style, he also explains very detailed the evolution of the human race from Africa starting form 25.000 BC. This takes up the first chapters of the book, before coming to the core subject someway halfway the book. Now to the core. Ian Morris states that biology, sociology and geography explains the history of social development. With biology driving development up, sociology shaping how development rises or doesn’t and geography deciding where development rises or falls fastest. In it, he concludes that Geography has played the deciding factor in why the Industrial Revolution started in England, and not China. In short: it's maps, not chaps. But now for the 21st century. Ian Morris states that social development has risen so high, that it has changed the role that geography has played. It is now redundant. And social development will also change what biology and sociology will mean too. He concludes that the East will catch up with the West, and will even overtake it, but once it has done this, the globalization of the world (the 'great singularity') has rendered the definition or East and West redundant, or the social development has plummeted to its starting levels, because of pollution, global warming (global weirding as Ian Morris puts it) or a nucleair disaster (the 'Nightfall' scenario). My view is that this book could have been written differently, without damaging the result of the book. In this regard, it reminds me of The Edge of the World: A Cultural History of the North Sea and the Transformation of Europe: a great premise, but it could have been so much better.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Beeb3

    Only the supremely self-confident put forth all-encompassing theories of world history, and Morris is one such daredevil. An archaeologist by academic specialty, he advances a quasi-deterministic construct that is suitable for nonacademics. From a repeatedly enunciated premise that humans by nature are indolent, avaricious, and fearful, Morris holds that such traits, when combined with sociology and geography, explain history right from the beginning, when humanity trudged out of Africa, through Only the supremely self-confident put forth all-encompassing theories of world history, and Morris is one such daredevil. An archaeologist by academic specialty, he advances a quasi-deterministic construct that is suitable for nonacademics. From a repeatedly enunciated premise that humans by nature are indolent, avaricious, and fearful, Morris holds that such traits, when combined with sociology and geography, explain history right from the beginning, when humanity trudged out of Africa, through the contemporary rivalry between China and America. Such temporal range leaves scant room for individual human agency: Morris names the names of world history, but in his narrative, leaders and tyrants, at best, muddle through patterns of history that are beyond their power to shape. And those patterns, he claims, can be numerically measured by a “social development index” that he applies to every epochal change from agriculture to the industrial revolution. However, the reading is not as heavy as it may sound. His breezy style and what-if imagination for alternative scenarios should maintain audience interest; whether his sweeping perspective convinces is another matter altogether.

  21. 5 out of 5

    John Doyle

    World historians generally divide into "short-termers" who believe that great individuals and bungling idiots drive history and "long termers" who attribute relative strengths of societies to genetic differences in populations. Ian Morris argues for a third hypothesis -- that biology and sociology determine the path of social development and that all variation between societies is a function of geography. In other words, for example, "an" industrial revolution was inevitable but "the" industrial World historians generally divide into "short-termers" who believe that great individuals and bungling idiots drive history and "long termers" who attribute relative strengths of societies to genetic differences in populations. Ian Morris argues for a third hypothesis -- that biology and sociology determine the path of social development and that all variation between societies is a function of geography. In other words, for example, "an" industrial revolution was inevitable but "the" industrial revolution happened where and when it did as a consequence of local factors (e.g. cheap labor in the East, the Atlantic as a frontier in the West). In the end, Morris concludes that social development leads advanced societies to destroy themselves. He posits that the 21st century will bring about a Singularity or "Nightfall" for humanity.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Liviu

    Better than Guns Germs and steel and that's saying something; a seminal book about the sweep of human history and one that puts a lot of things in perspective; tons of sfnal references from Nightfall to Hari Seldon and many more add extra pleasure for the sff reader #1 non-fiction book of 2010 for me

  23. 5 out of 5

    Doaa

    I'm not done with the book yet, I reached the part where he's comparing as he claims our ancestors, the ones that came from the west and the ones from the east. Despite the fact that I don't believe that our ancestors were monkeys, but the differences he mentioned were realistic. I'm still enjoying the book let's see what happens after i'm done. I hope it doesn't shift to bordem.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ramil

    Like reading a history book.. İ love history but this book definitely not the one that you will be avid to read. Quest of Why West Rule only covers two or more pages and the book.. mostly the world history. Which history book tell about WW2 only 2 verse ?? the answer is THİS BOOK ! anyway lastly give a clue of mainstream question.

  25. 5 out of 5

    David

    This is the appropriate sequel to Guns, Germs and Steel by Diamond; but greatness sometimes comes in threes. I'm looking forward to a trilogy formed by a brilliant scientist (or not) giving us a new way to look at the world as Ian Morris and Jared Diamond have done.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ismail

    I rarely review books here, however, this is one of the greatest books I have ever read and worthy of a long review. "Why the West Rules - for Now" is a book on the entire history of human civilization. It actually starts immediately after the latest Ice Age and tries to understand why Western civilization has been ahead during the entire history except for 1300 years (between the 5th and 18th centuries). The first shocking thing in the book is the definition of the West. For most people, Western I rarely review books here, however, this is one of the greatest books I have ever read and worthy of a long review. "Why the West Rules - for Now" is a book on the entire history of human civilization. It actually starts immediately after the latest Ice Age and tries to understand why Western civilization has been ahead during the entire history except for 1300 years (between the 5th and 18th centuries). The first shocking thing in the book is the definition of the West. For most people, Western civilization is defined as related to one (or more) of the following four things: a) civilization based on Europe and America/Australia; b) civilization based on the ancient Greek's ideas of freedom and democracy; c) civilization based on the Roman Empire; d) civilization based on Christianity. Morris actually well-explains that all these definitions are artificial, and the real definition is that the Western civilization consists of all the civilizations that came from the settlers in the Jordan valley. They were the first hunters and gatherers who turned farmers and spread in Europe, the Middle East, and likely on India and Pakistan. In fact, this relegates Europe to only the periphery of the Western civilization for most of the history (except between Alexander and Muhammad, and then later since the Industrial Revolution when Europe becomes the center again). It is a very thought-provoking idea and an idea that is hard to dismiss. Similarly, Morris defined Eastern civilization as the civilization spread from the first farmers in the Yellow River (around 2000 years after the farmers in Jordan valley and totally independent of them), and that spread to current China, Korea, Japan, and Indochina. The author mentions but does not speak much about the other civilizations (sub-Saharan Africa, America, and Papua New Guinea). After the definition, Morris goes on a detailed tour-de-force in the history of these civilizations. For most part, he argues that the West was always ahead. Starting from farmers in Jordan valley 2000 years ahead of those in China, to Messopotamia, Egypt, middle-Eastern Empires, Macedonian and then Roman Empire. Eastern Civilization was always playing catch-up, with the Han dynasty being closest to catching its Western counterpart (the Roman Empire). The author mentions many hard-limits where both Civilizations struggling to prosper, typically as a combination of what he calls the four horsemen of the Apocalypse (climate change, famine, migration and disease) resulting in the fifth horsemen (state failure). You see countless examples in the entire history, from the Sea People being the catalyst for the destruction of Middle Eastern Empires (Hitite, Assyrian, Babylonian and Egypt) to Attila helping the destruction of Rome, or Genghis Khan being the catalyst for China starting to lose their supremacy. In every case, the author mentions that it was geography (not biology, or sociology) that was the main reason for the differences between the civilizations. Average humans have around the same intelligence, be it on the West or East. The reason why the farmers settled first in the West is that there are many more plants and animals that can be domesticated in the West than in the East (the author gives the exact numbers, the difference is too big). The reason why the West settled America first is that Atlantic is much smaller than the Pacific. And the reason why there are no more Nomad Empire, is because Russia and China were able to close the 'steppe highway'. Nevertheless, the author argues that with the changing of times, the geography changes. The Atlantic was always there, but only after humans were able to build large ships (and have the incentive; Colombus took the journey because he wanted to reach rich China and do trade with them) were able to pass the Atlantic, in turn, transforming Europe from a peripherical region of the Western civilization to the core of it. The last chapter was the one I liked least. It tries to do psychohistory (the famous term from Foundation series) and predict the future. The author limits the direction on what the humans will reach on this century to the wanted Singularity and the catastrophic Nightfall (as you can see, Morris is found of Asimov). While there are common-sense things in the chapter, I also found out that the author deals in absolutisms and does not have the necessary background to talk about the Singularity (I think it is far more likely that we won't reach full autonomous driving by 2045 than reaching Singularity by that year). However, taken for what it is, a book in the history of mankind's two greatest civilizations, this is a masterpiece and at the very least, it offers a very different (but extremely intelligent) opinion.

  27. 4 out of 5

    S.

    sometimes two different people have the same idea at (roughly) the same time. in 2006, "The Prestige" and "The Illusionist" both came out, both movies about turn-of-century magicians, both featuring a-level stars, Ed Norten, Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman etc. Box office divided $110 MM vs. $88 MM, making both hits despite shared materials. in 2011, Niall Ferguson wrote Civilization and Stanford Classics professor Ian Morris wrote this work. two books about the current rule of Western civilization sometimes two different people have the same idea at (roughly) the same time. in 2006, "The Prestige" and "The Illusionist" both came out, both movies about turn-of-century magicians, both featuring a-level stars, Ed Norten, Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman etc. Box office divided $110 MM vs. $88 MM, making both hits despite shared materials. in 2011, Niall Ferguson wrote Civilization and Stanford Classics professor Ian Morris wrote this work. two books about the current rule of Western civilization over Eastern, and how we were trembling at history's doorstep, with the changeover, five, ten? fifteen years away? both good books that went a long way to explaining cultural standards, technology, Guns Germs and Steel etc. and both books now have 700 or 900 ratings, with a fair amount of good repute. Morris' work, stylistically a little weaker, does a better job of organizing everything with the in-house algorithm, so to speak; Morris calculates, roughly, how much power, energy, fossil-fuel, etc. "West" and "China" were using at each point, to derive a sort of "balance of power" graph. he does a superb job, as well, of characterizing 1100 - 1700, which are six hundred years that are normally a big blank spot in most people's knowledge of history. Xiongnu kingdom, the early Bulgars, etc. who ever heard of these? according to Morris, China lagging behind West for much of early prehistory; things turn around in the 4th century as Rome collapses but by the 17th century Europe takes off, and of course the rest... is history. with a little bit of further elaboration on the Guns, Germs, and Steel hypothesis of Diamond (i.e, cultures were determined by availability of domesticable animals, and exposure to disease, and finally, iron ore), Morris does a good classicist's job of interpretation, academically smooth writing, careful footnoting, and excisive analysis. the work is popular in Asian airports as busy executives on the go grab it for their long-haul flights. but... the less than 1000 ratings probably reveals that most people in the world only read a few books a year, and this, of course, was not it. it's too bad. Morris seems to be predicting a Chinese turnaround in twenty years... but then, didn't we all grow up being told China is "twenty years" away. the thesis becomes more important as we examine the Daioyu/Senkaku conflict. news of Chinese stealth planes; the chinese space station by 2020. hmm... China may be the real deal. (view spoiler)[ INTRODUCTION imagine in 1848 it is not Victoria and Albert who deconstruct Qiying but Qiying who sails up the Thames to accept UK surrender. instead, there was Opium War, burning of Summer Palace (Beijing), Looty, The Maxim Gun. Author admits simplification "East-West" ignores South Asia, lays out plan for book 1 Before East and West 'The Great Divergence' and 'Guns Germs and Steel'; already in prehistoric times there are Western hand stone axes and Eastern flaked stones. Is it possible Easterners are Homo erectus descendants and Westerners the superior Neaderathal man? No, genetic studies say all modern humans from same prehistoric stock. Modern humans leave Africa 60000 years ago; reach tip of South America by 15000 years ago. 2 The West Takes the Lead Fertile Crescent and 'Lucky Latitudes'. Was this all determined? 6000 - 1500 BC, western agriculture and development already 20% ahead of East. 3 Taking the Measure of the Past Today we use some 50x the energy of early humans. If early humans used 5 units of energy, broken down: 1 unit of plants, 2 of animal-based food and 2 units of energy in their home (firewood), today we use 230+, 63 units of energy every day in transportation, 91 in industry and agriculture (40+ electricity); 76 units of electricity in our homes/commerce, including 40 units of electricity. We Eat 8 units of animal-based calories, and 2 of plant. Introduction to Morris thesis; East rises in energy capture by year 500, holds lead to 1800, and predicted to regain in 2103. 4 The East Catches up 2500BC - 1200 BC, West firmly ahead. but chariots spread to East. civilizations begin, but so do civilization-level disasters: great migrations, collapses, failed states, famine, disease, climate change. age of bronze working, slavery, funeral ceremonies. first ceremonial positions. then in 1200-1000 BC, Western lead evaporates, only 'barely' higher in energy capture than Eastern cities in Han heartland. 5 Neck and Neck Wu, Bao, Chu microstates in China give way to first real dynasties: QIN Empire. In West, Greek civilization gives way to ROMAN Empire, PERSIAN Empire (which both knew of each other, but communicated only in small amounts: silk road, steppe highway, a few scholars). Roman first imported silk which became material for upper-class Roman elite women, first Chinese girls arrived in Rome and were put to work as imperial concubines. 6 Decline and Fall the Jews arrive and subvert the ROman Empire. Roman Empire falls and dissolves into microstates (Lombards, Goths), whereas China goes through dynastic succession yet remains under some kind of central rule (Han dynasty gives way to Jin Empire)--Xiongnu barbarians. first time in East-West 'rivalry' that East is more advanced (the civilization as a whole is using more energy than the West-- BUT ah-ha! MORRIS does not mention that Chinese population density is far higher. it may still be clearly better to be an AVERAGE Westerner than an AVERAGE Easterner at this time.). Chinese girls in Rome continue to work as courtesans and inspire Voltaire to write "Candide" 7 The Eastern Age East pulls ahead, 40-30 to West in social development, according to Morris. Byzantine empire struggling to maintain unity; Arabs almost manage to conquer Europe (unify) but turned away. China going through number of dynasties, then both sides discover coal and begin to burn it. At this moment (year 1100), China appears more dynamic and set to rule the world. hot Italian girls finally reach China and are put to work in extreme upper-class bordellos. 8 Going Global Ottoman Empire, China invites in Jurchen tribesmen who then sack capital; Mongol invasion, Pacific twice the size of Atlantic, so West discovers America. boooya. Pires diplomatic mission to Nanjing fails (1521) in same year as Aztec falls to Cortes. musings on confucionism; other philosophers on social order. 9 The West Catches up according to Morris theory, West now starts to accelerate. Chinese labor wages, once 3x bare survival, exceeded by Venetians 4-5x bare survival. beginnings of oceanic trade; chinese have scientific method; jannisaries, habsbergs, clocks, diplomatic envoys on both sides; chinese and spanish even cooperate against filipino pirates. 10 The Western Age / 11 Why The West Rules... / 12 ...For Now closing thesis; West rules because of geography, luck; we may destroy ourselves, we may ascend into superhumans; "East will grow more powerful than West in 2103" (hide spoiler)] what does Morris fail to account for: Eastern contentedness with materialism; Eastern contendedness in general versus Westerner's constant striving for more, spirit of personal exploration the Asians "in total" may exceed the Westerners, but individual Westerners' lives and personalities are superior (can this be written? non-racist??) and the, "China is always 20 years away" problem.<-=- at every point, people are saying China is 20 years away. perpetually the nation of the future. Morris thesis ignores fundamental facts-on-the-ground? at any nightclub western males picking up eastern girls and rarely the reverse? china as mimetic civilization? does not deal with "real" interaction so much as this one precise "energy capture" number... lies, damn lies, statistics. this woman looks Chinese but actually she is turkic / xiongnu. manchu and mongol have fought; but nobody knows where the next fault line will be...

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ivo Fernandes

    This book is a master piece, is the kind of audiobook I ear and get eager to ear more from the author, he start by the assumption that the genetic and ethnic heritage don't have much to do with who rules the world or not, and describe the evolution of the human power and empires based on technology and geography, and he managed to do an incredible history. In the beginning it was the word, but humans didn't have technology make the word circulate very much, the world had some isolated small tribe This book is a master piece, is the kind of audiobook I ear and get eager to ear more from the author, he start by the assumption that the genetic and ethnic heritage don't have much to do with who rules the world or not, and describe the evolution of the human power and empires based on technology and geography, and he managed to do an incredible history. In the beginning it was the word, but humans didn't have technology make the word circulate very much, the world had some isolated small tribes always at war, humans were stagnated in social development since the agriculture revolution, because it was making so easy to create a great tribe just rob food instead of creating an order to produce more without being robbed, but then, in some oasis in the middle of the desert, protected by the desert that acted as a great wall against invasions, the civilization could make the first steps, Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, managed to create awesome empires based in the production that come from the rivers, and the deserts that protect them from strange foreigners, so middle east was the first to rule. But then the great middle east civilizations invented boats that could navigate in the open sea, and that technology created a switch in balance of power that give origin to the great empires of mediterranean, first Greece, in small travels, than Carthage in bigger ones, and then Rome ruling the whole Mediterranean sea, and becoming the greatest power on earth. But once again the technology change the geographic advantages, the production of rice skyrocketed, the watermill started to be used for every kind of energy intensive work, and the balance of power started to shift to China, also to Islam than were well position to trade the high demanded Chinese goods in Europe. And then, the Chinese started a great Chinese exploration, they discovered magnetic-needle compass, improved the mapping skills, and even created boats that were perfectly possible to make a trans-pacific voyage, but yeah, America was so far for them...Africa didn't have anything to amuse them, and the explorations stoped so they could focus in their own lands development. But that great scientific discoveries inevitably traveled across the Islam world, and reached the poor europeans guys, the Portuguese people found much amusement in West Africa as soon as they could travel there, West Africa not only had gold, great to trade high demanded Chinese goods, but also had the possibility that if they traveled enough south, maybe they could reach the Indian ocean and avoid the Islamic world tariffs, so they keep going south for some years. In 1488 the Portuguese arrived in the Indian Ocean opening a new highway to China that Europe could control. And four years later, in 1492, a crazy Christopher Columbus, overpromising to all his crew, and underestimating the earth’s circumference by around 25%, thought it were possible to reach China by sailing West and discovered America, a new continent with great new species of super food like potatoes, that could be cultivated even in the worst soils, created an amazing trend, for one point, Europe started to simply have more places live plating potatoes, for another, the poor europeans started to leave Europe to go trade in Asia, Africa because it was a great pit stop to Asia started to be a massive trading area too, and America started to becoming colonised, as the native americans started to had mass plagues, with the diseases that Eurasians had many centuries ago and were already immune, but not the americans for being isolated for so long, and that mix of factor put the West in a new path to rule. The chapter 30 resumes every great idea showing the big picture of the influence of geography and explaining how the biology, not only in terms of ethnicity, but also in terms of great gamechangers, and genius are quite irrelevant to the evolution path that humans did. This is justified by the amount of discoveries that are done simultaneously in different places. And for example, even if Columbus did not underestimated the size of earth and tried to go to east by sailing west when it was simple plain madness, the Europe would probably find America first, and find some utility in that land mass first because it's closer.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Anthony

    In ‘Why the West Rules – For Now’ Ian Morris has crafted a phenomenal historical reference that provides an enlightened but cautionary perspective of the patterns of human history. As noted by the title, this book explores the distinctions that separate Eastern and Western global power in the present age and how the world came to be the way that it is today. Morris does this remarkably through a comprehensive and multidisciplinary exploration of long-term historical trends that utilizes many ana In ‘Why the West Rules – For Now’ Ian Morris has crafted a phenomenal historical reference that provides an enlightened but cautionary perspective of the patterns of human history. As noted by the title, this book explores the distinctions that separate Eastern and Western global power in the present age and how the world came to be the way that it is today. Morris does this remarkably through a comprehensive and multidisciplinary exploration of long-term historical trends that utilizes many analytical tools including biology, sociology, linguistics, archaeology, anthropology, geography, climatology, geology, economics, and of course history. He juggles these myriad scholastic disciplines adeptly and with humor, often including references to his favorite science fiction and popular novels to better illuminate his intentions behind this massive book. Most notably he gives credit to Issac Asimov and his stories ‘Nightfall’ and ‘Foundation’ as examples of great societies subject to collapse and backwardness. As alluded to by the title’s subtext “For Now,” Morris explains that his intention in exploring the patterns of history in reference to the current global dominance of western power is to better prepare humanity for the imminent and unpreventable changes of power and social structure in the coming century. The scope of this work is breathtaking and spans all the way back to the evolutionary migration of Homo sapiens from Africa outward in the past 180-100,000 years to the present state of globalization and the fragile interconnected dependence of markets and society. Although he largely focuses on the current period that spawned with the development of agriculture after the last ice age from 14,000-10,000 BCE to present, Morris goes all the way back to the dawn of human evolution and global migration to demonstrate that the paradigms of East and West are largely new in the grand scope of human history. Despite the differences in race and culture that are prevalent in the East/West dichotomy, all societies are motivated by a common human ambition that knows no distinction of East or West. Although individuals may be dramatically different from one another, humans are generally the same and in large groups behave according to the same laws of motivations. Morris argues with tongue-in-cheek using his self-professed Morris Theorem that throughout history long-lasting changes have been caused not by great men or bumbling fools but by the massive tides of lazy, greedy, and frightened people who rarely know what they are doing. From the gathering in caves for collective warmth to the development of the steam engine and even the internet you are using to read this, these changes came about through the ingenuity of people following the great ideas of the time in order to make life easier, safer, and more beneficial. These motivations are human traits that know no regional boundaries. The distinctions of East and West first came about through the benefits of geography as agriculture techniques were first developed in Western region around 10,000 BCE and separately around 8,500-8000 BCE in the East. The West got a two thousand year head start not because of a special western ingenuity or creative superiority but simply because the Western regions near the Mediterranean were home to much higher proportion of potentially domesticated crops and animal species compared to the proportion available in the eastern core that would develop into China. Despite the head-start in the west the eastern region (as well as Australia, Central America, and the South American Andes regions much later due to even fewer opportunities for domesticated crops) demonstrated equal capacity to develop agriculture, religious practices, and social organization entirely independent of the west. As Morris travels through history from the dawn of agriculture he clearly demonstrates over and over again that the difference in the west’s lead is the benefit of geography, not some innate superiority. If this sounds like Jared Diamond‘s theory from Guns, Germs, and Steel, well it is. Morris gives plenty of credit to Diamond, however where Morris’s book differs from and excels beyond Diamond’s is that in his historical analysis he utilizes a system to measure social development to compare the West and East throughout history. His system is basically a Measure of how societies get things done through four measurable traits: energy capture, organization/urbanization, war making, and information technology, and though not perfect (Morris admits this) it is a simple tool that provides a functional point of reference to compare the east and west throughout the past 14 millennium. What this measure of social development reveals is that not only did the east surpass the west for over a thousand years from approximately 500 CE to about 1700 CE, what is really interesting is that history’s social development has stalled many times due to a ceiling on development that limits the scope of a society’s ability to continue developing with unmeasured growth in energy capture, organization/urbanization, war making, or information technology. Both the west and east have bumped into this ceiling multiple times due to common events such as climate change, migration, disease, famine, and state failure. What allows a society to break beyond the limits of development is the changing meaning of geography such as when China’s grand canal connected the Yellow and Yangtze rivers during Europe’s dark ages, and when the west expanded trade across the Atlantic. Of course I have only listed a few brief examples here and Morris explains the many factors that have occurred throughout human history succinctly and with artful craft far beyond what I could beg to achieve in a brief synopsis here. I’ll just say that he is convincing and provides a renewed historical perspective that is a must read for any curious mind.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Nick Christofides

    I’d say this book is like climbing a mountain, it’s not for everyone - it involves commitment and exertion but if you like that kind of stuff it’s enjoyable, addictive and rewarding – I really enjoyed it! Why The West Rules for Now is a veritable feast of facts and history. I came away feeling that the book ignores some major points which should have been considered – the ‘soft’ side of the East and West’s journey, namely cultural history, was the main thing and which this book considers all amou I’d say this book is like climbing a mountain, it’s not for everyone - it involves commitment and exertion but if you like that kind of stuff it’s enjoyable, addictive and rewarding – I really enjoyed it! Why The West Rules for Now is a veritable feast of facts and history. I came away feeling that the book ignores some major points which should have been considered – the ‘soft’ side of the East and West’s journey, namely cultural history, was the main thing and which this book considers all amounts to the same. I’m sure that this is not a ‘complete’ study of the subject and it would be fairly easy to pick holes but from a layman’s perspective I loved the mapping of human history. That being said it is a really interesting perspective, in charting the history of East and West based solely on a material index of ‘social development’ comprising of energy capture, organisation/urbanisation, information technology, and war-making capacity. And then attempting to look into the future based on the findings. It is so interesting to see how advanced the ancient cultures were and at what point in history, and how the same threads have resurfaced or been present throughout history. Also the comparisons across the globe. I have to say I enjoyed the story rather than the study in this book, Ian Morris is humorous and uses the minimum of specialist jargon. It is (even though heavy on stats and facts) an enjoyable, interesting read. Like the contents of a TV show I really enjoy with my son (Expedition Unkown if you know it), I got my kicks in the reading rather than the conclusions of Why The West Rules, it is fun and informative and a good read, but I’m not sure it answers too many questions as a scientific study. Well worth a read if history and human geography float your boat!

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