Civilization: The West and the Rest




From one of our most renowned historians, Civilization is the definitive history of Western civilization’s rise to global dominance-and the “killer applications” that made this improbable ascent possible.


The rise to global predominance of Western civilization is the single most important historical phenomenon of the past five hundred years. All over the world, an astonishing proportion of people now work for Western-style companies, study at Western-style universities, vote for Western-style governments, take Western medicines, wear Western clothes, and even work Western hours.

Yet six hundred years ago the petty kingdoms of Western Europe seemed unlikely to achieve much more than perpetual internecine warfare. It was Ming China or Ottoman Turkey that had the look of world civilizations. How did the West overtake its Eastern rivals? And has the zenith of Western power now passed?

In Civilization: The West and the Rest, bestselling author Niall Ferguson argues that, beginning in the fifteenth century, the West developed six powerful new concepts that the Rest lacked: competition, science, the rule of law, consumerism, modern medicine, and the work ethic. These were the “killer applications” that allowed the West to leap ahead of the Rest, opening global trade routes, exploiting newly discovered scientific laws, evolving a system of representative government, more than doubling life expectancy, unleashing the Industrial Revolution, and embracing a dynamic work ethic. Civilization shows just how fewer than a dozen Western empires came to control more than half of humanity and four fifths of the world economy.

Watch a Heated discussion on the ‘1%  with Fareed Zakaria, Jeff Sachs and Niall Ferguson

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But is Ferguson spot on?

Here are some criticisms and facts about about Niall Ferguson to keep in mind whenever listening to or reading him……

  • Ferguson supported the Iraq war and isn’t necessarily opposed to future incursions in the world.
  • 2005 – Ferguson called for replacing Medicare and Medicaid with a Medical Security System that would provide health insurance vouchers to all citizens.
  • In 2007, Ferguson was appointed as an Investment Management Consultant by GLG Partners. GLG is a UK-based hedge fund management firm.

As a scholar —
Fellow academics have questioned Ferguson’s commitment to scholarship. Benjamin Wallace-Wells, an editor of The Washington Monthly, comments that “The House of Rothschild remains Ferguson’s only major work to have received prizes and wide acclaim from other historians. Research restrains sweeping, absolute claims: Rothschild is the last book Ferguson wrote for which he did original archival work, and his detailed knowledge of his subject meant that his arguments for it couldn’t be too grand.”

John Lewis Gaddis, a renowned Cold War era historian, characterized Ferguson as … being “unpersuasive”. Gaddis goes on to state that “several of Ferguson’s claims, moreover, are contradictory”….Krugman has argued that Ferguson’s view is “resurrecting 75-year old fallacies” and full of “basic errors”. He has also stated that Ferguson is a “poseur” who “…hasn’t bothered to understand the basics, relying on snide comments and surface cleverness to convey the impression of wisdom. It’s all style, no comprehension of substance.”

J. Bradford DeLong of Berkeley agreed with Krugman, concluding “Niall Ferguson does indeed know a lot less than economists knew in the 1920s”.

— This is my note (not from Wiki as above is): ironically, Ferguson ‘ceased to become an acedemic’ when he become personal with Sachs. Not that I even believe Ferguson’s premise that Sachs ‘ceased to become an acedemic’ when Sachs talked at OWS, because I do not!… Ferguson resorts to bullying/name calling tactics when arguing/debating much as Christopher Hitchens often does, even though I do like Hitchens on some issues. I will say Ferguson is right — as it is to be as a general rule — to be critical of globalization, as I’m sure Jeffrey Sachs is, as well, being director of the Earth Institute.

Purchase on

About the Author: Nial Ferguson is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University and William Ziegler Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, a Senior Research Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford University, and a Senior Research Fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He is the bestselling author of nine books, including The Ascent of Money, Colossus, and High Financier.


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