Civilization, By Niall Ferguson
Europe’s journey from medieval civilisers to today’s idlers
Written by a historian lauded in The Times as "the most brilliant of his generation", this defence of Western civilisation contrives to be off-puttingly trendy in its sub-title ("The Six Killer Apps of Western Power") and starchy in its preface (two pages devoted to the historiography of R.C.Collingwood from 1939). Fortunately, the narrative proper bears Ferguson's hallmarks of readability and impressive research. With the skill of a master strategist, he marshals facts and opinion.
Ferguson's six major reasons for the success of the West begin with medieval competition that propelled our technology ahead of even the advanced Chinese. Ferguson maintains that "multilevel competition" between states and even within cities explains the rapid development of the mechanical clock from the 1330s onwards. "Not only more accurate than the Chinese water clocks, they were intended to be disseminated rather than monopolised by the Emperor's astronomers."
Other forces that bolstered Western advance include science, which enabled the West to dominate the Orient, particularly following the Ottoman failure to take Vienna in 1683, and the property rights inherent in British colonisation, which "generally produced better economic results than Spanish or Portuguese, wherever it was tried."
Ferguson adds medical developments ("There is no question that here, as elsewhere, Western empire brought real measurable progress), the consumer society and the work ethic: "The Western model of industrial production and mass consumption left alternative models of economic organisation floundering in its wake."
However, Ferguson goes on to point out that "Europeans are today the idlers of the world", which he links to "a comparable divergence in religiosity. Europeans not only work less; they also pray less – and believe less." Citing the tumultuous collapse of the Roman empire – "in just five decades the population of Rome itself fell by three-quarters" – he concludes that "Maybe the real threat is posed not by the rise of China, Islam or carbon dioxide but by our own loss of faith in the civilisation we inherited."
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'music
Review: Cilla, ITV TV
To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthdaybooks
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Scottish independence: Ireland since 1919 is a lesson for Scotland in what a Yes vote means
- 2 Thailand deaths: Pair's bloodied bodies found naked on Koh Tao beach
- 3 Vogue under fire for 'Big Booty' article
- 4 Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
- 5 Kanye West stops concert after two fans don't stand up - doesn't realise one is in wheelchair and the other disabled
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'
Lego breaks out of the toy box and heads for the gallery
Cilla, ITV, review: Sheridan Smith embodies the young singer perfectly
Doctor Who, Listen, review: Possibly Steven Moffat's most terrifying episode
Tyler, The Creator says having new U2 album automatically downloaded on his iPhone was 'like waking up with herpes'
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
The political class is doing what Hitler couldn’t – destroying Britain
Scottish independence: Nationalist leader Jim Sillars threatens pro-union companies with 'day of reckoning' after independence
Scottish independence: Yes campaign feels the heat as Alex Salmond's NHS claims come under furious attack
Portuguese academic says British are 'filthy, violent and drunk'
£23m Birmingham cycle scheme is attacked by Tory councillor for not catering to the elderly