Monday, December 9, 2013

Civilization: The West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson

Reading demanding history and fact driven books in the middle of a university semester seems to be a
long and tedious process. Niall Ferguson's Civilization is by no means a dull or ordinary book, and normally I would have devoted several hours a day to skip along to the end of what I kept telling myself was a brilliant book. Turns out that a seminar course and over 20 HBR articles on "Advanced Strategic Management" can really suck out the intellectual curiosity out of me, and I found myself dosing through a few pages each night before falling asleep with Civilization nestling uncomfortably on my forehead. There is only so much fact that one can take in.

Despite my trouble with finishing it, Civilization is a truly great piece of non-fiction summing up everything that the developed world (The West) has done right in the last five hundred years. There are the six different items that Ferguson has managed to identify as being crucial to our development and eventual rulership over the east and Africa (The Rest). He calls them the West's "Killer apps" as if the iPhone has something to do with the East India Company, but makes a great case to why, for example, the scientific method is far greater than whatever alternative you might concoct.

Civilization is, in many ways, a better and more useful read than the morning newspaper. It gives readers a much needed sense of scope by showing how humans have always had a "universal tendency to shoot the messenger" among so many other things. The narrative displays the ways in which our (western) method has been superior in creating an equal and functional society. I make it sound contestable, but the truth is that Ferguson leaves nothing to conjecture. There is no arguing with the facts.

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