I thought I’d get a spot of non fiction reading in, opting for the very broad ranging, all encompassing Civilization by Niall Ferguson. I vaguely remember the book (and I think the accompanying TV series?) when it came out, I remember what seemed like quite a few people not liking it, I think because they thought it downgraded the accomplishments of non Western civilisations, or something like that anyway but I don’t know, this book is very much about civilisation as defined by a Western perspective, I don’t think this book pretends to be anything else.
Ferguson’s central argument is that the West, initially a bit of a backwater compared to the far more successful Oriental, Ottoman and other empires, grew to become the dominate civilisation because it had a series of “killer apps” that the other civilisations failed to utilise as well, due to politics, religion or just not initially at least, needing to. I’m not going to go into all the apps here (read the book) but I will say I found Ferguson’s discussion on the key role of textiles and clothing in the industrial revolution and the spread of Western civilisation particularly fascinating. I also found the discussion on the link between religion and the work ethic which helped make the West so successful (particularly Protestantism, although Ferguson argues that author of the famous work ethic essay, the German Max Weber conveniently disregarded or dismissed other religions effect on the work ethic in some cases). I also found interesting the comparison on why Europe, after being a major exporter of its religion is now more and more non-believing, whereas the US is still a religious country (which is down to competition between churches with many different denominations in the US according to Ferguson, whereas there is less variety in Europe and therefore less need to innovate to gain followers, which has eventually lost them followers).
And of course there is discussion about whether we are now seeing the decline of Western civilisation, Ferguson argues that the fear that we are is not exactly new, leading writers worried about it at the beginning of the 20th century to but Ferguson argues that there is more evidence that we are living through it now, as opposed to when they worrying about it at the beginning of the last century.
Most of all I really liked Ferguson’s final message; that civilisations rise and fall and that we need to remember our history if we are not to make the same mistakes again.