The Measure of Civilization: How Social Development Decides the Fate of Nations

Ian Morris, Author
Ian Morris. Princeton Univ., $29.95 (376p) ISBN 978-0-691-15568-5
Reviewed on: 11/12/2012
Release date: 01/01/2013
Stanford University classicist and historian Morris follows up Why the West Rules—for Now with a sophisticated volume designed to add quantitative muscle to his earlier arguments. A big-history theorist working in a vein similar to Niall Ferguson or Jared Diamond, Morris measures societies’ historical “abilities to get things done in the world.” With an impressive data array, he calibrates energy resources, social organization, war-making capacity, and information technology over time to compare the East and West. In the 21st century, he foresees a shift in global power and wealth from West to East, much as it shifted from East to West in the 19th. Morris argues from a materialist view to frame social development, minimizing the achievements of European civilization. His graphic display of energy use, for example, illustrates why the Industrial Revolution in Europe reshaped the economic world as no event did before it, though Morris seems more interested in Song China’s early metallurgy. The author’s grand narrative of Western and Eastern hegemony is less determined than he might have it, and his proposition that “cultural peculiarities of the two regions did not make much of a difference” in development is highly contestable. However, the ingenuity and style of his arguments will make economists and historians stand up and take notice. Agent: Sandra Dijkstra, Dijkstra Literary Agency. (Jan.)
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