Buy “Civilization: The West and The Rest” on Amazon.
Text translation (literal):
Hello and welcome to this new video from the “Books for a Change of Life” blog.
The book that I will talk about today is a little bit special. You’re aware that, for various reasons, I love the subject of history. History allows us to immerse ourselves in completely different societies, different value systems. It shows us that in every era, there are things that are considered to be the norms, that are almost set in stone and are then completely turned on their head, whether slowly or in a very short period of time, in the years and centuries that follow.
It allows us to put the norms that surround us into perspective and to look at the whole world and our surroundings in a more meaningful way, because when you study history you also study the ways in which our surroundings came to be. Consequently, it can help us to question them, or to put them into perspective, or just to understand them more clearly.
And today I would like to talk to you about a book that I have found to be of great personal interest to enable me to fully understand the Western civilization in which we live today, at least for the majority of those who watch us today.
So this book is called “Civilization: The West and The Rest”, by Niall Ferguson who is a British author. And that’s it. A book that will truly captivate you. The copy that I have is slightly damaged, I bought it in India at the airport and I took it with me on a trip because it really caught my attention.
Civilization, the West and the Rest is a book that is similar to the book “Guns, Germs & Steel” which focused on the reasons why primarily Westerners succeeded in their conquest of the Americas, and not the other way around. That’s it.
And in this book, the author reflects… That’s exactly what it says here, he says: “In 1411, if you could have gone around the world, this is what you would have seen. You would have been awestruck by what you saw in the East, the Chinese were really extremely rich and advanced. You would have been impressed by the Ottomans who were very near Constantinople and would conquer it a few years later.”
He didn’t talk about civilization, but he said: you definitely would not have been impressed by European civilizations, as Europe was a myriad of small kingdoms in continual war, trailed far behind most other parts of the world, and regularly attacked by the Muslims, etc. Europe was constantly invaded from many directions and it was rather backward compared to the rest of the world.
And in 1411, this was the situation: Europe was much less advanced, not many people would have bet a dime on it.
How did it come about that in such a short time, within just a few centuries, Europe emerged on top of the world, achieved such incredible technological, scientific and economic progress, to catch and surpass the rest of the world, which allowed it to colonize the United States, Africa and Asia, to become the masters of the world.
And there you have it, a story that is of enormous interest. What made all these small countries located in a obscure corner of the planet, all rather chilly, not much sunshine, etc. which certainly didn’t have the greatest potential, manage to overcome their difficulties and advance in a much more impressive way, at the time, than the other countries of the world. What did they do? And what caused this?
And so, the author researched the reasons why. He found six important ones. They are:
- Competition: The competitiveness between European countries that created rivalry, something that stimulated them.
- Science. The acceptance of science. For example, he says clearly that it was science that enabled Europeans to turn the tide and reduce the threat from the Ottoman Empire and other Muslim kingdoms at the time, which in turn enabled them, once they acquired military and economic supremacy, to go and conquer, colonize North Africa, the Middle East, and other regions. He tells us, for example, that in the Ottoman Empire, and I didn’t know this until I read this book, that in the Ottoman Empire, for more than two centuries, it was forbidden to print. You should be aware of that. Between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, it was forbidden by order of the sultan because it was considered to be in violation of calligraphy, which was a divine art, an art of God. There you go.
- Then there was democracy.
- And work ethics. That’s it, that’s it, the trade unions emerge, that kind of thing.
So, it’s a book that offers much of interest. You can disagree with everything. Obviously, there are things that are open to criticism; but it does pose some questions about what has created this Western supremacy; for better or for worse. Without doubt, the West has also used its supremacy in many negative ways; which is clear for all to see, but in any event; the fact that this supremacy actually existed; was undeniable. It still exists to some extent today, and what created it?
And he also raises questions that relate to other important things.
For example, he says: the Americas were colonized by Europeans. So basically, the British colonized North America, the Spanish, the Portuguese, South America and Central America.
What has made the United States and Canada much richer today than all the Spanish-speaking countries or Brazil? What makes this economic difference? Which factors were different in the colonization of these countries that account for this?
And from there, he goes into details. To me, this was of huge interest. It’s such a relevant and fundamental question because basically, all the Americas were colonized by Europeans; so every country should, as a minimum; have the standard of living that we find in Europe; and we know that’s not the case.
So there you go. Civilization, the West and the Rest is a book that offers many points of interest and I recommend it to you. Unfortunately, as far as I know, it has not been translated into French. But here it is. Easy to read, full of fascinating facts and, yet again, many alternative perspectives on our history.
So, thank you to everyone who has watched this video and see you soon for more adventures.