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Most history is hierarchical: it's about emperors, presidents, prime ministers, and field marshals. It's about states, armies, and corporations. It's about orders from on high. Even history "from below" is often about trade unions and workers' parties. But what if that's simply because hierarchical institutions create the archives that historians rely on? What if we are missing the informal, less well documented social networks that are the true sources of power and drivers of change?
The 21st century has been hailed as the Age of Networks. However, in The Square and the Tower, Niall Ferguson argues that networks have always been with us, from the structure of the brain to the food chain, from the family tree to freemasonry. Throughout history, hierarchies housed in high towers have claimed to rule, but often real power has resided in the networks in the town square below. For it is networks that tend to innovate. And it is through networks that revolutionary ideas can contagiously spread. Just because conspiracy theorists like to fantasize about such networks doesn't mean they are not real.
From the cults of ancient Rome to the dynasties of the Renaissance, from the founding fathers to Facebook, The Square and the Tower tells the story of the rise, fall, and rise of networks, and shows how network theory - concepts such as clustering, degrees of separation, weak ties, contagions, and phase transitions - can transform our understanding of both the past and the present.
Just as The Ascent of Money put Wall Street into historical perspective, so The Square and the Tower does the same for Silicon Valley. And it offers a bold prediction about which hierarchies will withstand this latest wave of network disruption - and which will be toppled.
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By Ted on 04-25-18
Power? Does it come from hierarchies or networks?
Niall Ferguson is a scholar and this is a serious work of scholarship. I recommend it, but you can probably use fast forward or set your device to 3X during chapter 5 where he explains the theoretical constructs of his attack upon historical process.
Ferguson argues that historians for a range of reasons, examine hierarchies to explain the past. Wrong! At least that's the author's persuasive argument and he instead looks at relationship management to instead understand why historical events occurred. No, he doesn't argue that hierarchical research is invalid, but that it merely explains only part of the engine that's led us to this moment in time.
It's a fascinating premise, and except for chapter 5, he's quite clear and interesting as he applies his theory to so many epochs and tipping points. It's a thesis that resonates with me now and I'll look for it as I listen to other books.
It does take 17 hours though for Elliot Hill to read us this book. And though he reads it very well, I think that some sharpened-pencil editing could have either removed or abridged some of Ferguson's examples to achieve the same end.
For me though, this is an important book and finishing it has rewarded me. Be prepared though to study Ferguson as you listen to Hill.
10 of 10 people found this review helpful
By Anonymous User on 01-20-18
Ferguson's unique perspective of world history
As Ferguson states, this is an honest (and, IMO, successful) attempt to reclaim the framing of world history as the result of big men and bigger institutions from that told by conspiracy theorists to those with rational perspective. An expertly narrated and well told enjoyable read.
19 of 21 people found this review helpful