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I was so impressed with Ian Morris' viewpoint and breadth that I purchased the hardcopy to re-read and share with friends. As the cover says, this is possibly the closest we'll ever come to a grand unified theory of history. Even more enjoyable if you're familiar with the basics of complexity theory as his arguments (seemingly unintentionally) flow very much along those lines.
The only quibble - and this is a minor one - is that there is significant discussion of various diagrams throughout the book This of course doesn't come across in the audio-format however they are generally explained well enough to be not completely lost.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
After an extensive first third of the book dealing with prehistory to dispel any still possible existing claims of racial superiority between East and West, the book becomes mainly a comparative history between "East" and "West".
Of course this description does not do full justice to the scope and ambition of the author, whose main theory is that progress in history is a product of geography and social development, with one feeding on each other, creating both splendor and collapse; he comes up with an index to measure civilizational development and concludes that there is no foundation for one culture claiming superiority over another.
Mr. Morris wildly overreaches in staking a claim for geography as the main driver of history: he concludes that great men, and culture in general, have played no crucial part in civilization, and that history would have taken pretty much the same course whatever these men or women did: would really history have been the same without Napoleon, George Washington or Isaac Newton? This gives his theory a sometimes disturbingly materialistic and deterministic bent.
His definitions of East and West are highly debatable: since for him culture is not important, he does not make a difference of the split between Christianity and Islam, and sees both as part of the West; obviously, he does not make a big deal of the subsequent schism between Catholics and Protestants. Just look at the huge differences between Europe and the Arab World, or the US and Latin America and the claim that these divergences have not had a major role in shaping history seem wildly unrealistic, .
That said, Mr. Morris is a compelling narrator, and in some cases his arguments are definitely persuasive. The close attention he gives to both the rise of the East and the West provide a much needed balance to existing world histories, and shed light on the interconnectedness of the World starting in Antiquity. His final thoughts are quite dazzling. Well worth a listen.
15 of 17 people found this review helpful