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Civilization: The West and the Rest with Niall Ferguson

3.9 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Product Description

Civilization: The West and the Rest with Niall Ferguson

The West once ruled more than half the world. The religion it exported, Christianity, is still followed by a third of mankind. Above all, the way people live - or aspire to live - is unmistakably an invention of the West. All over the world, more and more humans eat a Western diet, wear Western clothes and live in Western housing. But are we living through the beginning of the end of the West's ascendancy? In this remarkable series, Niall Ferguson explains how by juxtaposing the West and 'the Rest', we can uncover the keys - the six killer applications - of Western ascendancy: the real explanation of how, for roughly five centuries, a clear minority of mankind managed to secure the lion's share of the Earth´s resources.

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Historian Niall Ferguson, with his warm Scottish burr and firm gaze, has a general theory of Western civilization and how it came to dominate the world over the past 500 years: Six "killer applications"--i.e., ideas and socioeconomic mechanisms--such as competition, science, and democracy. He illustrates his points with vivid comparisons (between the British colonization of North American and the Spanish colonization of South America, or between Europe and China in the 15th century, among others) and by spotlighting lesser-known historical figures that serve as fascinating examples, such as a castrated Chinese admiral who sailed huge ships from China to East Africa in the 1400s, or a German economist whose experiences at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904 led him to connect the Protestant work ethic with economic success. Add a sprinkling of visual panache (snappy editing, gorgeous landscapes, fascinating historical images), and the result is a hugely entertaining and stimulating six-episode series, Civilization: The West and the Rest. Ferguson's fervid pronouncements are debatable, but that's much of the series' pleasure. He's not playing it safe, trotting out received wisdom that everyone accepts. His volatile arguments make the events of hundreds of years ago suddenly seem suspenseful: Who will win when the Turks lay siege to Vienna? Did blue jeans have more to do with the fall of Communism than Ronald Reagan? Some weaknesses are more obvious than others--Ferguson touches on slavery in the Americas but is a bit glib about the damage it did, and he tends to view economic dominance as an absolute good, regardless of the cost to the cultures being dominated. But it's hard not to get engaged by Ferguson's energy and his willingness to go out on a limb for the sake of an exciting concept. And if anyone thinks this is all purely academic, Ferguson's arguments are tied to a very pressing concern: Is Western Civilization on the brink of collapse precisely because these six "killer apps" no longer have the same hold on our culture? --Bret Fetzer

Special Features

None.

Product Details

  • Actors: Various
  • Directors: Various
  • Format: Color, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: BBC Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: June 5, 2012
  • Run Time: 288 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B007PKSN0C
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #30,596 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
Civilization: West & The Rest is an extremely sophisticated documentary for those with a love for history... and maybe some controversy. Make no mistake, you may find yourself not agreeing with Ferguson. I suggest you read his book (of the same name) for an even more comprehensive understanding of his views. However, not agreeing with someone's take on any given issue should not be grounds for condemnation or disregard. I, personally, find little to disagree with as far as his views on the rise of the West. In very simple terms, this is my take on Civilization: West & The Rest-- Ferguson presents a non-apologist's account on the rise of Western economic, political and cultural hegemony. He lays out a realist groundwork for why the West succeeded and why the 'Rest' failed. That said, by no means does Ferguson disregard the negative aspects of Western civilization (colonialism, slavery, genocide, rampant consumerism etc.) However, unlike the leftist literature/media that plagues academic discourse like a widespread disease, Ferguson gives ample credence as to WHY the 'Rest' failed. He does not wallow in self-loathing and pitiful guilt for the West's meteoric rise into economic, political and cultural splendor. On the contrary, he cites specific reasons as to why China, the Ottoman Empire and others failed to capitalize on opportunities to advance. Likewise, he provides us six "Killer Applications" the West implemented to bring themselves out of the dark ages and into the modern world. Niall Ferguson is as sharp as they come. The documentary itself is beautiful to watch and listen to. The photography is second to none and Ferguson's commentary is accessible, funny and captivating. He holds no punches when criticizing Keynesian economics, state-run monopolies, dictators and the failures of Socialism.Read more ›
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Other reviewers have pointed out flaws in the material, commented on the jumpiness of the production, explained why Ferguson is totally wrong in some areas, and complained about what was left out. Surely he cannot be faulted for everything. No one can ever be completely right, and rarely is any lecturer totally wrong. But I was enthralled, as much as I had been with James Burke's Connections. There were very big ideas, colorful details, and days later I am still thinking about the program and the information it presented.

Regarding Protestant work ethic, I would highly recommend Simon Schama's An Embarrassment of Riches, which focuses on the success of the Netherlands, the societal guilt in admitting to so much wealth, and how they tried to perfect themselves as a nation.
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Anyone who finds this boring doesn't appreciate history. Anyone who finds this too western-centric is simply missing the point and misreading history as well as Ferguson. Of course, trying to make a broad sweep of history in six 45-minute videos will leave out points some will find critical, and make some generalizations others will find offensive, but the genius of Ferguson's grasp of history and twenty-first century social media is evident across the six segments. Yes, there are connections back to James Burke's wonderful "Connections" series from thirty years ago, and fellow Harvard economic historian David Landes went into much more detail in his "Wealth and poverty of nations" treatise fifteen years ago, but for the student or just intellectually curious, this series is hard to beat. Yes, the "six killer apps" theme may offend some as a bit too cute, too current, too much of an appeal to the MTV generation, but Ferguson knows his stuff and knows his audience.

Having taught an honors section of Western Civilization thirty years ago, I would have found this series invaluable for laying out the basic premise of the development of modern western civilization. It is not a replacement for serious reading or coursework, but it is an engaging introduction and thesis to frame the key issues facing the west and "the rest" today.
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Finally, someone on PBS has a clue! Furguson has a different take from the usual hackneyed tripe of academics. I never thought I would hear an academic credit property rights and the protestant work ethic as central to the west's prosperity. We need more like him.
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I viewed Naill Ferguson's CIVILAZATION two part, two hour (total 4 hrs.) on PBS (also avialble via DVD). I found it to be his forthright assessment of how the West dominated the world during the last 500 years. His main question is whether we are going through a period of decline and fall.

A four hour program cannot be written about in a concise manner. He speaks about the West's domination of China, Africa, and... He postulates that China may well be the dominant power in the not to long.

He credits Weber's use of the term the "Protestant work ethic" which promoted capitalism and ergo, Western dominance. But, he rightly notes that religion is being
dissipated in Europe -- to be replaced by the seeking of pleasure.

And, it seems that only the U. S. has become more rather than less religious than the European nations. But, generally the West (in totality) has taken to materialism greed and an unrestained quest for pleasure as well. As China has usurped the work ethic and is embrasing Christianity.

It's four hours -- but, quite intriguing. I believe in many of Mr. Ferguson's narrative and conclusions. Will the West survive? Both he and I don't know.

David Chowes, New York City
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